CONNeXT Day Two Panel

I Have a Stream

There was no rest for the wicked as Rikke Ennis, who had just delivered the first scheduled keynote address on day 2 of CONTeXT, the Flanders Image CONNeXT industry event, stayed onstage with Wendy Mitchell to take part in a wide-ranging panel discussion titled ‘I Have a Stream’.

Mitchell invited Marike Muselaers, the Amsterdam based co-CEO of all-rights company Lumière Publishing, Muriel Joly, head of business development, digital distribution and marketing, with Paris-based rights aggregator Under The Milky Way and Walter Iuzzolino, the co-founder and curator of Walter Presents, to join Ennis on stage for the discussion.

The panelists chewed over recent evolutions in the streaming landscape, how Netflix and Amazon are changing the independent film market, the rise and potential fall of niche and specialised platforms and the potential future roles of sales companies and aggregators.

I Have a Stream

Mitchell kicked off the conversation by asking the panelists about the company’s they represented.

Joly said Under The Milky Way works with a large number of VOD Platforms. Awarded global iTunes preferred aggregator status in 2011, the company is fully operational in more than 100 territories and serves all kinds of rights-holders (producers, distributors, sales agents) out of 13 regional offices in Europe, North America and Asia.

Its main activities consist of international rights aggregation and distribution on global VOD platforms, the development of software solutions for online and social media marketing, and also the co-ordination of a European professional network addressing topics related to cross-border digital distribution.

An aggregator acts like an interface between the rights holders on the one hand and the platforms on the other. “The kind of interface we are doing is first of all a legal one because we are representing the films on the platforms and we are doing a technical interface as well because we are making sure the films will respect all the specs of each platform,” Joly said. “It is an editorial interface because we are working with a team that is pitching on a weekly basis the films to each platform’s editorial team and, last but not least, we are a financial interface as we are getting the revenue from the platform and giving them back to the rights holders.”

Founded nine years ago, Under The Milky Way now boasts 5,000 films in its catalogue. The company’s unique selling point is its international network. “We are working with people from all over the world, making us able to source film from everywhere and then distribute on an international basis. It is 95% feature films and documentaries and works with global transactional VOD platforms such as iTunes, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and also local territory operators including TF1 In France, Maxdome in Germany and Sky in the UK. Also we work with Amazon Prime and Netflix.

“The global platform has a big advantage for us because it is one single entry point and then you reach out to the rest of the world. It takes us the same amount of work to plug one local product just once,” said Joly. 

Iuzzolino, co-founder and curator of Walter Presents, an international VOD platform which offers non-English language TV series, returned to the CONTeXT couch after delivering a keynote address at last year’s event. Originally launched in the UK in 2016 with broadcaster Channel 4 as Walter Presents, the service is A-VOD. Walter Presents subsequently launched a year later in the US and since March this year has been in partnership with PBS. “We are direct to consumer on one hand but also our brand exists exclusively on Amazon – on the Amazon channel Masterpiece from PBS – which has been quite a transformative partnership for us there.”

It has also launched in Australia, partnering with Foxtel, in Italy with Discovery and in Belgium with VTM Medialaan.

Iuzzolino explained they had experimented quite a lot (in the UK) before and immediately after the launch of the service with a show named Deutchland ’83. “It was a very strong show to position us because it was quite pop, interesting and different from Nordic Noir (television shows) which was very much the domain of the BBC at the time with BBC4.”

He noted that it was an incredibly successful show but it was eight one hours of prime-time Sunday night television. “It did incredibly well and was supported by a big marketing campaign, posters and buses and tube stuff so that was great. Channel 4 really lent muscle to it.

It was the biggest ever rating for a foreign-language show in UK history at slightly less than 4 million. “You can’t promote every show in that way so after that we started playing around with scheduling quite a bit,” Iuzzolino said. “About four months later in 2016 we landed on a formula that seems to be the thing that works best for us. It is a monthly launch where we push a show mostly on Sunday nights in a late-night slot at 11 o’clock with episode one and then we VOD drop the rest on A-VOD on all All 4, which is Channel 4’s catch-up-on-demand service.”

