CAPSULE#2 The distribution of documentaries on new media by UnivresCiné



The distribution of documentaries on new media

This Wednesday morning at 11am, in the red lounge of Georges, at the top of the Pompidou Center, took place the 2nd Capsule, new event for professionals set up this year by ParisDOC.


Hosted by …., Co-President of the Cinéma du Réel, this meeting was centered around the place of documentary in new technologies and especially in the era of platforms. For this, ParisDOC received Charles Hembert, director of publishing, and Romain Dubois, marketing manager at UniversCiné.

At first, the duo explained the principle and the role of UniversCiné which wear two hats as aggregator and contents publisher. It is composed of five platforms: two OTT (UniversCiné and the digital media library, co-edited by Arte) and three IPTVs on the home gateways. In addition, UniversCiné also has an SVoD offer, UnCut, which allows, on subscription, to have access to 40 selected films per month, renewed by 10 every week.

One of the first observations made by Charles Hembert about VoD is that 80 to 90% of the films consumed are novelties (four months after their release in theatres). But the documentary is more particular. The specificity of the latter being a greater longevity to reach its total number of spectators, contrary to fiction. This long-term value is reflected in numbers: thus on 500 000 rentals in the year on UniversCiné, 40 000 (or 8%) are made by the documentary, among them, 52% are made on pieces that are more than two years old, against 48% of news.

In France, when a documentary arrives on a platform, it becomes accessible for the first time to nearly 60% of the population because of the limited number of theatrical screens. Taking their own practice as an example, Charles Hembert specifies that the role to play by platforms, taking the opposing view of Netflix, Amazon or otherwise, is precisely to cut the large rental vectors such as comedy or action movies for to highlight other types of films such as documentary but also arthouse movies or short films. Especially since there is a real audience for the documentary and that it is not only a film buff one. Moreover, it is also very strong in EST (final purchase) because it is a type of work that we keep or that we offer because of its identity component.

But to attract new audiences, it is also necessary to organize the releases. The documentary has the particularity of being able to create communities around it and its director becomes the salesperson. First in theaters where he presents his film but later, as is the case on UniversCiné, by participating in editorialized interviews. The press is also an ally for the documentary because it is well supported as well as the non-media, be associations or communities. The main vectors to attract the public towards the documentary are the word of mouth, the #Top (created by the platform on a principle of enhancement of certain films) and the algorithm. For the director of publishing, the danger of algorithms is to lock the viewer into a certain type of cinephilia. He thus advocates the importance of editorialization by giving the example of Cinetek, VoD platform in which UniversCiné also participates, which, thanks to its principle of recommendation by filmmakers, will allow a work to be four times more seen than on a more general platform: “Our daily work is to create desire,” he says.

Charles Hembert also explains that digital is not yet ready to replace movie theaters, that the fantasy around VoD / SVoD is not yet ready to be realized. For example, when UniversCiné prefinanced a film, it takes two mandates: physical and digital. But the physical represents 80% of the investment against 20% for the digital, the first being still leader. However, if it is difficult to attract people to the documentary in VoD, it works very well in SVoD where it represents, at least on UniversCiné, about 25% of the films consumed. However, we must be aware, according to the editor, that the SVoD is a destruction of values ​​compared to transactional VoD or physical video because for the price of one film, people watch six of them. This opinion, paralleled with the music industry, was tempered by Romain Dubois who explains that value is also created in the fact that the films are seen.

On the whole, the speakers underline that the VoD stagnates when the EST takes off. SVoD grows very gradually and will quickly represent 50% of the VoD market. In addition, consumer practices have evolved. Notably thanks to the democratization brought by Netflix, the consumption directly on the platform, and not through the home gateways, has increased from 10 to 53% of users. But few platforms in France offers the dual option VoD / SVoD except, in addition to UniversCiné, FilmoTV. Moreover the fragmentation of the market is complicated because eventually few new creations manage to hold on the long term: “Those who remain are those who have found a model” says Charles Hembert, citing also, as an example, Tënk, platform dedicated to documentary.

If it is difficult to predict the future of platforms and their impact on the cinematographic landscape. As far as pre-financing is concerned, it is complicated for SVoD platforms to get involved, especially since with the media chronology (in France), they would only have access to the film three years after its release (as opposed to 4 months for VoD). Moreover the arrival of big players like Amazon Prime, Apple or the future platform Disney / Fox put any form of prediction on hold.


Report written by Perrine Quenesson