Abu Dhabi: Sales Agents To Become Global Distributors

Abu Dhabi Media Zone - P 2012

Abu Dhabi Media Zone - P 2012

International sales banners will reinvent themselves as video-on-demand global distributors, Abu Dhabi festival goers are told.

Abu Dhabi – Movie industry attendees at this year's Abu Dhabi Film Festival heard that producers and sales agents will work much more closely together as the internet revolutionises the movie business.

And representatives from the two business strands of the international film business will also share revenues as a result.

Production Finance Market chief Angus Finney told Abu Dhabi Film Festival goers that the internet will play a part in the evolution of the two businesses.

Right now, sales agents charge a fee for each territory sold then often walk away. In the future sales agents and filmmakers will work together throughout a film’s lifespan, “especially with video-on-demand,” Finney said.

Speaking at a masterclass, Finney said: "Sales agents will be aligned with producers ... the market is changing so fast that sales agents could take control of all rights. The right sales agent will become increasingly able to control internet release."

The internet has destroyed Hollywood’s "push economy" -- studios dictating when and where customers can see films – in favour of a "pull economy."

Catch-up TV and on-demand streaming have put the customer in the driving seat, something which Hollywood has been slow to accept, Finney noted.

Studios have not helped themselves by erecting "walled-gardens around their content, making movies harder to access."

Such a move, Finney said, goes against the grain of the internet.

"They are also terrified about plummeting DVD revenue, which has accounted for 60% of a movie’s earnings. The user is the new king," Finney said.

The British born film consultant, author and one time film financier, quoted Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who said the question is not what is going to change in the next 10 years, but what’s going to be left standing by the end of the decade?

Disney, he noted, has reacted to the new horizontal world we all live by getting rid of its silo mentality, tearing down walls between theatrical and home entertainment.

But Finney remains upbeat about prospects for theatrical. Exhibition will become even more important, he claimed.

"Watching films in a cinema is a unique experience that will not be completely replaced by watching films on cellphones or tablets," Finney said.

This is despite the growing importance of handheld devices, which, Finney said previously, will take over as the dominant screen “within months, not years”. He said: "Exhibition rights will continue to be sold territory-by-territory, while internet rights could be sold as a single block.”

Finney was sceptical about independent producers handling the release of their own films pouring cold water on evangelists for self-distribution, pointing out how hard the sales business is.

Finney was managing director of sales agent Renaissance Films, which went bust in 2005. Movies that Finney handled sales on included The Mother and The Luzhin Defence.

"As a producer you may think you’re in control of your film’s release, but you have to deal with the same battle for eyeballs which everybody else is dealing with. Distribution is a full-time job," Finney said.

This year’s Production Finance Market runs October 17 and18 during the BFI London Film Festival in the British capital.