"The cost of watching movies on the Internet is not excessive, it is, in fact, insultingly low"
Jaume Ripoll
21/09/2015
Ángela Plaza
The Internet has revolutionized numerous aspects of our life and the world of cinema is no exception. The film industry is working out how to adapt to the new ways of reaching and connecting to their audience. In this context, the Filmin platform stands out as a leading force in the distribution of less commercial movies and series. Founding partner and editorial director of Filmin, Jaume Ripoll, heads up this project, which was officially launched in 2010. With a degree in Film from ESCAC and extensive experience in the film industry as a director, screenwriter and distributor, Ripoll also co-directs the Postgraduate course in Audiovisual Distribution: VoD and new business models, offered through the UOC and Filmin since 2012.

Jaume Ripoll looks here at where we are in terms of the consumption of video on demand (VoD) in Spain and where the challenges lie for the future of a system that has found a place in our homes.
Filmin has become a leading industry force in Spain. An innovative project established in 2007, although not officially launched until 2010. How has Filmin evolved since then?

We had the idea in 2007 and launched the first version of the platform in 2008. At that time, we were aware that certain established norms would need to be broken down. In 2008, though, neither the rights owners, the owners of the films, the customers, the directors, the bandwidth, nor we ourselves, were sufficiently prepared for it to operate smoothly. We worked on it for two years, seeing where we had gone wrong and improving it, winning over the sceptics and, in 2010, we launched our flat rate service in Spain. It's only been five years but it feels like fifty. I remember when we started, the first time we offered a flat rate it was something pretty unusual but it has become an established system these days. The next innovation, which is also now an obvious one, was to offer access to TV series on the Internet.

And there have also been technological developments.

Then came all the innovations made possible with tablets, mobile phones, etc. The fact is that film has gone from a situation in which the distribution mechanisms were understood and, in the main, unchanging, to distribution systems which are constantly evolving. We now have an ever mutating Internet format. The Internet is the mobile phone, and also the computer, the television, the smartwatch...

A situation that calls for up-to-date knowledge of the latest developments and continuous adaptation to new formats, right?

A smartwatch does not mean that you'll watch movies on it, but you might want to use it as a remote control for the television. That means that part of your team has to be programming an application to make the watch operate as a remote. It's things like that that make you focus on technological innovation, as well as on how we innovate when offering content.

The audience has also evolved over the years. What trends have you observed during this process of evolution?

People quickly got used to watching films and TV series on the Internet in Spain, even though they weren't paying for it. The focus now, in a process that began roughly three years ago, is getting people used to paying for what they watch. It's a process in which there is still a way to go but we are heading in that direction. The price is set very low at the moment, however, and the service is very comprehensive.

And how can we educate users so that they don't view the cost of watching movies on the Internet as being excessive?

The cost is far from excessive; it is, in fact, insultingly low. The reason some people see it like that is because they currently do it for free. Why pay €1 for a newspaper if I can have it for free on the Internet? I think there are fewer and fewer people who think that now, because they end up winning in terms of ease of use - you have it there, it doesn't cost much and you are helping secure the service. However, there are people who will never have it. The more authorized services there are, the more reason there is to opt for one of them. Subscribing to a service like Filmin is a luxury for any cinephile. I would have loved the services I have available to me now when I was 14 or 15. It was something unthinkable then.

Where is Spain as a country with respect to the consumption of film and TV series through internet platforms?

We have a much better range of Internet films and series in our country than people think, much better than most of our European neighbours in fact. I'm not just talking about Portugal and Italy, but also Germany, Austria, Belgium and even France. I think that we have an enviable quantity and quality of web portals and titles in that regard. When you go to Europe and see projects that have failed - even in very powerful countries - and see that we continue to move forward, that we remain industry benchmarks for countries like France, Belgium and Austria, it shows we're getting it right here. That has come about solely through the confidence of our partners and our customers. We don't get any help from the Catalan Government, or from the Spanish Government; we rely solely on our partners, contributions from the European Union, and, above all, the help of our customers.

Do you think the law will manage to change people's habits so that they will end up becoming accustomed to the idea of paying for online content?

I don't know what the solution is to getting people used to it. It was through the enforcement of law that people stopped drinking alcohol and driving; Through the enforcement of law, people stopped double parking. I'm certain that the enforcement of law is the right way to go so that those people who are profiting from rights that don't belong to them - and I'm talking about web portals distributing content - are somehow made to pay for that content.