Iuzzolino said that it works because it gives a show the oxygen or publicity and marketing, trails on the broadcaster and fantastic press. “We get real attention for it but you don’t waste a lot of valuable primetime on linear, which would fight the needs of the schedulers who are going to say to me, ‘that’s below slot average on linear’. It does a fantastic job in driving audiences to VOD.

“It proved to us that wherever Walter Presents launches – and it is in expansion mode right now – it should always be partnered with some local player who has a direct relationship with viewers and who reaches millions of people on a daily basis.

Belgian Success

Iuzzolino said he was “quite proud of Walter Presents” to an audience in Belgium “because in the most modest possible way I think that we discovered Belgium for the UK. He noted that Belgian drama Cordon had gone out and had been slightly ignored [unfairly] by BBC audiences. “Clan was the first show we bought. We fell in love with the tone and the quirkiness and so, over the past few years, we have bought half a dozen shows from dark to quirky, to frothy and fun (New Texas, The Score, Scratch My Back, to Hotel Beau Sejour, which premiered on Channel 4 last year, to 13 Commandments, our highest rated show last year).”

He thinks Walter Presents helped to position Belgium as the new noir territory source. (Walter Presents has just acquired The Twelve, a project he saw in Ghent last year for the first time).

Euro Zone Love

Iuzzolino says people from European countries come to them because they know us, whether it be a distributor or a broadcaster that we buy stuff from. “They understand what we do for their shows in the UK. They start to analyse our discreet, bespoke packaging of programmes and they exchange notes with Channel 4 about what it has done for them in terms of streams.”

Walter Presents has done a good job in bringing new eyes to the platform. Historically All 4 was very much a young woman’s world with Made in Chelsea and Hollyoaks and was frequented by very young people for shorter form items, Iuzzolino said. “We – and I think we should be proud of it as marketing people – are an older platform so we brought in the oldies which is good. We are clearly targeting 35-plus. They are people that wouldn’t necessarily stream a lot, they enter the All 4 environment for the first time and because they are quite loyal, they spend thousands of minutes and hours watching other All 4 programming because they discovered the platform through us.”

It has been a double benefit to the broadcaster, according to Iuzzolino. “I would say with everyone else we work with, it’s kind of the same. They know we are a small boutique and that placed inside a wider shop we just tend to attract a clientele that likes the vertical.”

Future Expansion

Walter Presents is in advanced talks with a number of European players while Asia is slightly trickier. “I personally love Japan and it is a place I have always wanted to launch because I think it is an interesting territory culturally,” Iuzzolino said. “They could retrofit European content very well. But we are literally talking to the rest of the world right now.”

Shining a Light on Lumière

Marike Muselaers described Lumière as a bigger group than just a streaming platform.

“We also have production; we pitched a project here on Monday; we have two cinemas and two in the making; an animation studio; a joint venture with a stop-motion studio and all-rights distribution of films and mainly TV shows,” Muselaers explained. “Out of certain frustration that our TV shows were sometimes just not available legally online because they were in some stupid hold-back period and also, we don’t have the iTunes TV store or Amazon here in the Benelux [still don’t have them], we decided to do something ourselves.”

So they launched the first T-VOD television shows platform here in Benelux: Lumière “There are also films on there because we have them anyway so why not?” Muselaers said. “It is quite funny to see that some classic films do really well.”

The launched platform is pay per TV show and it is ESD so you own the show afterwards when you buy. “At the moment, we have 130 seasons on the platform and 65 films,” she said. “We are trying from now on to release one TV show season per week until Christmas and see how that goes for us.”

Future Proof

Muselaers said the plan is to build a completely new proposition. “I can’t tell you that much about it. It will be a completely new loyalty programme, it will not be SVOD; it will not be A-VOD. It will still be transactional but in new packaging and we’re launching at the end of March, early April 2020. If that works well, world domination awaits hopefully, we’ll see!” she smiled.

