Interview with DOX Magazine Issue 69

31.05.2007

An interview with CEO Cay Wesnigk by editor in Chief Ulla Jacobson, printed in the March 2007 Issue of DOX the EDN Magazine DOX is now online

Interview for DOX Magazine Issue #69 2/2007

Intro and Questions asked by Ulla Jacobsen
Answered by C. Cay Wesnigk of ONLINEFILM AG

Online distribution can be a promising outlet for documentaries, but it all depends on who controls the market. . C. Cay Wesnigk has been very aware of this crucial factor for many years and already in 2000 he set up together with 120 of his German colleagues from AG DOK in Germany a public limited company for online distribution, ONLINEFILM AG. The company is fully owned by film creators and producers who have now received funding from MEDIA to make a european portal, onlinefilm.org and who are looking for partners in various EU countries to join the project.

DOX: Why is it so important to set up a filmmaker controlled online film distribution portal?


CCW: I think it is crucial that we as filmmakers get together and try to establish a portal for documentary films that belongs to us. In the past it was all about who was controlling the access to our audiences and who paid the price and took the risk to set the actual distribution process in motion. With new digital technologies the price of distribution is going down, but the question of who has access to our potential audience remains.
Even though we live in a real multichannel universe now, one simple fact remains: the audience is lazy and likes it simple (and I include myself here).

DOX: If we look at the development of the web so far, it has this tendency to create new monopolies. Just ask yourself what comes into your mind when you think of the Internet and “search”? You might think “google” instead of “search” and that is already the answer to the question. Or where to buy a book on the Internet or where to sell used stuff or find it? I will leave out the answer, because I am sure everyone will think of the same brandnames here.

CCW: The same phenomenon I am sure will happen with films and that means that even though we could reach our audiences without any middle man and for technically very little cost, we will need a new middleman so our audience can easily find our films.
That part of our potential audience which does not even know our films exist, is the bigger part. They need a place to start their search and that place should belong to us.

The Web 2.0 concept is a great thing, and many examples show that people are willing to participate and work for a community, not asking for payment (e.g. Internet Movie Database, Wikipedia). Lets look at YouTube. Someone has built a digital information pool, rented a lot of hard-disk space and whoever had some film-clip to offer, used the free space to present it online. Thus everyone who used YouTube helped create a monopoly, because in the long run everyone who is looking for that kind of material will go there to find it, because that’s where the potential customers are. Who will build up such a system to sell documentaries online? And what will he do with us once we have made his portal well known by offering our films on that platform? This position of power is what frightens me, because I fear that if the marketplace is owned only by a corporation or an individual solely out to make a profit, they will dictate the conditions of use which are best for their own profit to all their users. Another thing I dislike is that any information people give about themselves is used intensively to show matching adverts to that person, which might urge him to buy something. The data mining tools those platforms use, are very powerful and can find out a lot about a customers just by profiling their click history. I am sure not only advertisers are interested in these findings.

These mechanisms we hope to control through a company which belongs to filmmakers and producers who want to make money with selling their films and not with building up a successful platform. This is why we funded ONLINEFILM AG and now offer shares to all filmmakers and others who are involved in filmproduction.




DOX: What is ONLINEFILM AG and what is onlinefilm.org?

CCW: ONLINEFILM AG is a “comradeship” of shareholders to build, maintain and develop a digital marketplace that belongs to the filmmakers called www.onlinefilm.org.
ONLINEFILM AG was funded by independent filmmakers to help them stay independent by developing digital technologies that can then be used by small production companies and filmmakers.
In its bylaws it is secured that nobody can have more than 5% of the voting power, no matter how many shares he or she holds. This way we want to make sure that the company can not easily be taken over. The digital distribution system we are going to build, run and develop further is called onlinefilm.org.


DOX: How is onlinefilm.org going to work?

