IFTA and AFM Exec Jonathan Wolf to Step Down

The Independent Film & Television Alliance announced that Jonathan Wolf, managing director of its American Film Market and EVP of the trade association, will step down when his current term ends on June 30.  

Jonathan Wolf

Wolf, who has led the AFM for 24 years, will continue on as an advisor through the 2022 AFM, which is set to make its in-person return to Santa Monica for the 43rd edition Nov. 1-6. 

Under Wolf’s leadership, the AFM transformed from its import-export roots to an event that serves and includes the entire independent film production and distribution community.

During his tenure, Wolf enhanced the market’s tools for buyers and sellers. He launched TheFilmCatalogue.com, a leading industry resource with information on thousands of projects and films available from global producers, distributors and sales companies, and its companion “TFC Weekly Update” email. He also introduced networking and education programs, including multi-stage conferences and panels, and the MyAFM online platform. 

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“Jonathan has been central to the success of the association’s growth and transitions,” IFTA’s president and CEO Jean Prewitt said in a statement. “He consistently has focused on making the AFM the best place for the industry to do business and has built an outstanding and long-established AFM team who share his commitment to excellence. We are grateful that Jonathan will be available to advise through the 2022 market.”

“It’s been a privilege to lead the AFM and work with passionate volunteer board members for more than 20 years,” Wolf said in a statement. “I was supported by a terrific team that worked tirelessly to produce a world class event; we achieved much together.  I’m excited to see what the future holds — for the AFM, IFTA and me.” 

With the IFTA, Wolf spearheaded the launch of IFTA Collections, the industry’s first centralized service for the collection and distribution of royalties and levies from secondary audio-visual rights for films and television programming.  To date, IFTA has collected more than $150 million for its clients and continues to distribute more than $5 million annually.   

Wolf’s connection to the IFTA began as an elected board member and vice chairman, finance, while CFO at IFTA Member New World International. He joined the association as SVP in 1993 and was appointed to lead the AFM as managing director in 1998.

AFM to Make In-Person Return to Santa Monica Nov. 1-6

The American Film Market will return to Santa Monica for its 43rd edition, taking place in person Nov. 1 to 6, the Independent Film & Television Alliance announced.

The market, which planned its shift to a six-day run in 2020, will take place at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel and theaters throughout the city.

Registration will open May 9 for exhibitors.  Accredited Buyers and Industry Attendees may register beginning July 5.

The Loews Hotel will be home to sales and production companies, LocationEXPO, and, new for 2022, all conferences and panels.

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“There is more excitement about the future than I’ve seen in two years and in-person markets are more vital than ever,” Clay Epstein, chairperson, IFTA and president of Film Mode Entertainment, said in a statement. “The desire to return to Santa Monica for AFM is at an all-time high and we are eager to reunite the global industry in November.”

AFM Panelists: Disc Still Spinning at Independent Studios

While much of the discussion among panelists at the virtual American Film Market running Nov. 1-5 has been about digital distribution, independent supplier speakers have also noted that physical disc is still an important part of the pipeline.

“We still will release a DVD and Blu-ray on each film,” said Michael Murphy, president of Gravitas Ventures. “That’s going to be manufacture-on-demand in most cases. Our filmmakers like that, and if we can do it in a cost-effective manner, it’s still worth it.”

Disc revenue is still hanging on and filling the coffers at Screen Media.

At Screen, DVD has been a surprisingly stubborn revenue stream,” said Michael Messina, EVP of distribution at Screen Media. “And it’s actually grown for us in recent years after obviously dropping for a very long time. The past two to three years we’ve seen strong DVD sales.”

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J.J. Caruth, president of domestic marketing and distribution at The Avenue, noted Redbox is a key part of keeping the disc spinning.

“We’re still seeing some DVD revenue and, of course, Redbox is a part of that,” he said. “If you can do a deal with Redbox, there’s definitely some money to be made there as well for the right genre of movie.”

AFM Panelists: Free Ad-Supported Streaming Platforms Fertile Ground for Indie Content

Free ad-supported streaming platforms are becoming an attractive distribution venue for independent content, said panelists Nov. 3 at the American Film Market.