What is the typical Filmin user profile?

Something we make a point of stressing at Filmin is the fact that we are not just a film portal for complete film buffs but that we have a very broad user profile. Our users are people who are interested in film and television. They are people interested in culture. Some keep up with the latest in cinema and television, complementing that with our service. We have the cinephile who, in some way, uses Filmin to watch those classics they have not seen; the 'seriesphile', who discovers us because we offer series that are not available on any other platform, or people from rural areas who don't have access to original version films, so Filmin is a platform where they can enjoy that. As far as age range is concerned, there are three very distinct blocks: the graduates and postgraduates who are very interested in film and culture and who live in urban areas; People in the 40-55 age bracket, who have a smart television or a tablet on which they watch the latest releases and series, and elderly people, who have a lot of free time and watch films in our back catalogue.

Do you consider the current user is overexposed in terms of media devices which prevents them from focusing on the content?

Yes, I think we all suffer from that kind of overexposure. The issue is how much awareness we have of it and how much effort we put into limiting it. All this is leading to a certain inability to focus, for discourses to no longer be central but dispersed into different subplots. It's a problem for society and it's a problem for a certain type of cinema, that you watch at home, which requires more attention.

So, with so many stimuli and other platforms, what do you do to retain the users you have?

We were the first, we've been fearless and we've always been completely transparent. We've always communicated with our users; Even when we have made mistakes. Thus, we have always been responsive and poured a lot of energy - and money - into being active on social networks. We haven't spent money on adverts, but on resources and invested efforts. We have listened to our customers when we believed that was what was required, and they have surprised us with the things they have said they might be interested in. On top of all this, there is the most important part, which is Filmin's basic raw material, the films. Moreover, you also need to remember that Filmin is a company, not a multinational, which is based here and has its headquarters here.

These new business models clearly demonstrate how both the market and the users are changing. The UOC and Filmin have been teaching the postgraduate course in Audiovisual Distribution since 2012. How has the programme adapted to these changing times?

The postgraduate course serves as a snapshot of what has happened, something we see when we compare what we were teaching students back in 2012 and what is on the curriculum for 2015. And it's great because we can see how we imagined the future to be at precise moments in time. It's only been three years, but three years on the Internet may as well be thirty. However, certain aspects are more or less the same: the rights are more or less the same, but the tools used for publicizing a film have changed. The type of production Movistar or Netflix are able to make is not so different from that which TV3 or Telecinco was producing back in the day. It used to be revolutionary, but American television was producing it sixty years ago. It's a natural process. With the addition of new providers who are in the know with what is going on, the course has changed and I think it is a perfect tool to keep up with what is happening, to be able to succeed and be able to break into this world.

What profile of student does this new business model attract?

There are many people who have been working in the world of film, seeing that things are changing and needing some guidance: they find it useful to have a map to orientate them a bit about where everything is. I think our postgraduate students are inquisitive people, who accept that things will no longer be as they used to be and are aware that information is vital in order to be prepared for what lies ahead. In the same way that doctors and scientists are constantly training, I believe that people in film need to do the same. A sector of the film industry was working on content but not keeping up to date with how to distribute it. It is something that has become necessary these days because technology has entered the film industry, not only with regard to how it is made, but in terms of how it is distributed and publicized as well. You need to have an understanding of this situation in order, in essence, to be able to perform better than others. We are part of a world where there is saturation of film titles and only those who know how to tune into that vital key will be able to reach an audience.

Internet devices are an increasingly integrated part of our lives. How do you see the future in a revolution of this magnitude? What challenges does it present?

It depends on the day, whether it's an optimistic or pessimistic day. It is small films that face the greatest challenge. In the past there used to be an established route for them in cinema, with investment recovered afterwards through DVD or TV. Things are increasingly more difficult for these projects now, with online distribution the only remaining option open. In the online world, more and more flat rate platforms are emerging and investment recovery is very difficult. Like here, where there is a negative balance at the end of it all. How will we be able to turn this issue around? People need to understand that the flat rate is one solution, but not the only one, because it isn't economically sustainable. Moreover, another challenge is to reach a point of technological stability: establishing a standard video format with a very clear codec which works across all media players. All this will enable us to improve the way we supply content. Finally, another challenge is whether we are able to turn impatient viewers into viewers who are also inquisitive, keen to know about new projects, but also able to stick around long enough to be able to evaluate them.

Related links