CCW: As a user who wants to download films, you will be able to enter the system in many different ways. You can access it through the central portal at www.onlinefilm.org but also through the regional or national portals where you will be able to use your own language for the search and you will find the films described in your own language. In the long run we hope to be able to present a lot of different subtitles in many different languages as well. But we will start with the original language with Engl. subtitles.

It will also be possible to find the films that are in the database on the page of the filmmaker or anybody who wants to promote them (festival, funder, TV-station or any other party of interest). We think that it is equally important to bring our films to the audience and not just to wait until the audience finds them on our site,

The pricing structure will vary between 2 and 6 Euro, depending on the length, production value and “freshness” of the film.

We plan to offer ‘download to own’ in a very good quality, close to DVD, as well as, for a lower price, a stream to watch the film only once. It will also be possible to offer and distribute films for free through the onlinefilm.org System, if the copyright holders decide to do so.


DOX: If you as a producer want your film distributed via onlinefilm.org, how will it work?

CCW: The platform and the underlying technology will be open for everyone regardless of whether they own shares of the ONLINEFILM AG. But of course the System can only work if we are able to invest enough money and our base of share holders is broad enough.

It will be possible to make use of the technology on your own if you are ready to learn to work with the system and digitise your films in the appropriate format etc. If you can not or will not do that, you can also just send your film and Metadata to us and we will then get the film and data online for you. This of course means that you have to bring some money to the table to start with, or you have to be willing to pay for the work done for you. We want to create a system that is self sustainable. Therefore we need to make money with the films. The goal of the onlinefilm.org project is not to make the shareholders of ONLINEFILM AG rich. Nevertheless we hope to be able to pay a decent interest on the capital that our share holders give us, once the system is up and running and successfully distributing films online. But we also want the filmmakers to make money with their films, the more the better.

The rights issue is of course crucial and we hope to be able to help solve it by offering a new way of revenue share practise which shall look as follows: All the individuals or companies who have rights in a certain film, shall have their own account in the onlinefilm.org system. There they will find a certain percentage of each sale made through the system. So every day the director or holder of the music rights can see online how many times the film he holds rights to has been downloaded and how much money has accumulated in his account.

If the producer has collected all the copyrights needed for the VOD Distribution, then of course he gets all the money. But we hope that in the future more and more producers will be willing to share the revenue generated by this new way of distributing with the artistic team. For this we want to offer the optimal accounting tool.

For defining the share of the revenue that every copyright owner who is involved should get, we will collaborate with the collecting agencies and the various rights holders organisations, who have years of experiences with this.

We want to solve the rights issue for those films which have been made before VOD was a known form of exploitation and which can not be distributed in this way now without first clearing the rights with all the copyright holders that were involved..

We are aware that it might still be possible for certain films not to be cleared and we might need to restrict their download possibility to certain territories.
We encourage filmmakers to try to use all possible means to get their films seen, like theatrical release, Pay TV, Free TV and also DVD if they can.



DOX: Can a sales agent distribute his/her catalogue via onlinefilm.org?

CCW: Everyone who has the copyright clearance for a film to distribute it online can use the system to distribute his film through our system.


What kind of partners are you looking for?

As regional/national partners we prefer producers or filmmakers associations. We like to stick as closely to the original rights owners as possible and if they have already organised themselves to sell and promote their films together, so much the better. But we certainly do not think that distributors are not needed anymore. If they do their difficult job well and pay what they owe to the original copyright owners and producers, their knowledge, expertise and work will always be needed to promote and distribute a film in all the different ways that do exist and will keep on existing.


DOX: Explain briefly about the translation system.

CCW: The Translator Wiki is the idea that it might be possible to offer people who have an excellent knowledge of two languages to invest in translating a film at their own risk and then get some money back on a revenue share basis whenever the film is downloaded with their translation. The success of Wikipedia lead us to this idea. Of course we will implement control mechanisms so that a certain standard of translation quality is guaranteed. And we are only talking about subtitling of course, not dubbing.


DOX: How will it be developed during the next three years according to the plan?