“The pandemic just accelerated the trend to streaming,” said Jennifer Vaux, head of content acquisition at the Roku Channel, likening the content flow to “drinking from a firehose filled with Red Bull.”

“AVOD saw a huge lift,” she added.

Roku acquired the Quibi library during the pandemic. Its short chapter-like content provides a natural place for an ad break, she said.

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Years ago, it was difficult for filmmakers “to get on board with” AVOD distribution, said Brian Stevenson, CEO and founder of the Chromata Consulting Group. But the pandemic changed that view, he said.

“I got a lot more filmmakers who were interested in licensing to AVOD platforms,” he said. “They just needed to understand what that platform was all about.”

“I think our company is long on AVOD, and we’re big believers in it,” said Michael Messina, EVP of distribution for Screen Media.

“Most of us have overall deals with AVOD platforms,” he said. “These are rev-share deals with platforms. Those aren’t new deals that are being cut. You have a master agreement with Tubi, with Pluto. You push as much content through it as they can take on a rev-share basis. Beyond that, pitching them specific pieces of content for them to pay you an exclusive license fee for — that’s all relatively new, and I don’t think any of us know how many of those deals they’re doing.”

AVOD is taking some content that would have formerly gone to SVOD services.

“The line between SVOD and AVOD is becoming blurred,” said James Emanuel Shapiro, EVP of U.S. distribution for XYZ Films. “It’s possible now to do [exclusive] Pay 1 deals now with AVOD, which before was almost exclusively SVOD. There’s so many eyeballs going to IMDBTV, Roku — the SVOD market is getting extremely saturated and consumers are being forced to have a number of studio platforms at this point, so it’s becoming a cost issue, and AVOD is going to keep growing because it’s free.”

Filmmakers can’t just count on getting that big acquisition paycheck from subscription services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.

“SVOD, unless you have an output deal, every title is a grind, you have to go out and pitch it and sell it,” Messina said. “Their shelves are pretty full, and the guys who were paying the most money are now creating a ton of content, and they’re not really looking to license content in at least at the same levels as they were, so that’s a challenge.”

“Not everything can be [Hulu acquisition] Palm Springs,” said Adam Koehler, manager of acquisitions at IFC Films, adding that sometimes “it’s difficult to manage expectations of sales agents and filmmakers.”

During the pandemic, IFC sent content to drive-in theaters and genre content in particular to VOD. IFC also has its own streaming service, which provided an outlet for content.

“Luckily, our release strategy was diverse,” he said.

“Very often, we’ll come across a title that will do spectacular on VOD but maybe not have a theatrical life,” he said, such as certain genre films. He said the distribution of films on VOD or streaming simultaneously with theatrical release doesn’t necessarily hurt theaters, noting that major films with that release pattern, such as Halloween Kills and Dune, are “still doing phenomenally well at the box office.”

“With IFC, we kind of pioneered the day-and-date model almost two decades ago,” he said, adding the theatrical release bolsters word of mouth.

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Some genres do better than others on streaming services, panelists agreed.

“Documentaries are tough for the Roku Channel audience,” Vaux said. “It’s hard for them to pop — unless they’re true crime.”

“I think it’s a rule of thumb throughout the industry that true crime does very well,” said Koehler, pointing to IFC’s documentary acquisition Hold Your Fire, which includes some social commentary but also has a true crime aspect. The film, about a hostage negotiation, “kind of plays in a lot of ways like a thriller,” he said.

Stevenson said issue films and inclusive (black, LGBTQ, etc.) content can find a place on the vast number of platforms out there.

“You’ve got to start thinking about what audience you’re speaking to,” he said. “I always tell [filmmakers] to start looking at some of the AVOD platforms and what’s on there.”

For instance, he said Peacock was looking for complementary content to package with its documentary series “The Defiant Ones,” about Black music mogul Dr. Dre and record exec Jimmy Iovine, and a company he works with, Never Wish for Justice, had the documentary Black Boys and was able to fill that need. The ability to target a specific demo with content is also valuable to ad-supported platforms, he said.

