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IDmage offers African filmmakers online distribution

Enrico Chiesa, associate director at IDmage is gearing up for the launch this year of a new web portal that will aim to bring African films back on screen via video-on-demand (VOD) services. He is also pioneering a new way of providing cinema to viewers in a way that will pay back revenues to filmmakers.
IDmage offers African filmmakers online distributionRussell Southwood and Sylvain Beletre of Balancing-Act Africa spoke to Chiesa about these two new projects.

IDmage's move into VOD is a way of re-igniting some excitement in African films and reviving their power in markets where large distributors have killed margins or where piracy has driven film theatres and producers into bankruptcy. The portal system gives content owners a way to experiment with new distribution avenues and lets them monetise their films more quickly. Unlike the mainstream distribution market, the portal also gives producers the chance to sell their films in an environment that is not beholden to complex launch calendars and market cycles.

Balancing-Act (BA): What is the key objective of your new VOD store on www.africafilms.tv?

Enrico Chiesa (EC): We want to bring African films back on screen and bring cash back to African filmmakers. AfricaFilms.tv is one of the first VOD (video-on-demand) online stores 100% dedicated to African films, of all genres, accessible from any territory in the world. We have set up a system which guarantees a fair revenue to African filmmakers and producers. The portal model will also allow IDmage to re-launch many bestselling titles which have been forgotten.

BA: What category of African film producers will be interested in the portal?


EC: It will be accessible for all African film rights owners for any film content (within qualitative limits) and in any language. Key benefits for African filmmakers and producers will be:

  • simple set-up,
  • free - no investment necessary, apart from a bit of time to send us their materials and sign the contract,
  • have international visibility,
  • non-exclusive rights,
  • have on-going potential revenues
  • and there is no need to travel around to find distributors.

Africanfilms.tv will be a multi-territory, multi-genre portal. This will be especially true for African film owners who don't have access to export markets and those who do not have resources to attend international festivals and content events.

Apart from festival films, the portal will also carry soap operas, documentaries (from 26' upwards) and stand-up comedy shows. Our difference is that we do not purchase rights, and our contract is non-exclusive for producers who thus keep their freedom in distributing their content elsewhere. In case they sell rights to a TV broadcaster that seeks exclusivity on its territory, we remove the title within a few days from the available offer in that territory.

BA: What type of audience will be interested in your VOD catalogue?


EC: The portal will be targeted primarily at world culture buffs and at the African Diaspora, ie. mainly audiences located in North America / Caribbean and Europe or Austral-Asia. Anybody from anywhere will be able to watch videos using a video device linked to the web: computer, smart phones, etc. Our price per film will remain reasonable to allow as many people to have access: movies will be charged about €4-5 (or US$4-5) for 48 hours rental, documentaries (26', 52') and series around €2-3 / USD per watched item.

BA: Technically and financially, how does it work for film rights owners?


EC: What we are proposing to producers is a service and a partnership.

As the content owner, you contact us to sign a contract, we upload your content (DVD or DV provided by you), we grant you a personal login so that after a while, you can go to your account and see how much you've earned. You then send us an invoice and we pay you straightaway: 50% goes to the producer and 50% to us to cover our technical costs and wages.

If you have a strong brand (eg. a very popular soap opera, a famous production house), you might want to have your own, personalised VOD online store to sell directly to your loyal fans. Still, a VOD portal such as the one we are about to launch costs about €200 000 to build, which is out of reach for most independent African producers. This is why AfricaFilms.tv will include a simple website builder, allowing you to create your webstore in just a few clicks at no cost. And the split becomes more interesting for the producer: IDmage only takes a 10% handling fee.

BA: When do you plan on launching the portal?


EC: It will be launched around June 2010. We will start with a beta version, which will improve over time with new versions. We have set up a team in Paris and Dakar who will promote the launch and take care of the technical aspects.

BA: What phase have you reached so far and what remains to be done?


EC: We are in a pre-launch phase, currently developing, testing and improving the site, finalising our film catalogue, identifying new content owners and signing contracts with them. We still need to find more content providers. We are also interested in finding partners and more funds to ensure that the portal will survive in the long run.

BA: How much will the portal costs you in total?


EC: We got €500 000 from the EU via ACP Films - the ACP-EU cooperation support programme for the ACP cinema and audiovisual sectors - for this project and the Mobicine project. This is public money, and our approach is public and transparent: we want to support African film productions, and allow African independent right-owners to maximise their revenue abroad.

The company will start promoting its online store as soon as it launches, and will need local web media to convey its message. IDmage also invites African producers and filmmakers / distributors to contact the company in order to add their content to its catalogue. Lastly, IDmage is looking for funding and media partners in order to support its African film distribution initiatives in the long run.

View www.africafilms.tv

About Russell Southwood and Sylvain Beletre

Sylvain Béletre is associate editor and research analyst at Balancing Act Africa. Béletre's current research in African broadcasting includes TV Rights, broadband, HDTV, IPTV, bundle package, content/telecoms convergence, mobile TV and advertising. Telecoms research ranges from wholesale, pricing, Wasp, fibre-optic cables, impact of the crisis to triple play and green developments. Sylvain has more than 14 years experience in international research and consultation including six years for UK firms and eight years for a US firm. Sylvain has conducted numerous courses and workshops on sales and marketing implementation, market research, competitive analysis and strategic thinking methods. He has written a book on 'strategic intelligence' and holds a MSc in Management and Marketing from Staffordshire University Business School in Britain, a certification from Havard Business School, a degree in Film and TV production, and a certificate in journalism. Contact Béletre at .
Russell Southwood is the chief executive of Balancing Act and the editor of its weekly e-letter on telecoms, internet and computing News Update. He founded Balancing Act as a broadcast, telecoms and internet consultancy and research house focused on Africa. As a consultant, he has worked for a variety of clients looking at: satellite vs. fibre infrastructure in Africa; the creation of a regional internet exchange point; the future for triple play services in Africa; the development of local internet content and services; and policy development on the African continent. Southwood spends half his time travelling across Africa, visiting clients and attending major telecoms and audiovisual events. He can be contacted at .
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