Last week it was announced that two senior film producers, Allan Finney and Ron V. Brown, are set to launch a pay-per-view streaming service sometime in 2016, dedicated entirely to Australian films. While speaking to Mumbrella, Finney said, "The timing could not be better," claiming the technology and awareness of streaming services has set the stage for the launch of their "Ozflix".
Brown described Ozflix to BuzzFeed as, "an online channel devoted to Australian film. It is our intention to ultimately offer every Australian film - accessible on the service at an affordable price."
Initially browser-based, the plan is to see Ozflix rolled out onto more devices after they launch. Brown also suggested that original and exclusive content would be on offer when the platform launches.
Ozflix would offer a more traditional way to purchase movies.
Similar to iTunes, in what's commonly known as Transactional Video on Demand (TVOD), each individual movie or bundle is purchased to rent or own. Basically like buying or renting a DVD - but you never leave the couch! Recently Australia has also seen a huge spike in Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) offerings like Netflix, Stan and Presto with an all-you-can-eat offering of a monthly subscription cost to the platform's entire library of TV and movies.
But with the recent and sudden closure of EzyFlix, plus the ongoing struggles of Quickflix - is another streaming service what Australia needs? Brown denied any hesitations about entering the streaming space, saying "businesses come and go in every industry, old and new. The great Aussie spirit of 'having a go' underlies all we do."
As streaming services continue to adapt and evolve to the changing demands of the market, is it time the film industry looks inward to make structural changes for the better?
In a chat with SBS's Marc Fennell, Graham Burke, “Australia’s most powerful anti-piracy campaigner” and CEO of Village Roadshow Pictures, said he's not looking at alternate models of release for films.
Roadshow is one of the largest distributors of film in Australia by sheer volume alone and while Burke made headway in his attempts to reduce the gaps between international release dates and their eventual Aussie ones, the vibrant CEO has been vocal in his crusade against piracy, but less so in updating the way his films are released.
Typically, a movie is released in cinemas, then 120 days after its opening day, the film can be released onto DVD and VOD digital platforms. This 120 days is set to encourage audiences to see the film in a cinema, rather than waiting a few weeks for it to be available in other means. For films like The Avengers that linger in cinemas long after its initial release, this 120 days isn't so problematic. But smaller films are mostly welded to the same window, restricting an already small product launch and requiring a second, costly marketing spend to re-promote the movie's release on VOD and DVD. In a report released by Screen Australia detailing issues in feature film distribution, these restrictions are strongly criticised for their rigidity.
The US and UK saw the demand, and adapted to the new technologies presented in online viewing. Some distributors use a limited VOD release - e.g. a film in select cinema locations will also be made available to rent on platforms like iTunes for a limited time. The film is then made unavailable again until its eventual release for transactional home entertainment.
As far as BuzzFeed is aware - Australia has only had a single film released simultaneously in cinemas and on VOD.
Kasimir Burgess' debut film Fell was available on certain VOD platforms minutes after streaming at the Sydney Film Festival. BuzzFeed spoke to Kate Stapleton, Head of Marketing and Digital at Dendy who works across their TVOD platform, Dendy Direct, who confirmed they "have yet to be offered content by distributors that would fall outside the normal distribution model."
Dendy Direct, an Australian streaming service which describes itself as offering "more handpicked quality content," is still forced to work within the rigid distribution systems put in place years before these streaming services were even around.
Within Ozflix's promo video, producer/director David Elfick is quoted as saying, "there is a massive problem in accessing Australian films once they're not in the DVD store and they're finished in the cinema."
Jostling for space on the big screen has always been an issue, and local productions need major names and funds behind them in order to gain the distribution to put them into wide circulation.
Other distributors like eOne are looking to VOD as an alternate to cinema releases, but local distributors are yet to find the harmony between pure theatrical and VOD releases. Within Screen Australia's report, they praise new release strategies, for example eOne's release of The Mule as an "elevated digital premiere," (released directly onto VOD platforms, with a marketing budget higher than that of most direct to VOD releases), citing it as a case for future releases, allowing for more local content to readily available to audiences.
Where Ozflix attempts to aggregate Australian films into one pay-per-view location, indie filmmakers are flocking to other methods to support their projects. Cinema on demand is one way for filmmakers to circumvent the difficulties of securing cinema screens, and is again highlighted in Screen Australia's report. Cinema on demand works like any crowd-funding site would, offering screenings to audiences and, if there are enough backers, hosting them in cinemas across Australia.
Robert Mond writer, director and producer of The Subjects looked to cinema on demand site Tugg as an alternate. Mond told Buzzfeed, "we were going to do Tugg from day one. We would be one of the first few in Australia where our strategy included Tugg from the first instance."
Mond used Tugg as a means for local audiences to campaign to see his film, as well as promoting the worldwide release onto TVOD streaming services like Vimeo or iTunes. Indie filmmakers like Mond now have so many options to self-distribute onto digital platforms, allowing them to seek out their audiences and market directly to them.
Meanwhile, the domestic film industry is celebrating one of its best years in two decades after the success of Mad Max: Fury Road, Russell Crowe's The Water Diviner and hopes for new releases like The Dressmaker starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth. No one is arguing that the current system works for these films - with heavy names and massive budgets behind them. But smaller films - local and international - struggle to see screen-time, and end up with delayed release dates, pushing many movie fanatics to alternate means of viewership, be it VPN assisted or otherwise.