What has worked well on the Denmark based streaming platform NutAlone, Mitchell wondered?

“It has been the classics. It has been the Dogme films that were not available in many territories and Lars von Trier’s oldest movies like Epidemic, Europa that haven’t been out in territories for a very long time,” Rikke Ennis told the audience. “It’s a slow start-up as such but those are the films that have most attention because they are known directors. And that’s why we have to work on the gold that is not yet discovered; to collaborate with festivals.”

Mitchell pointed out that industry observers in Benelux and beyond are all awaiting the arrival of Disney Plus [already in the Netherlands], HBO GO or HBO Max, Peacock, Hulu going international, Amazon and Netflix expanding and the arrival of Apple TV.

So, do those looming behemoths scare you?, Mitchell asked her experts.

Iuzzolino thinks it’s brilliant and the more the merrier. “The thing that has always terrified me is the idea of one monolithic supermarket because then all you will have is chlorinated chickens,” he explained. “If you have more supermarkets hitting the ground and fighting each other on a giant scale, family, broad mainstream way then a) they keep each other honest, the quality of the content will go up and b) it’s better.”

He regards it as an interesting world where niche services can flourish while the giants conduct their own mega war to become masters of the universe.“We can grow backing talent. I’ve got quite a commercial sensibility myself having been a commissioner so I’m always acutely aware of things having to rate and having to work,” Iuzzolino said. “I don’t think anybody should be in the business of self-indulgence and sometimes I slightly worry about independent cinema when it gets a little too… I think, ’C’mon, you have to make a film for an audience and the same for series.’”

He said there is a role for people like him and his fellow panel members who can almost act as the R&D for the masters of the universe despite the fact he doesn’t personally aspire to being that. “That doesn’t interest me but I quite like this bit where we can grow, construct and break new talent and create new concepts which can naturally go on a trajectory of growth.”

That road could lead to Los Angeles but a lot of people don’t want to be in LA, he pointed out. “I think it is an interesting and varied world and the more the big giants battle each other on the market, I think the better for us.”

Muselaers believed from both a business and industry point of view, that we should bring out the popcorn and sit back and watch it unfold.

“After all, it is going to be interesting to see what is going to happen. But from a consumer point of view it’s going to be very, very confusing,” she said. “That’s what we were talking about earlier. There should be smart bundles; there should be better search engines. It’s going to be very chaotic and confusing for the audience out there.”

Do the panelists notice a talent drain as the big players tie in more and more creatives? Mitchell asked.

“I go back to my logic of the R&D,” said Iuzzolino. “There is talent drain: broadcasters back in the UK go ‘Oh my god, we can’t book any writers because that writer is free in 2027 and that one has a multi-billion deal.’ Great. So back new talent then.”

He said it was part of his job to find the new writer and by necessity make a virtue of that. “If there is no-one left who wants to work on something less than $800,000 an hour then let’s find someone who does. There are plenty of young, clever, smart people who want to do that. It’s our job to help them break in.”

Ennis said she totally agreed. “The interesting part is we’ve seen that a lot on the director’s side at Zentropa. They keep coming back because that’s where they can make their own stories. Those are the special stories, the ones you don’t see on mainstream platforms and so forth.”

While Ennis thinks it is great talent can go out there to discover the world before coming back, she also notes a sense of grass not always being greener. “I’m talking directors on an American set compared to being on a Danish set  – there is a big difference,” she said. “On an American set you just have to do your job, nobody is asking you what you want, you just do your job because the executives control the whole thing. Here in Denmark a director’s position is the one and all: you have final cut and can say, ‘This is the way I want my story to be told.’”

Iuzzolino pointed out that in most global industries scale is considered to be the apex. “But we are lucky as we live in a world where scale doesn’t equate to quality and doesn’t equate to freedom.” Some people seek scale and it is their joy and their pleasure to work with 700 people on set, other people loathe that. “No one is right and wrong, I think there are different ways to express creativity.”

