Five key principles for the future of distribution

by Eve Gabereau, CEO of Modern Films

I think this is a very exciting time for distribution. The future looks bright but cannot shine by complacency. It is our responsibility – as content-creators and industry decision-makers – to take stock of the changing landscape for both delivery and consumption. The key to the future of distribution is a strong relationship with audiences indirectly through producers to gain access to quality content at early stages and directly through exhibition platforms, including cinemas and streamers.

Content

As we all know, content is everything. Without it, there is nothing to talk about it. But good content is key. This is an objective statement but the reality is that it is a subjective area: what may be good and of interest to one person, may be of no consequence to another. Finding niches in the vast world of choice and material can go a long way, especially when it comes to on-demand and streaming. As a company, our brand and identity are defined by what we acquire and how we approach their distribution into the market. We have to think about why people would want to watch our films; where and how are becoming evermore focal to our acquisition strategy.

  • Modern Films example: knowing that an award-winning, indie European film by a rising auteur like Happy as Lazarro could find its place in the market, across all platforms, if made available.

Audience

Audiences are key to distribution as they are the ones who watch, or don’t, our films. Not only are choices in leisure activity vast, but within film itself the choice of what to watch and how is increasingly on-demand thereby giving people the upper-hand over producers. That said, people also like curated spaces where they don’t have to navigate through masses of content on their own and without direction. We tend to think about building a cohesive campaign around a fragmented demographics. We have to think about who is going to be watching this and how to get to them to convey the message.

  • Modern Films example: partnering with the subscription-based OTT service MUBI on Border to send a message about the range of audiences for this film and how to access it.

Outreach

How you reach your audiences is increasingly easier and more direct with social media but also more difficult and subject to quick dismissal, even blocking, if the messaging and the targeting isn’t thought out and implemented effectively. The key is creating the right assets and positioning in strategic places to maximise impact and action. We now have a budget line and a person or agency assigned to impact marketing for each of our releases. We have to think about how best to reach people that then motivates them to actively seek out our films – and add them to their realm of discussion and world view.

  • Modern Films example: official parliamentary screening at Westminster, Young Labour screening programme, cinema ticket incentives and nationwide outreach through the BFI’s Film Audience Network on the film Utoya – July 22.

Partnerships

Working with others who align with a film’s campaign should naturally connect audiences to the content and ideally their engagement with it. Partnerships are what allow us to broaden the scope of our content and grow our audience reach. Although there are more and more outlets for people to access information, this also creates opportunities to diversify our marketing efforts at a lesser cost than traditional advertising and target audiences through a wider overall demographic base. We work with branded partners, both public and private, across their contacts, programmes, promotions and expanded marketing around our content and theirs. We have to think about how to work with others to increase visibility and talkability of our films.

  • Modern Films example: our Event Cinema release of the film Yuli: Live from the Royal Opera House.

Windowing

This is the area that causes the greatest commercial and emotional stress in the industry and it is still unclear what the best route forward is for us all. Audiences want all content available in all places at all times – and at a low to no cost for the most part. This is not a sustainable mindset. Content, and culture, need to have a value and where, how and at what cost is key. We cannot feed into a world where content is devalued by the changing nature of distribution and relatively easy access. We must create spaces of value – both physical and digital, both scheduled and non-linear, both within a traditional structure and a disruptive one. We need to think about this co-existence, created by the industry with the interest of audiences and consumer choice in mind.

  • Modern Films example; licensing a slate of 10 films to Amazon Prime, with varying windowing patterns but all with the underlying mandate of showing films by and about strong female voices in cinema.

The future of distribution is here – it is in flux and continuously changing, but it isn’t going away as a part of the film value chain. Its fundamental principles remain in tact but perhaps it is the definition that needs addressing directly to try to make sense of its futureā€¦

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