- SANTA MONICA, Calif.
The 40th edition of the recently concluded (11/6-13) American Film Market (AFM) featured varied new wrinkles, among the most brand new being its first ever Television Conference, which in some respects reflected the forward-looking orientation of the overall event. A prime example at the half-day (11/11) TV Conference came in the form of a Made-for-TV Movies panel discussion in which expanding opportunities were explored ranging from the new streaming frontier to Quibi, a platform headed by founder/chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, of Disney and DreamWorks fame, and CEO Meg Whitman, perhaps best known for her entrepreneurial/tech mettle at eBay.
Quibi stands for “quick bites” of video expressly designed for consumption by on-the-go folks via their smartphones. Quibi is a platform, not a studio. The premium short-form mobile streaming service is scheduled to roll out in April 2020, with plans to publish 25 pieces of content daily. Some 7,000 pieces of short-form content will be released in Quibi’s first year. The company intends to tell two to two-and-a-half-hour stories in chapter increments of 7 to 10 minutes each. There will also be chapter installments for overall shorter content, and other tailor-made short-format programming.
AFM Made-for-TV Movies session panelist Brad Krevoy, CEO, Motion Picture Corporation of America, noted that Quibi opens up the opportunity for two-hour movies to be structured in 10-minute increments, and that after two years the producer/provider gets the ownership rights to that content, meaning that the installments can be stitched back together as a movie. Krevoy sees this as a new business/creative opportunity not only for his sector but for aspiring creatives. Krevoy shared that if her were a young writer starting out, looking to establish himself, he would delve fully into the Quibi format, seeing what could be done in terms of structuring a script that dovetails into this incremental storytelling that can later be viable as a long-form film.
Krevoy thinks the Quibi business model is brilliant, not just based on the involvement of Katzenberg and Whitman but also the reality that the mobile phone sector is fiercely competitive. To get an edge, he asked, “Who isn’t going to want proprietary product?”
Krevoy was part of an AFM session that also included TV movie producer panelists Paul Bales, partner in The Asylum, Pierre David, chief strategy advisor and producer, ReelOne/Lance Entertainment, Chevonne O’Shaughnessy, president, American Cinema International, and Tony Vassiliadis, COO, MarVista Entertainment. The discussion was moderated by Variety sr. editor Michael Schneider.
Panelists noted that streaming platforms are impacting the marketplace and figure to become more prevalent in their importance as Netflix faces new competition from the just launched Disney and Apple ventures, with more on the horizon, including NBC’s Peacock and the like. O’Shaughnessy and Krevoy said that it’s become key to research and develop for these services. O’Shaughnessy, for example, shared that American Cinema International has found a niche for itself with Netflix, developing urban titles, thrillers and premises that were originally made with white actors but are now being crafted with black performers to reach African-American audiences.
Mar Vista Entertainment’s Vassiliadis observed that eight to 12 percent of the content on Netflix is from Disney or Fox. That content is going away soon to reside on Disney+. “So we’ve been thinking how we can fill those slots, fill in the gaps that start existing when all the majors start to take their content exclusively for their streaming platforms.”
ReelOne/Lance Entertainment’s David sees some cross-pollination developing, citing a pair of movies that started on Netflix and then went to Lifetime.
Bale added that the streaming world includes ad-supported platforms like Tubi and Vudu which have “found that Millennials don’t mind watching commercials.”
Speaking of Vudu and Tubi, the AFM conference lineup also included a separate session (11/12) on The Rise of AVOD (Advertising-based Video On Demand). Panelist Adam Lewinson, chief content officer, Tubi TV, said, “We are a technology-based company. We have to talk about the tech beneath the VOD world and about discovery. What I love about our tech is machine learning...the more we have a viewer watching, the more we understand their viewing behavior, the easier it is for us to feed recommendations and that’s where discovery happens. On Tubi every single day when I look at our data or internal ratings I see tons of indie movies performing at an incredibly high level and sometimes that’s a higher level than the brand name TV show or big studio feature.”
Julian Franco, sr. director, AVOD at Vudu, observed, “Most people go for free over paid...if you offer 10,000 movies available for free, chances are that most people just want to watch something to relax and unwind with.”
Franco added, “People go for the free stuff, but a lot of our partners like Disney and Warner Bros. do a great job of creating demand for big blockbuster tent poles as well as independent films. They’re still really smart about how they release them so they will day-and-date them on TVOD sometimes and we will come in and license an AVOD window exclusively so we’ll take it on day 91 after the Home Entertainment window. This is the first year that we’ve seen that more people are engaging with free over a transaction, but the transaction is still a much larger piece of the overall revenue.”
LocationEXPO (11/9-12) returned to AFM with 50 film commissions, government agencies, production facilities and services showcasing their wares. Located in dedicated exhibition space within the AFM, LocationEXPO was again positioned as a place for AFM attendees to learn and gather info about locations, production incentives and resources.
In a related AFM session held down the corridor from the LocationEXPO, John Hadity, EVP of Entertainment Partners Financial Solutions, discussed “Everything You Need To Know About Production Incentives.”
Hadity provided a primer on the four different kinds of incentives--refundable tax credits, transferable tax credits, rebates and grants. He also presented the benefits of incentivizing production as well as a caveat. On the former score, he cited Louisiana which saw production plummet after Hurricane Katrina. Playing a key role in helping to fuel Louisiana’s economic recovery was a renewed commitment to incentives which ultimately drew production back to the Bayou State.
On the flip side, Hadity noted that jurisdictions have to be realistic as to what makes for a sustainable incentive. At one point, he recalled Michigan promoting an incentive whereby producers could recoup some 70 percent of qualified expenditures in the state. For years Michigan had the biggest credit incentive in the country only to ultimately find it was too expensive to maintain. At that juncture, the state film commission closed its doors. Now he’s hopeful that Michigan will bring its film commission and a sustainable program back to life.
Other insights, observations
Beyond the business being done at film exhibitor floors and suites, the AFM conference program provided assorted insights and observations. Here are just a few:
--Shaked Berenson, producer at Entertainment Squad, held a session centered on the director/producer relationship. Berenson related that while directors come from varied backgrounds, he’s a bit partial to those who were former editors. “They get all the problems and mistakes dumped in their lap (as editors),” which means they see “the missing pieces,” often making them prudent directors in that they know what to get in order to properly tell a story. Among Entertainment Squad’s latest projects is the Tara Wood-directed documentary QT8: The First Eight, which chronicles the making of Quentin Tarantino’s first eight films.
--In a panel discussion about bringing diverse film projects into the marketplace, Glen Basner, CEO, FilmNation Entertainment, shared, “We’ve created a diversity committee at FilmNation to progress our company. We’ve had the entire company take on unconscious biased training...we have revamped our hiring process to address unconscious bias.”
--During a session on “The Future of Film,” Aaron L. Gilbert, chairman and CEO, BRON Studios, affirmed, “Diversity is in the DNA...we know there’s those important stories and we know there’s an audience for them...Inclusion does have a marketplace.”