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Where is the big data?

VOD services should quit secrecy and show their numbers

Digital media has been a big boom for the indie filmmaker. Platforms are endless and we can now connect to audiences quicker and more efficiently than ever before through growing online services.

According to Christian Grece’s analyses of the EUs audiovisual markets, there has been a steady growth in digital home entertainment with online based VOD growing as much as 70% in the 2010’s.

This is great news and can truly signify a change in the market, promoting VOD as a serious revenue stream to compensate the decreasing DVD sales or perhaps the aftermath of a limited theatrical release with too expensive promotion.

Filmmakers and sales agents dealing with digital rights must figure out the best strategy for their films to perform in the expanded VOD landscape and to lure in the best platforms for beneficial deals. But this can be more difficult than expected as very little or often no data is available, to help with the decision making process.

The film industry is used to measurements. We have BO statistics, DVD sales data and theatre audience analyses. It is fair to say that the industry’s data analytics have almost every moment in the film’s lifespan statistically measured.

Except for the online. According to Leils Copland, in her 2013 TIFF speech, the VOD platforms create an analytic black hole in the industry by not revealing their data to the public nor in some cases even to the filmmakers themselves.

Recent news from 2016 Berlinale report that the team behind Southside with you (2016), the new indie covering the dating between Barack and Michelle Obama, turned down the Netflix deal for its ‘zero visibility into the film’s performance’. Netflix has become known for their total secrecy of any performance figures or audience analyses of their content.

Other VOD platforms, such as iTunes reveal their statistics to the filmmakers but do not make them available to public or other filmmakers.

This can be very harmful for the future sales of similar films.

If we look at the traditional studio distribution and production model, the analyses of a film’s performance is heavily integrated in the green lighting process. The 10-column system for green lighting films relies heavily on analyzing the past performance of similar films (genre, cast, director, style, story, audience etc) and uses the previous film’s success as an indicator of success for the film in development.

But this is not a valid option for films aimed to the VOD market, as data is not available. For the sake of films finding their audiences, for the business to grow, and for filmmakers to learn from their audiences, the online platforms should loosen the level of secrecy and publicly announce their ‘ratings’. Filmmakers and sales agents should be able to use this data the same way that BO and DVD sales data is used to support the development process and distribution negotiations.

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