Good artwork and cast members are also attractions for streamers, said panelists.

Vaux compared marketing a title on a streaming service to “Blockbuster when you had the video boxes on the wall where you would turn them over and look at the cast.”

“AVOD platforms always request a metadata sheet,” Stevenson said.

“If there is somebody [in the cast] that has a name … it’s easier to work with some of the AVOD platforms and their marketing people,” he said.

AFM Panel: Digital Marketplace Shifting to PVOD, AVOD and FAST

The digital marketplace is shifting, said panelists at the virtual American Film Market Nov. 1. Premium VOD has accelerated during the pandemic while subscription services’ pullback from buying independent content has made free ad-supported services such as AVOD and FAST the new target for content distributors.

The pandemic made PVOD a necessary distribution model, said Michael Murphy, president of Gravitas Ventures. As it subsides, “it’s going to be interesting” to see if the move to PVOD continues, he said.

“Let the consumer decide how they’re going to spend their dollars,” he said, noting a Gravitas release scheduled for January will have a 21-day theatrical window followed by PVOD.

“The splits in PVOD are better than the splits in theatrical,” he noted, adding “we still believe in the theatrical moviegoing experience.”

“We’re experimenting as the world continues to evolve,” he said.

Greg Barnard, director of content and acquisitions, at Vizio, said that based on the data collected via the company’s Smartcast system, consumers are turning more and more to free ad-supported content.

“People are looking for free options,” he said. “They’re looking to watch free content somewhere. It’s a very high-search term.”

Ad-supported free services are “breathing new life into our library” as SVOD services such as Netflix have “scaled back the number of films they acquire and what they want to pay,” Murphy added.

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Noting that Peacock has licensed a lot of content from Gravitas, he said, “It’s a little bit of a gold rush now in AVOD.”

Discovery and marketing in the digital space is still a work in progress, they said.

“Sometimes, it’s thought that you’ve got to do traditional television, traditional commercials for an awareness campaign,” Murphy said. “With PVOD, we felt that you could be a little bit more specific in your spends, try to spend maybe with the platform, spend with Amazon. And also knowing that although maybe someone’s not going to rent the movie on Amazon, everyone goes to Amazon to shop, so it’s kind of two birds with one stone there. You can get an awareness campaign, as well as potentially a click through or tap through to that ultimate buy.”

“Making content easy to find, discoverable, accessible … is absolutely critical to what we’re doing,” Barnard said. Placement on the screen of the smart TV is prime real estate.

“We own all the marketing on our platform, and that’s really powerful for us,” he said.

Packaging content and gathering the right creative for the digital space is key, they said.

Vizio likes collections around “a series, a moment, a vertical,” he said, adding he’d rather have all the seasons of two series, rather than just one or two seasons of 10 series.

To attract viewers, Vizio often asks for better creative.

“Creative that is just not intriguing enough” for the digital space is a common problem, he said.

Murphy noted he “just added some horsepower to our creative team” with a new hire.

“We need to be more aggressive and forward leaning with our providers,” he said.

Despite the move to digital distribution, Murphy said Gravitas hasn’t abandoned physical disc release, if it’s cost effective, mostly via manufacture on demand.

“Our filmmakers like it,” he said.

AFM 2021 Moves Entirely Online

The American Film Market (AFM) will move its 2021 edition entirely online, the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA) announced.

AFM 2021 Online will be held Nov. 1-5, shifting one day earlier than its original dates. Registration for the five-day online event is now open.

AFM 2021 Online will feature Industry Offices, Screenings, Conferences, Panels and Workshops, the Networking Pavilion, LocationEXPO and more. Event updates will be announced regularly via email, social media and the AFM Website.

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“We wish we could welcome the global industry back to Santa Monica but travel regulations, increased concerns about coronavirus variants around the world, and government restrictions on the ground prevent us from moving forward,” Michael Ryan, chairperson of IFTA and partner at GFM Films, said in a statement. “However, IFTA is thrilled to host the market the industry expects — where no one will be excluded and all of our stakeholders can immerse themselves for five days dedicated to deal making, discovery, education, and reconnecting.”

