Propellor Film Tech: rewriting the business model of the film industry

There's a growing ecosystem of innovators that work towards finding new business models for the screen-based industry by increasing collaboration between media and technology professionals. This is the aim of the Propellor Film Tech Hub, a platform that focuses on creation and distribution in the film industry.

Netflix founder Reed Hastings recently lamented a lack of innovation in the way films are distributed. Indeed, when asked how distribution innovated in the last 30 years, Hastings quipped “Well, the popcorn tastes better, but that’s about it”.

Domination by major media entities, dwindling financing, shrinking release windows (a consequence of video on demand) and fragmented revenue streams have led to a more conservative attitude in the media production industry.

And yet, for some industry observers, such an economic climate translates into genuine opportunities for strategic development, especially when endorsing the philosophy embraced by tech start-ups.

Data: Innovation’s New Best Friend

Media and cultural businesses are trying to catch up to other industries, which have already found many profitable ways to make use of massive amounts of user-generated data.

Every step in the audiovisual process provides rich and useful data which, with a bit of imagination, can yield many benefits to craftspeople and right holders alike. Optimization of the creative process, risk analysis, labour management, target market assessment and discoverability are but a few of them.

The Propellor Film Tech Hub, a joint initiative launched by two film festivals (the International Film Festival Rotterdam and CPH:DOX), a film market (the European Film Market) and an innovation studio (Cinemathon), is part of those new business incubators that aim at encouraging a clash of ideas between the film and technology industries, in much the same way as other recent digital revolutions such as fintech (finance), cleantech (renewable energies) or edtech (education).

Created by German producers Erwin M. Schmidt and Susanne Marian at the Cinemathon studio, The Propellor Film Tech Hub is the only platform for technological innovation that focuses mainly on creation and distribution in the film industry.

Already in 2015, Propellor demonstrated its multifaceted approach by setting up various creative workshops and think tanks. An intensive incubation program is also planned in Berlin in 2018.

All this allowed Propellor to establish an international network of collaborators, thinkers, entrepreneurs, influencers and technologists, whose common goal is to challenge the common beliefs and envision the future of cinema from the perspective of digital creativity.

“The film industry has a lot to gain by developing intellectual property using new technologies, and by applying the same modus operandi as tech start-ups, that is: design, iteration, beta testing, gradual spread and large-scale growth”, said Erwin M. Schmidt during the Propellor Springboard, which took place at the CPH:DOX last spring.

An Interdisciplinary Manifesto

Eleven measures were identified at the Propellor Speednic think tank, which took place last February during the Berlinale. Among them:

  • Teach entrepreneurship and strategic innovation in film schools;
  • Develop new ways to curate the ever-growing volume of films available online
  • Encourage ways to understand and interpret massive amounts of data
  • Identify new focal points between creators and audiences
  • Redefine the film experience
  • Use film festivals as laboratories to test new business models
  • Establish long-lasting relationships between people in the film and technology sectors

“Our goal is to become a vehicle that promotes action rather than thought, by encouraging our colleagues to develop and then quickly implement their new concepts, so as to be able to validate them and then seek out investors, Schmidt says.

“New technologies such as blockchain and AI, or crowdsourcing and a sharing economy all represent opportunities that the industry should consider. Our role is to create an environment that encourages innovation.”

Priority: Distribution

“From the start, our activities have led us to conclude that developing new ways to distribute content, whatever the format, is a priority, said Schmidt. It is already hard for new content to make it all the way to the screen, and it is often difficult to access them online. Distribution is thus our main challenge and will be the focus of our next initiatives.”

Indeed, about fifteen projects have been developed thus far by multidisciplinary teams from various parts of the world, who gathered for a series of innovation development weekends held in Rotterdam and Copenhagen. Those teams were tasked with finding ways to increase visibility and revenue for feature and documentary films.

Examples of what came out of those sessions include:

  • Culture Cues (Innovation Award – Rotterdam) is a Tinder-type app that allows operators and distributors to access audiences’ preferences based on their appreciation of a movie trailer.
  • Moviefication aims to improve the movie experience based on a geo-tracking of the filmgoers, using an augmented reality mobile app.
  • Cinelan brings together theatre owners and video game enthusiasts wishing to organize various events and competitions on a big screen.
  • VR Catwalk is an immersive app/location shooting search engine aimed at film and TV offices throughout the world.
  • Filmpass is a social, bidirectional app that allows people to search for, purchase and organize film projections in theatres or temporary locations. It also enables owners and managers to learn more about their customers’ preferences and habits.
  • Amplifier (Mentor Award – Copenhague) is a data brokerage app that allows producers, distributors and marketing agencies to pool their data on audiences, communities of interest and influencers, with an aim at focusing on documentaries that feature common themes or causes.

A Growing Ecosystem

Just like the Disney AcceleratorCFC Media Lab’s Ideaboost program, the Creative>>Founder LabQUT Creative Enterprise Australia, the Dogfish Accelerator or the Canada Media Fund’s experimental stream, the Propellor Film Tech Hub is part of a new generation of innovators dedicated to finding and implementing new business models from a technological perspective.

One of the events launched by Toronto-based incubator Ideaboost. (Credit: CFC Media Lab)

This new ecosystem is growing at a rapid pace, as events such as Cannes NEXTEFM Startups, the SXSW Entertainment & Content Technologies Pitch Event and the Storytek conference tend to demonstrate.

Many successful companies have benefitted from the strategic and financial support of either of those organizations. SpheroJauntLiquid Cinema and VUSR are but a few of them.

Obviously, these players are particularly well poised to discover and accompany the next Reed Hastings in his or her efforts to redefine the entertainment industry…

Charles Stéphane Roy
Charles Stéphane Roy is a multiplatform producer and innovation lead at La maison de prod since 2013. Before that, he was the editor-in-chief of the daily Qui fait Quoi. He also carried out research and strategic analysis mandates for the Observatoire du documentaire du Québec and and Evolumedia Group. His projects, which incorporate filmtech and innovative business models, were selected at Cannes NEXT and the Cross Video Days and by the Storytek accelerator, in addition to earning the POV Hackathon Award and the HackXplor Liège TV5 Monde Award.
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