Ennis said the key is knowing who you are dealing with and what you are dealing with. “I think it is true that now talent, even producers, are finding out what it is like to work with the giants. It’s a different beast and it is working for hire, for example.”

Added Iuzzolino: “Sometimes I talk to directors who tell me they much prefer to work on teeny budgets in small European countries because no-one bothers them and they can create their shows. Their experience outside has been more brutal and bruising because sure, it was glossier, but ultimately is the product any better?”

How are the needs of platforms evolving? Mitchell wanted to know.

Joly noted that the very big platforms such iTunes are non-selective so they have one of the most diverse European catalogues. “That’s a paradox. The big local ones are looking for mainstream content,” she said. “It’s very difficult when you have independent films to locally distribute them on the main local platforms whereas you can easily distribute them on the global ones available everywhere.”

She then pointed to the host of independent, specialised niche platforms that can do a good job “for example, Filmin in Spain which in some cases outperformed iTunes because they do a good editorial job and they have the right audience for that”.

It is tailor-made distribution and dependent on the platform you have to bring the corresponding content, Joly believed. “At least for the major local platforms the trend is towards mainstream content, unfortunately.”

With the global platforms, content can be made available everywhere but then the challenge is making people aware the film is there. “Promotion is just a huge part of the work to be done. You can even go by yourself on a Vimeo platform and do your own thing. Digital marketing is at the heart of the battle,” Joly noted.

Stats and Facts

As of this summer, there are 24,000 European films available on T-VOD. Only 10% of those get promoted. Who is responsible to promote and how do you cut through the noise? the panel were asked.

Joly said with the platform there is editorial work to be done. You have to put the right film in the right place. “Sometimes there is no need to put a film on the front page because the audience will look specifically in the independent section,” she said. “Curation is definitely a part of the job to be done. Then making the consumer come to your platform is another so the platform has to work. Then the rights-holders and distributors have also to use the social networks for example.”

For Muselaers, part of the problem is that no-one knows where in the value chain the marketing should take place. “Maybe we should see it more of an ecosystem where feedback from the consumer feeds into all of these and goes back to the consumer.”

It is often up to the producer to start early on when it comes to social media. “We need the promotional material and Rikke is doing a good job there.”

The international sales agents are in a good position to do much more marketing Muselaers thinks. “They are the ones selling to all the platforms and all the broadcasters and they’re also connected to the producers, so they are really in the middle there. I think it’s an opportunity.”

Ennis said with all the new players coming in there is going to be evenmore new content, even more to relate to as a consumer and it is going to be sickening to sit in front of a television and choose what to watch. “To choose a show you will just stop, go to bed and read a book,” she cautioned. “Curation and who is curating your content is extremely important.”

She said if her friends recommend a show to her, she would definitely go and watch it. “If one could integrate the social media you are talking about with what your friends are watching at that specific time with a system that can actually show you where to find the different shows, then suddenly we are targeting something super interesting for a consumer,” Ennis said

For Iuzzolino the answer is always curation. He operates in the world of series so the idea of 24,000 films terrifies him. Slightly. “I can cope with about 150 series and that’s it. But I think extreme curation is the future anyway.”

In the end, if a friend or a cluster of trusted friends say you’ve got to go and see a play, then it is much more likely a ticked will get booked. “In an ecosystem which is so crowded, how we foreground curation is ever more important,” he said. Walter Presents worked to build a community that is loyal and engaged. “We have fans that promote the shows. I’m on social media quite a lot, by necessity, because I don’t particularly love it in many ways. But I love the direct connection with the viewer who will literally go, ‘Why did you buy that show?’” You have to justify everything you do but then the superfans who watch the premiere and then watch the whole thing by 10am the next day, they do the promotion.”

Iuzzolino also revealed Walter Presents even boasts a couple of superfans who the community trust even more than him when it comes to recommendations. “It’s subsections of curation. There is something in the consumer feeling they need to spread the word on what they’ve seen and we need to tap into that,” said Iuzzolino.