CCW: We are staring with 4 partners: our technical partner is the Stiftung Kulturserver GmbH, a non-profit company with a lot of experience in the development of digital technology for cultural networks www.culturebase.org
Our starting partners in different regions in the first year are production companies in Lithuania (UAB Tremora), Latvia (EHO Filma) and Greece (Anenom Productions).

For next year (a proposal will be ready in summer) we are already talking to different organisations from more European countries, We are also open to suggestions and applications.

Our kick-off meeting for the onlinefilm.org project will be at the Berlinale 2007. There we also hope to meet new potential partners and shareholders. In Berlin we will be giving a presentation on February 9th at the Embassy of the State of Schleswig Holstein, In den Ministergärten 8 (close to Portsdamer Platz) at 3 pm in German and at 4 pm in English. We will also be at the EFM in the Gropius Bau at the booth of AGDOK, where you can gather information material, ask questions and arrange meetings. Last but not least we are busy building up our information website in German and English at www.onlinefilm.org. This site will also become the main entrance to the site from where you can find all films in all languages we have in the system.

We plan to launch the Online Platform in autumn 2007 with the first 300 films online and ready to download against micropayment.
Also we hope to add three to four partner agencies in different EU countries every year and have 900 films online by the end of the funding phase in 2009.

To be able to counterfinance the EU grant we need to sell new shares. We hope to broaden our basis of shareholders. New shares will be available through our website from the beginning of March for 2.50 Euro per share, minimum purchase is 200 shares which equals 500 Euros.


DOX: How do you see the future for on-line distribution of docs in 10 years? Will it provide filmmakers with a substantial income?

I think there definitely is a future for the online distribution of documentaries. The question is whether we as filmmakers will be allowed to profit from the income generated with our films or if others will skim off the cream and leave us the whey. We think film is a collaborative work and all those who had creational input should get a percentage of the income generated through VOD, especially because this new way of distribution is so powerful. It can sell millions of copies in a day or only one hundred in ten years, with very little costs for the actual distribution. Films will be available for hundreds of years, 24 hours a day for anyone who has internet access in the whole world. This might also mean that the need to make new films could significantly decrease, because there is so much to watch already.

In 10 years linear television, as we know it today, will play a much smaller role. I think it will be normal to select the personalised channel of your choice for the evening or for while you do the ironing. You will enter the mood you are in and then the programme designed for you and your mood will start to screen. You can stop and change anytime, roll forward and backward and start again. The programme and the advertisement will be tailored for you.

If you are in an active mood, you can select films like in the video library, just that it will be much bigger than any Blockbusters today and it will know your preferences and help you find something that interests you. Whether documentaries will be of interest to anyone anymore depends very much on how we make them and what we make them about.

Unfortunately many systems will probably only offer films that have mass appeal just like many TV Stations today. Without a portal like onlinefilm.org, Documentaries will have a hard time to be found. If they have to exist right beside and compete against all the nice juicy entertainment formats that fulfil the basic needs of people who are lazy and like it simple they might have a difficult time.

The onlinefilm.org project has the support of the MEDIA Plus Programme of the European community. So far it has also been funded by the MSH Gesellschaft zur Förderung audiovisueller Werke in Schleswig-Holstein, Hessische Filmförderung and kulturelle Filmförderung in Schleswig Holstein. It is owned by 122 shareholders, most of them Media professionals.

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C. Cay Wesnigk

Mail: support@onlinefilm.org

Phone +49 451 5057570
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Imprint

ONLINEFILM AG
Heisterbusch 3
23611 Bad Schwartau / Germany
Phone +49 451 5057570
Fax +49 451 282223

Chairman:
C. Cay Wesnigk - wesnigk(at)onlinefilm.org

Chairman of the supervisory board:
Roland Schmidt

Registered address:
Wakenitzmauer 34-36
23552 Lübeck / Germany

Steuernummer
22 296 23957 Finanzamt Lübeck
USt ID DE 214233673
HRB 7698 HL
Amtsgericht Lübeck (local court)