OVER THE LAST year, SampoMedia has been commissioned to analyse a series of films released simultaneously in theatres and VOD platforms in the UK.
The work, supported by the BFI New Models fund, offers comprehensive insights into the way that so-called ‘day-and-date’ releasing works.
Day-and-date is controversial and many cinemas have been refusing to show films, which break the industry norm of 17-weeks between cinema and other platform releasing.
On the other hand, some believe that it represents an essential means of keeping down costs, building premium revenues and expanding the audience for independent and arthouse films, which rarely get a substantial theatrical run.
The latest report is about the release by Peccadillo films of Stranger By The Lake. (For full report click here)
Stranger by the Lake is a niche film in a number of respects: it is subtitled, French, and strongly branded as an ‘art’ film, not least through its Un Certain Regard banner, It is also an uncompromisingly, and sometimes sexually-explicit, story with a strong appeal to a the LGBT niche section of consumers.
With many theatres refusing to show the film because of its day-and-date release, the film went out in 24 UK theatres.
Two weeks later the film was released on VOD (simultaneously with cinema release in Scotland).
- The release was supported by the New Models strand of the BFI Distribution Fund, giving a total P&A budget of £100,000.
- The film was primarily aimed at LGBT cinemagoing community, with an emphasis on a male art house audience.
- Cineworld, having agreed to play the film, decided very close to the release date to cancel showing the film due to the windows issue. No reasons were given, but following spontaneous social media protests, that decision was reversed and the film was played as a special one-day screening in a few sites.
- As expected, there was a very strong male skew, both in theatres (76%) and for downloads (84%).
- The majority of the audience was made up of frequent cinemagoers, with 61% going once a fortnight or more.
- The average age of the male-skewing theatrical audience was 46.
- 51% of the audience rated the film as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’, which was below the polling norms.
- 81% of theatrical audience said they would not download the film.
- The theatrical gross total was £154,000, which is a respectable result for a subtitled arthouse film and in line with distributor mid-case expectations.
- 72% of the box office came from London from 21% of cinemas.
- 71% of the Video On Demand (VOD) revenue came from iTunes and Virgin Cable. Niche branded platforms figured very little in total % sales.
- Almost all theatrical revenues came from arthouse cinemas. This difference in platform revenue between VOD and theatrical might benefit from further discussion in the industry.
- VOD revenues were enhanced by premium pricing and promotional support.
- Major platforms that might be expected to give promotional support for the day-and-date release were more hesitant due to the explicit nature of the film
- Total on demand gross sales were £33,953. Without premium pricing revenue would have been circa 26,000. Extra revenue from VOD premium pricing is estimated at £7,500.
Premium pricing equates to a 30% uplift from on demand revenues in the first four months on release.
This release offers useful lessons, which are greatly enhanced when weighed alongside the findings of other Insight Reports carried out by SampoMedia, including Nymphomaniac, Borrowed Time, A Late Quartet, and What Maisie Knew.
Stranger By The Lake is an important test model in how a film might not just more effectively and profitably reach a niche arthouse audience, but how it might engage a broad community interest, in this case of LGBT people.
DAY-AND-DATE STRATEGY FOR NICHE FILMS
Stranger by the Lake’s strong appeal to a the LGBT niche section of consumers and its explicit content reduced its mainstream appeal in the eyes of many cinemas and other platforms.
Another release in the same weekend, Nymphomaniac, might be said to have the same issues, with unmistakable arthouse credentials and strong sexual themes, that are a difficult sell in cinemas.
There are other categories of film that have the same dynamic, with its strongest appeal to a specialist audience within the already niche taste for arthouse film. Many documentaries fit the same description.
In such cases, day-and-date releasing may have a particular appeal. With theatrical potential
fairly low, but a strong core audience with a sense of community, existing outside the reach of an arthouse cinema, a new model may be appropriate.
The results of Stranger by the Lake illustrate the point: the theatrical release, partly because of the refusal of some cinemas to play the film, was unquestionably niche.
Yet 71% of the VOD audience watched the film through the broad, mainstream iTunes and Virgin platforms.
The combination of niche theatrical and broad VOD is intriguing, perhaps suggesting fresh strategic approaches.
There is little evidence to say that theatrical revenues were hugely impacted by the day and date release.
In part, the lack of impact is down to problems with the film itself. For all the strong critical reviews and festival awards, it failed to inspire much of
Exit polls demonstrate that word of mouth was relatively weak, with ratings below the industry norm. To that extent, the potential for a long and successful run was limited, and very little chance of breaking out into crossover, or mainstream cinemas.
