VOD offers growing opportunities for Oz content creators

18 November, 2013 by Don Groves

Rights Stuff founder/managing director Wendy Bernfeld has a positive message for Australian producers: Video-On-Demand platforms in the US, UK and parts of Europe are making serious money, and most have an appetite for Australian film, TV dramas and documentaries.

Bernfeld estimates there are 30-50 VOD platforms, including Subscription Video-on-Demand, that are eager for product. “The business has turned on its ear,” said Bernfeld, who is speaking at two sessions and hosting two workshops at this week’s Screen Forever conference.


The Holland-based Canadian spends 70% of her time acquiring product for VOD/ SVOD/pay-TV and consumer electronics and the balance negotiating digital deals for content owners. “I have been acquiring product for VOD platforms for 13 years,” she said. “For the first 11 years no one made any money.“

She says some mid-level independent companies in the US and Europe that historically used to generate 5%-10% of their revenues from VOD are now sourcing up to 30%-40% of their business from that avenue, when carefully windowed and balancing traditional with digital.

The turnaround has been driven not just by the major players such as Netflix, Hulu, Google, YouTube and iTunes but by a plethora of lesser-known or foreign-based entities as well as IPTV/cable/satellite VOD players, as VOD is usually non-exclusive.

Bernfeld points to recent examples such as the VOD arms of Domino’s Pizza and Toys R Us in the US, Pathe cinema in Holland, Cineplex in Canada, KindleFire in Europe, numerous art house, thematic and festivals sites and advertising-supported services such as Viewster.com which is about to ramp up in Australia, with others around the corner.

Australian thrillers, comedies and genre films and TV crime dramas are popular with VOD viewers, she says.

She advises Australian producers where possible to negotiate what she terms hybrid deals, meaning sales agents do not always get exclusive VOD rights, which enables producers or digital sector specialists to strike complementary deals with individual platforms or aggregators, sharing revenues and balancing the windows with traditional.

She expects various major platforms to enter Australia sooner rather than later. The executive will provide an update on international digital distribution and new forms of digital production/cross platform on Tuesday at the Catching the Digital/VOD Wave – While Watching for Wipe-outs session.

On Wednesday she will take part in a panel entitled Screen Splinters- Shakeups in Large and Small Screen Distribution with Universal Pictures’ Mike Baard, Madman’s Paul Wiegard and producer Vincent Sheehan.

Bernfeld advocates flexible release windows, where suitable on a film-by-film basis. She says experience in Europe, the UK and US has shown that exposing a film on VOD before or concurrent with cinema release can enhance the theatrical results. VOD, she asserts, “is not a threat to theatrical.”

On Thursday she and FanDependent CEO Thomas Mai are conducting a two-part workshop, Digging Into Digital: VOD and Reaching Your Audience Survival Guide.