Many film companies have taken a battering during the pandemic. The opposite is true of Shift72.
Business for the New Zealand-based company, which builds and manages online video platforms for the industry, is “through the roof”, with new U.S. and international clients including major festivals and exhibitors and with interest growing among independent distribution companies.
During the pandemic, the company has grown as festivals look to become hybrid online/physical events and some explore becoming year-round TVOD platforms and a viable home for PVOD releases for non-blockbuster titles. The company’s ScreenPlus label, which builds TVOD and PVOD platforms for exhibition chains, has seen business off the back of the AMC/Universal window crunch deal as cinemas move to future proof as best they can.
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CEO David White founded Shift72 in 2008 with a background in online and traditional distribution and film marketing. Alongside him at the firm is company director John Barnett, the respected veteran New Zealand film and TV producer whose credits include Oscar-nominated hit Whale Rider.
As firms scramble to adjust to a new normal prompted by the pandemic and rapidly shifting viewing habits, they are confronted by a world in which, as company director John Barnett points out, Zoom is now worth more than the world’s seven biggest airlines combined.
Below is our interview with Shift72, in which White and Barnett tell us about their business, growing demand and expansion plans.
DEADLINE: Tell us about demand. It has clearly been strong…
David White: It has been phenomenal. Covid has accelerated business since March. Our business initially focused on secure screening rooms for industry but the growth among different types of customers has been very strong. Going forward, festivals are going to be hybrid spaces and we think this is a tremendous opportunity for them. We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of enquiries from festivals and there’s no sign of it letting up.
John Barnett: Festivals are looking at this model for 2021 as well, not only as a response to Covid, but also as a way to enhance their festival. Industry want their films to stay on these platforms for a longer period, not only for one or two screenings. As festivals start to think about how they can run VOD services throughout the year, with premium VOD during the festival, that can really help generate revenue for them and there are a whole range of independent movies that will be helped.
DEADLINE: So you’re expecting plenty of hybrid festivals in 2021?
DW: January-March is looking very busy. There’s no let up. The festivals we’ve worked with want to work with us again even if they will be doing a physical event.
DEADLINE: Which festivals and markets have you been working with?
DW: SXSW for their press and industry platform, CPH Dox, the Cannes Marché, Sheffield, Sydney, we’re doing Melbourne and Locarno at the moment, and we will do Sundance London, Toronto, New York, AFM [pictured, left], and Sundance. The majority of these are new customers.
DEADLINE: Will Berlin be a new customer?
DW: Hopefully. There are discussions.
DEADLINE: Which festivals are most active in terms of wanting to be a year-round movie platform?
DW: Probably the bigger ones. There are some decent announcements coming around that.
JB: The structure works particularly well for those independent players who want to connect quickly with customers who like those types of movies. They know on a festival platform their film will be part of a curated collection and won’t be stuck at the bottom like they sometimes are on a bigger service.
DEADLINE: In which areas do you need the platform to evolve?
DW: We’ve learnt a lot over the last few months. Festivals want to build a community feel. We’re trying to bring that to a digital environment. We want to make the experience smooth and for it to flow, for example, from a screening straight into a virtual q and a. We are thinking about how we can innovate.
DEADLINE: Given the demand, your company must have grown?
DW: We’re hiring as quickly as we can. We have doubled the team in lockdown and will double the team again by the end of the month. We’re currently at 35. We were at 10 before Covid and we will be at 50 soon. We’re looking to open a presence in the UK soon. We have a lot of demand from the UK and Europe so we will have five or so people there initially then build out from there. The U.S. is also another next step.
DEADLINE: How is revenue?
DW: It has been through the roof. We can support the hiring and fast growth. The company is in a strong space. We are weighing up raising funding for larger international expansion to help us go faster. We’ve had a lot of demand for investment into the company.
DEADLINE: Which software do you use?
DW: We build our own tech and platforms in terms of the encoding, the video players and delivery. But we also partner with Akamai [the U.S. content delivery network, cybersecurity, and cloud service company]. We want to build a community feel around the technology so that will be a focus in the new year by adding new features. Of course, safety is also key.
DEADLINE: Tell me about ScreenPlus…
DW: ScreenPlus was about making sure exhibitors had a presence in the home and that streaming can be an opportunity for them and not a threat. It’s a way for cinemas to engage with their brands. We thought PVOD was a real opportunity and a way to future proof them and not be cut out. We’ve been inundated with demand while the cinemas are closed.
DEADLINE: Can you give me an example of an exhibitor you’ve worked with?
DW: Alamo Drafthouse is one. They were one of the early adopters and it has gone well for them, we think. They acquired a bunch of content from distributors and we helped them get that content onto the platform.
We’ve also helped organize aggregation deals with studios which means we can get the content and push it onto the exhibitor sites.
We struck a recent partnership with National Amusement-owned Showcase Cinemas in the UK. Their platform has been gearing up. We are working with some other big exhibitors but we can’t announce those just yet. It’s interesting to see the response from exhibitors and how they’ve embraced the model.
JB: People traditionally think of a cinema as the first place they can see a film, but that’s not always the case any more. Just look at how quickly the world is changing. Zoom is now worth more than the world’s seven biggest airlines combined. We can’t shy away from the fact that some exhibitors are sick of the way things are. For many cinemas no revenue is coming in the door at all and it’s hard to be positive about that future given the ongoing nature of the pandemic. We are trying to help them with that revenue stream.
DEADLINE: Might you look to get into content?
JB: My background is as a producer. When you look at the content arms race going on and the amount of money being spent on content to keep ahead, I would not recommend that right now. We are a neutral party, so we’re looking to find homes for other people’s films rather than our own. I’ve been talking to a number of sales agents about global day-and-date releases for independent films and there is a lot of enthusiasm for it. They love that we report in real time, and that the money goes to you immediately.
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