Fandango’s Cameron Douglas: TVOD ‘Quietly Had a Moment in 2020’

With the focus on the growth of SVOD and AVOD streaming services during the pandemic, transactional VOD has been somewhat overlooked, said Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment at Fandango.

“All the press is about SVOD and AVOD services, ad-supported or subscription, but transactional sort of quietly had a moment in 2020,” he said during a virtual panel for the American Film Market.

Premium VOD has certainly been a focus of services such as FandangoNow and sister TVOD outlet Vudu (both are owned by Fandango) as theaters have closed and new releases have rushed to digital, but catalog has been rising to the occasion as well.

“Our No. 1 library title today is Friday the 13th, because it’s Friday the 13th,” Douglas noted. “Sometimes the audiences find their own catalog.”

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Still, the Fandango team has been making an effort to bring catalog to the fore.

“We’ve had to work harder at curation of catalog because there’s fewer new releases that are those tentpoles that we can sort of talk about and then sort of drive the traffic to other content or discovery of other content,” he said. “We just launched this summer a new, what we call ‘staff pick,’ but it’s actually a joint creation between the Fandango team and the Rotten Tomatoes team where we’ve come up with themes and genres where we’ve been able to sort of bring different portions of the 150,000-title library up to the surface in different ways and fresh and interesting ways. … Right now, we have one that’s spy thrillers, and that’s probably because, as I think about it, there wasn’t a Bond movie to watch, and there’s probably an opportunity to catch up on those and certainly it had interesting and unfortunate timing having to do with [the death of James Bond star] Sean Connery.”

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One big advantage of TVOD services is that titles aren’t subject to a licensing window, like they are on SVOD and AVOD services.

“It’s the best Blockbuster story in the world because it has very deep content, from all eras, all genres,” he said. “I said a couple weeks ago in an article that it’s the canon of modern filmmaking essentially.”

Consumers also have the choice to rent or buy a title on TVOD services.

“FandangoNow and Vudu actually complement each other,” Douglas said. “Fandango is stronger in VOD, in rental, so that’s your Blockbuster activity, you’re renting a movie for 48 hours. Vudu has actually fostered more of a collector.”

Douglas admitted that he thought electronic sellthrough, which has an early window before disc, had seemed to foster “unintentional ownership” in the digital realm, as consumers bought titles merely because that was the only way to watch them.

“I think Vudu has proven me wrong on that,” he said. “Really there is a genuine collector. We’re seeing consumers that have amassed huge libraries, and it’s obvious that these are not things that were just in that two-week window. These are deep catalog. This is someone that’s collected every version of ‘Lord of the Rings,’ extended version, regular version, and they’re proud to have that in their library. It’s like the old ‘Cribs’ MTV Show where people always showed off their DVD collection … and I think now people are proud to show off their digital collection.”

Still, Douglas noted that theatrical exhibition is an essential part of the business.

“Our relationship with the exhibitors is very important to us, so we want people back in theaters as soon as safely possible, when each individual is comfortable with that,” he said.

AFM 2020 Moves Online

The American Film Market (AFM) will bring its 2020 edition online, the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA) announced.

AFM 2020 Online will run over five days from Nov. 9 to 13, shifting one week later than originally scheduled, so as not to overlap with Election Day in the United States. This year will be the 41st market.

“By making this announcement four months in advance, AFM’s stakeholders can move forward and plan with certainty,” said Michael Ryan, chairman, IFTA, and partner, GFM Films. “AFM 2020 Online will give the global film community the opportunities that are always critical to our success — to meet, share knowledge, collaborate, and discover tomorrow’s films as they do every year in Santa Monica.”

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The full program and participation details will be unveiled later this summer.

AFM is a film acquisition, development and networking event where more than 7,000 attending professionals from more than 70 countries access the global catalog of available films and projects, attend conferences and connect with decisionmakers. The AFM is produced by the Independent Film & Television Alliance, a global trade association for independent film and television production, finance, distribution and sales companies. The organization represents the independent sector before governments and international bodies and provides entertainment industry services to more than 135 member companies from 23 countries.