MBA Lessons

Ennis has just finished an MBA and her dissertation’s provocative title was ‘Feeding the Beast.’ She said the industry is doing just that and that the dissertation was about the weird relationship that international distributors have with the big platforms.

“We are selling to them and loving it when we have a big deal and we can brag about it and say it’s all sexy and cool to work with Netflix and Amazon, but at the same time we know they are trying to cut us out, bypassing us etc,” Ennis said.

She wanted to look into that conundrum and then examine how, as an independent European industry, industry players could approach business model innovation and turn that situation into a beneficial one.

“An interesting conclusion was that we as an industry should invest much more in working with our competitors: Investing in shared innovation, shared R&D, not just on the top down creating content side,” Ennis said. “That’s what’s happening now: everybody wants to be on the talent side, everybody wants to be on the content creating side and have control.”

Data Protection

Ennis pointed out that at the same time her industry is losing the connection with the audience because all the platforms are gathering and keeping the data. “We cannot learn from it to create the content that they want to watch,” Ennis said. “What we should do is not be on our own islands but invest in online marketing together.”

Ennis said she spent all summer finding a digital marketer for NutAlone. The search had proven to be difficult because people in that area of expertise “do not think the film and TV industry is that sexy anymore”.

It used to be really easy to find people because it was sexy to work for a film company. They can work elsewhere and get much better perks and benefits. Why we are not investing in people like this together? We are all in different territories and we all need this, we all need these new competencies, these new skills.”

She said sharing in business innovation and not just in the content side was needed. “Atrium is a good example of telecos from all over the world that together are buying and commissioning content. But, on the other side of the spectrum, there is not much happening, we leave that to the platforms, the tech companies.”

Consumers as Content Creation Drivers

Muselaers pondered the time when it is not the platforms deciding on the content but rather the consumer designing and being the main driving force behind what is going to be produced. Crowd funding was a great initiative but was more for hot projects, she noted.

Ennis agreed that scenario is likely at some point “depending on where we go with smart contracts and block-chain where you can trust the system. I am sure consumers will have a say and there will be consumers investing in content and not shares. Why not?”

Muselaers said it wouldn’t just be about investing in projects. “Who here knows Whatpad? It’s a huge, huge platform where people write their own stories and basically publish ebooks. And the platforms, and Sony – and there’s a few companies in the TGV industry – that are now going there and commissioning those stories,” she said. “So consumers are publishing their own stories that are then being commissioned by these platforms.”

Joly said that as an aggregator, she has already seen content arriving via non-traditional routes, often financed with very little cash, often non-institutional money. “Some of them have very artistic qualities – not all – and are very ingenious in the way they are produced and directed. I think also the future of the industry lies there where the people will be able to find these films and give these films a life, because the producers and directors are the audience of tomorrow.”

Since the platforms she is working with are mostly non-selective, her company invests a little bit for the films they think are worth it to produce subtitles and advance the incurring costs. They find their way to the platforms but again it is a question of marketing.

Giant European Platform?

Joly reverted to the metaphor of the supermarket and the department store. “I hope not but I think it’s very difficult to build a European giant,” she said, noting there have been a few attempts but none of them have been successful for now.

“We can still use the current giants to create the European corners and the independent corners and the niche corners in these huge department stores that are already available and are not curated. So we can create your own shop in this department store and get maximum visibility. An Amazon channel, for example.”

Ennis said this is why Amazon and Apple are going to win the streaming wars because they are the two not just about content. “Content is basically just something to sell their other products. They are going to make money from all the other services by bundling all the others as well, by opening their platforms up for competitors or niche services. They are going to take a part of all that.”

Iuzzolino noted they both possessed a much more rarefied take on data. “They know which shoes I buy so, in a way, their data is much more 3D than the Jennifer Aniston film I watched last night. It’s a much more interesting picture.”

How do each of you have, and use, data? Mitchell wondered.

Iuzzolino said Walter Present is in a very lucky position because Channel 4 get a lot of data and, as partners and co-funders of the service, share it.

