Data reveals scant returns for Oz films in the US

While more Australian films are securing distribution in the US – mostly limited theatrical combined with online release- generally the returns to producers are exceedingly modest.

One Australian film released on DVD and VOD in the US in the past 12 months clocked total of revenues of about $US250,000, of which just 3 per cent came from digital downloads, IF has learned.

According to Screen Australia’s research, 32 Oz films have been acquired by US distributors since January 2013. Those deals including library titles generated a total of $US15 million in fees from sales to all platforms.

The fees per-film for all rights for new releases ranged from $30,000 to $2 million. Almost all those that were released in the past 18 months had limited theatrical release, either day-and-date with VOD or within a few weeks.

Since 2011, only five films co-funded by the agency paid overages in the US, totalling about $2 million. That’s in addition to $US1.425 million in minimum guarantees.

Four of those five were distributed by IFC Midnight: The Babadook, Sleeping Beauty, X and Burning Man.

That list excludes Mad Max: Fury Road, which in the US raked in $US153.6 million in cinemas and $37.3 million in DVD and Blu-ray sales, according to The Numbers website.

The take-out for most Australian and other independent producers: Anything more than a token theatrical release is tougher than ever to secure, DVD revenues are falling but can still be meaningful for some titles, and digital platforms are still providing meagre returns. 

Veteran sales agent Richard Guardian of Guardian Entertainment tells IF, “There are films that do bring in less than the $30,000 and some that won’t sell at any price. To exceed $2 million the film will need to have top tier cast and be seen to have proper theatrical release potential, otherwise I can’t see anyone ponying up that level of MG or license fee.

“Upon release, via whatever platform, the level of gross receipts generated will always be determined primarily by the film itself, with other factors such as date, competition, weather and such figuring into the equation. Has premium VOD been a boost to revenue? Yes, it gives a film a higher profile, better placement on the VOD menu, and a higher price point for rental or sale to the consumer.”

Director/producer John V Soto’s The Reckoning has been sold to more than 45 territories, has performed strongly on VOD in Australia and was acquired by Network Ten.

However Soto observes, “Our US results have been less than satisfactory despite being released on several major on demand cable networks. We have seen overages, but frankly feel the film hasn't been sufficiently supported/marketed well enough to break through.

“The Reckoning is yet to arrive on VOD platforms such as iTunes, Google and Vudu. There is also the likelihood of a TV and cable deal in the next 12 months.”

Gauging the overall worth of the US home video and digital markets for Australian and other independent films is well-nigh impossible because no entity is yet measuring cross-platform revenues and distributors are notoriously slow in reporting sales figures to producers.

The Numbers reported The Babadook earned $951,000 at the US B.O. and $1.5 million in physical home entertainment sales while Predestination (Sony) reaped $1.4 million from DVD and Blu-ray.

It estimated The Water Diviner (distributed by Warner Bros) clocked $4.2 million in ticket sales and $1.9 million in home entertainment.

Tine Klint’s LevelK represents numerous local films including Downriver, Spear, Sucker, The Little Death and Tim Winton’s The Turning

Klint tells IF, “Premium VOD is a boost to revenue with the right digital strategy for the individual title. The VOD market is growing but noticeable for some films only – many films will still lose.”

Guardian adds, “The digital pie is getting larger, but it is still a case of a limited number of films taking the bigger bites of that larger pie, with the rest of the films sharing in the remaining slices, although by definition if the pie is bigger, those remaining slices that are shared can represent more money than it used to. Is there a bigger upside in future? There is, but nobody has a crystal ball enabling them to quantify the level of growth nor the pace of that growth.”

The screen industry may soon have a better handle on ancillary markets in the US. Nielsen will hold a private industry preview of its Total Audience Measurement system in December. This will cover almost all the ways people view content (VOD, DVR, mobile, PC, tablet, connected TV devices like Xbox, Apple TV and Roku, as well as linear TV) excluding wearable devices. YouTube content and a limited number of Netflix titles will also be measured.

Start-up company Symphony has developed Videopulse, an app designed to track and report all video consumption of its users through a Shazam-like passive listening program that hears what people are watching and tracks it. It is being beta tested by major media broadcasters, NBCUniversal, Viacom and Warner Bros.

Comscore and Rentrak recently announced plans to join forces to take on Nielsen for ratings measurement supremacy.

But it is unclear how much of the data from these new systems will be made publicly available.

  1. I know this sounds obvious, but perhaps we could try making movies the Yanks want to watch. They appear to be just like us – they won’t touch pretentious, depressing art-house movies with a barge-pole. So how about we stop making such movies and then complaining that they don’t make any money.

  2. [quote] “They appear to be just like us – they won’t touch pretentious, depressing art-house movies with a barge-pole.”[unquote]

    I don’t know where you get the idea that they appear to be anything like us, they are very like US Americans.

    I can’t think of anyone who would want to watch “pretentious, depressing art-house movies,” but films crafted with care and real theatricality are welcomed everywhere.

    The, so called, “art-house films,” a term I detest by the way, are worthy film treatments of human interest stories, which take the theatrical medium into another fascinating dimension. The US make such films all the time, they are just not very good at it, when compared to the European examples.

    The US has a strong root in the burlesque and vaudeville history, which has shaped them more towards fantasy, cross over, comedy and action dramas, in a deliberate drive for the dollar return rather than the expansion of minds or the growth of first class theatre, at which they were once (1930s,40s,50s)so very very good.

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