In theatrical terms, the film was always unlikely to play significantly outside of the arthouses cinemas, where subtitled and specialised films have their core audiences.
As long as there are independent cinemas willing to support films that are breaking the widely protected 17-week theatrical window, a niche film is unlikely to be badly affected.
In short, there was not much to be lost in the refusal of mainstream cinemas to show the film, and no obvious damage to theatrical revenues where it was shown from home entertainment platforms.
From the polling, it is clear that only a tiny fraction of the cinema audience was even aware of the VOD release, and in any case, the audience polls was overwhelmingly convinced (83%) that the cinema was always the best place to watch a film.
Tellingly, of those that did say they would consider watching the film on VOD, there was little appetite for paying premium prices from respondents to exit polls.
Online evidence, however, suggests consumers would pay the premium price, especially if they were with someone else thereby saving money on two tickets.
A strong factor in any day-and-date strategy is pricing, with an expectation that people will pay a premium price for watching a film while it is still in cinemas.
For Stranger By The Lake, the number of premium value units sold (i.e. above the standard retail price) added up to around £7,000 or around 25% of the overall VOD gross.
It might therefore be argued that there is a 30% increase in VOD revenues by going with a simultaneous release, purely due to the premium pricing on some platforms.
This 30% metric might be hugely helpful of it can be proven with more data. It means a distributor can tentatively predict an online value to a day and date release. This can then be offset against other factors such as theatrical revenues. The result might be a more informed distribution strategy.
If iTunes had a premium price as well, then this factor would have increased notably (as they consisted of around 40% of the total sales).
PROFILE AND PARTNERSHIPS
Promotional support from VOD platforms is a significant factor in the success of online releases, and will become more so as the amount of available content grows.
In the case of the two biggest platforms Amazon and iTunes, Stranger By The Lake did not actually get any increased profile or support, and as a result the potential revenues were limited.
Gaining the support of the major platforms is crucial to maximising the value of a day-and-date release.
The experience of this film demonstrates the relative importance of the right partnerships: more than
70% of revenues came from iTunes and Virgin cable. If they could be persuaded to have a premium price and/or promotional support the financial benefits from the online release will become much larger.
There is some (limited) evidence that people downloaded the film because they were not able to see the film in cinema: perhaps because there was no local availability in cinemas, or because they would not have gone to see it in the cinema in any event.
Geographical and time and date sales information could offer real understanding of demand outside the cinema circuits and the appetite for day and date in different locations. But this data has not been released by the platforms.
However, a sample of downloaders from Peccadillo’s own lists, does show a large majority watching outside of London.
It might be a leap to say that around 60% of downloaders were not near or willing to go to the cinema. On the other hand, the appeal to LGBT audiences may extend beyond the arthouse circuit, suggesting at least the potential that the film reached beyond the arthouse core.
Combined, hopefully with a premium price, this should mean additional revenues for the content owner on a limited release.
In theory, niche films focused on known engaged audiences beyond the cinema circuit may find day- and-date a beneficial approach.
The theatrical element of a film with a specialised appeal and with a clear arthouse pedigree will perhaps necessarily be limited. That is even more so with a film such as Stranger By The Lake because sexually explicit content has generally struggled to find audiences in cinemas.
The breakout potential is also fairly limited, especially with average word of mouth on a film. The refusal of cinemas, and particularly multiplex cinemas to show the film in this instance in protest at the shortened theatrical window was thus unlikely to affect the theatrical potential. In other words, the film did not have a huge amount to lose.
On the other hand, Peccadillo’s core audience of mostly LGBT film lovers extends beyond the reach
of the arthouse circuit. The 71% of the audience watching on the mainstream Virgin and iTunes platforms points to the potential that a niche cinema release might best find its wider audience through on-demand release on the broadest services.
If it is possible to strike strong premium-pricing deals in partnership with mainstream players,
with revenues offsetting, or exceeding the small lost opportunities from cinema refusals to show the film and cannibalisation of the cinema revenues from home viewing instead of a cinema ticket.
The theory may be sound but it comes with very big caveats. Firstly, the continuing lack of transparency from the VOD platforms makes it difficult to definitively analyse demand.
Secondly, niche releases are finding it increasingly difficult to get the support for a reasonable run of attractive shows in cinemas.
Finally, convincing VOD platforms first to put their promotional weight behind a film and to charge premium prices, and building awareness among audiences is not easy.
Turning theory into practice requires experimentation and the right conclusions to be drawn but each attempt to effectively exploit day-and-date releasing offers new insight.