“They recently did a very large and extensive study on the typical user, what they watch, why and where, their age and areas of interest outside of Channel 4 and within the Channel 4 ecosystem,” Iuzzolino said. “Walter Presents turned up as super niche, vertical and a 35 plus pure ABC1. But interestingly they [WP viewer]) are not so much into telly per se but what they watch they watch a lot of. Cinema, theatre, opera, books. It’s a very defined club but it is a club of super consumers.”

So while they are not going to watch an hour here and an hour there, they watch dozens of hours a week, the research showed, meaning they are a very informed customer.

Iuzzolino added that Walter Presents doesn’t use the data in any particular way in terms of what it acquires. “We still try and be true to our principal of, we just curate what we think is best. It’s about introducing people to new things,” he said. “I now know there are certain type of Scandinavian shows, a French show that will always work so that’s fine. I can now find that, with a not cynical but a pragmatic hat on.

“We live or die by the number of streams. If I buy a show that doesn’t stream I’m going to go bankrupt,” he said. “I can buy to that for two but the other two I can try new things, say a Japanese horror or the slightly comedic Belgian show that wouldn’t have found an audience there.”

He noted he doesn’t mind if the two new things don’t rate provided they keep the brand sane. “They keep the brand saying here are things you didn’t know existed,” Iuzzolino said. “Audiences respond very well to that.”

Do you share your data with licensors? Mitchell wants to know.

“Not the number of streams,” Iuzzolino said. “And I tell you why we don’t. It would be very unfair on the suppliers, the distributors themselves, in the sense that there are some shows that we love and we back and that I spend money on that absolutely die in streaming terms.”

He argued that those shows often get enormously loved by a very tiny amount of people and the press, so shows do different jobs. “Sometimes a great hit for us is a show from Holland seven years ago. On the face of it, you wonder why would you concentrate on a thing like that? We love it and we think it’s fun and we play that.”

He points to it not being a level playing field: how does one assess and evaluate the performance of an old Dutch show against a niche Danish show which Iuzzolino regards as an incredible work of art. It should not and should never be judged against the fact it  streams a tenth of a TF1 show. “To me they are all the same children. It doesn’t have a commercial impact for us, we have a yearly budget that allows us to buy shows that will or will not stream.”

If they stream, more money comes in and we can buy more shows, Iuzzolino pointed out. “If they stop streaming, money stops coming in and we shut down the office. It is as simple as that.What we share information on is our sectors of viewers and what they watch and why. We justify that very extensively with every content maker for sure.”

Mitchell pointed out that If she was the rights’ holder she would want to know if her show had got lots of views or not?

“Don’t get me wrong, you as rights’ holders will know,” Iuzzolino explained. “But there is no point in publishing ‘this is the highest streamer and this is the lowest streamer of the year’. You don’t do that.”

Everyone who supplies Walter Presents gets to know how their show does but it doesn’t give a number, rather they are told if it performs well; if it has or hasn’t broken even. Iuzzolino described putting a number on performance as a “stupid principle” that doesn’t make any level of sense because he is trying to curate the content.

“You are trying to generate meaning by juxtaposing content, you’re not judging the individual content of that thing,” he noted. “But as I say we discuss how it is doing.” At the Walter Awards in December, a nod is given to the highest streaming show of the year.

Netflix doesn’t share data? Mitchell asked.

It only bothers Iuzzolino in a cultural sense not knowing if the Netflix shows ever get watched. Culturally, he would like to know as a viewer.

Ennis is sanguine. “If the price is right and you don’t care what is coming in afterwards [from the filmmaker], then you can just forget about it whether your show is successful or not. But it is business,” she said. “The more it does, the more as a rights’ holder you will get in the end. So from that perspective it is interesting.”

Said Iuzzolino: “But we’re talking Netflix here. Most people here [at CONNeXT] have sold us shows or we are working with them, and the kind of cheques we write are insignificant so they are not linked to any performance. We don’t compete with Netflix on that level.”

Walter Presents is a curator of shows the executives love so it’s not about ‘I give you a certain amount of money and I make a hundred thousand times more.’ As I said before, sometimes a mainstream French show will help pay for the Danish show that no-one will watch. It’s quite a balanced system.”

“Maybe the French producer would not be as happy about that? it was playfully suggested.

“The French producers, we know them, we work with them, we know exactly how they are doing. They know how many we buy,” Iuzzolino said. “We are a small company, there’s about eight of us, we have to live and pay reasonably modest wages if I am honest with you. When we are a start-up and everybody in the business knows about what we do and why we do it, so it is not about us buying villas somewhere in Antigua, it really is about promoting our shows.”

Iuzzolini agreed that way of looking at it makes sense in a Netflix kind of way, “because then you would ask is there a piece of IP that was bought by a small Latin American producer that is making billions for someone?

“We are talking about very small numbers on Channel 4. What we are doing in return is you return them [the producers] a huge press book. You buy the show, the 12 episodes, and you hope that by buying it and returning a big press book of that scale that that show will sell internationally and make a fortune for the producer. I think you are making a genuine contribution to the system as opposed to the other way. Adding value is what we are trying to do.”

What needs to evolve in the next three to five years? asked Mitchell.

“What needs to evolve is the perspective we have of the film format in itself,” Joly said. “It’s going to the very source of the talent and what is currently out on the internet and currently directed. This is the next goldmine.”

In terms of consumption Joly sees models like AVOD and SVOD going huge. “I think young audiences like to have an abundance of films. They are not used to watching a film entirely as we did,” she said. “They like to change when they want. We feel old saying that but I think that’s the way they watch films now. They watch different, shorter films in a different way, so this is something we ought to be taking into account.”

Muselaers would like to see a much more integrated European industry in terms of both platforms and content creation. “We’re going to see the emergence of the personal shopper, personal assistant more. We need that. We need a system that is going to help us make sense of all these platforms and help us find content, subscribe to the right service, hop on hop off, because I just want to watch that show. That’s why I do believe in transactional, especially with this whole waterfall of streaming subscription services that is coming.”

She predicted the advent of smart bundling with people cherry picking on top of that and said she already sees this in the US where piracy is going up because people do not want to sign up to so many services. “People just want to watch The Handmaid’s Tale, but don’t want to sign up to Hulu.”

Ennis said the consumer has to be first and it is the consumer that needs help. “Creating a tool to help navigate is very important. I love the idea of the personal shopper, personal assistant, but whether we use AI for that, I do not know.”

She said in terms of what content is going to be made she also agreed the consumer is going to have a great role in that. “At some point there must be a stop to this ocean of content. There must be a more specified content for the consumer.”

Iuzzolino suspects that five years from now there will be greater consolidation between the big players coupled with fragmentation among the smaller ones. There will be a growth of individual smaller verticals.

“As Marike was saying earlier, how we find a way to collaborate cross country is interesting in some bits of our independents and marketing and is something we have to get better at because we all do tend to live in our bubble.”

He is seeing it with launches internationally: every market has a different problem, a different proposition and a different content partner.

“Foxtel is not Discovery which is not PBS. And yet it is interesting to pool all of that and factor it in to our acquisition strategy and find a way to do that with other niche services playing with that in other areas,” Iuzzolino said.

International growth potential for Flemish TV drama? suggested Mitchell.

Iuzzolino said from his perspective as a humble curator he did want growth to equate to scale. “I would wish Belgium to do more of what it does and what it does well rather than go big,” he said, playing to the crowd. “That’s my personal thing and other stakeholders in this will go, ‘No, I want to go 10 times bigger. Belgium is on top of its game and long may it continue. I hope more buyers and more money coming from all over the world will allow more creatives here to flourish, because they deserve to.”

Muselaers said that on a super, super, super small level, because Lumière Publishing is a Benelux service, it is her personal goal to get much more Belgium content on the service to sell to Holland. “We speak the same language but we remake each other’s films and series. It’s starting to grow a little bit now but we are not there yet.”

Pleasant Surprises

The question is more the visibility as far as Joly is concerned, given it is possible for every local industry now to go global. “How do you get promoted locally so people will get on the platform and watch you? With the magic of digital you can discover there are small communities around the world finding content,” she said. [Lumière had a Belgian documentary about two cyclists that has 2,000 sells in Australia because there is a big cycling fan base in Australia. Everything is possible as long as you get a good audience]. “I would say rather than for the Flemish Belgian industry, it’s more a question of which content to which audience more generally,” she maintained.

Why will there not be a winner takes all for film and TV like in other fields – Google dominates search engines, for instance? Mitchell mused.

Iuzzolino said it goes back to the personal shopper idea. There may be a point when one or two giant search engines take over and direct consumers to individual verticles or the supermarket where they can get the product at the best price for the best value.

Muselaers pointed out that is the Amazon or Apple model. “There might be one big umbrella under which all these services are placed,” she said.

Ennis said then they are talking about cultural diversity, films that cannot be translated into shoe sales or hotel room bookings. “So it is extremely difficult to compare apples and bananas (and Amazons),” she joked.

Local Platforms From Broadcasters

Ennis recently learned that there’s a new word for that, B-VOD, ‘broadcaster’ VOD.

Iuzzolino still believes Europe is “the cradle of a very interesting civilisation” which is producing and investing hundreds of millions of euros “into extraordinary product that reflects European culture in its immense diverse richness”.

Belgian products for Belgium, Dutch products for the Netherlands, and Danish in Denmark. “That is extraordinary and the idea that could somehow come together into something that is a bit more unified, I would do that. If you knew there is a place where all the best European scripted from every European channel is available I, as a consumer, would love it.”

No silo please where everything is dumped into one big can, Mitchell noted.

Said Iuzzolino: “There is a very interesting public service culture that has generated extraordinary value here (in Europe) and we don’t know quite yet how to monetise it outside of the giant American companies that swoop in and get it.”

He described it as a conversation where the political and the financials converge and it becomes an almost ideological debate that needs to play out at a much bigger level.

Muselaers said she understood it from a broadcaster’s perspective. It makes sense because public broadcasters become quality stamps, they become brands and it makes sense they take that online. “It does make it a much more fragmented, complex market – not just for us but also for the consumers who have another service to deal with. So I have not completely made up my mind about it. I understand it but it doesn’t make it easy.”

What technologies – 5G, blockchain, VR, AR – which will impact the most? Mitchell asked.

Muselaers noted the emergence of applications for new technologies. [5G will allow everyone to not use download anymore but to watch everything everywhere].

“AI will help us create profiles of customers and really recommend the best content per consumer; blockchain, because it will make everything much more transparent and help us tremendously with data,” she suggested. “VR might just still be something for events, gaming etc. don’t see us going VR at the moment.”

For her part, Ennis thinks blockchain is interesting to follow “as the whole concept is to de-centralise and that is a power shift in terms of data and in terms of knowledge and everything you have”.

She said the industry can’t even imagine what that will be five years from now when it actually works but predicted it will change the whole food chain. “I think it is frightening but it also gives the most opportunities, so that is the balance.”

Muselaers described blockchain as being too early right now as the consumer does not know it. “It has to be so easy and so simple that even a grandma could do it,” she said.

LiveTree [seed is their token]released a platform and even though one of the panelists professed to not understanding crypto or blockchain, they could understand what they were doing with that. “You go as customer, you sign up, you get five tokens straight away to spend on the platform straight away. And if you recommend the platform to a friend – you can do it on Facebook – you get extra tokens and you can start watching.”

For Iuzzolino, it was time for a confession before his prediction. “I am terrible on technology. I am the kind of person who writes on parchment practically. It’s a combination of all of those technologies to be honest.”


PANEL DISCUSSION moderated by Wendy Mitchell with Rikke Ennis (REinvent Studios, NutAlone), Marike Muselaers (Lumière Publishing), Muriel Joly (Under The Milky Way) and Walter Iuzzolino (Walter Presents)

By Stuart Kemp