In an eventful month for the company, discover.film co-founder Sarah Thomson tells LBB’s Alex Reeves how the freemium streaming platform is fighting short film’s corner
For many of us film buffs, one of the great hardships of life under coronavirus has been the lack of film festivals. But this Friday brings a chance to be reunited with that pleasure, safe from wherever you’re riding out the pandemic, in the form of discover.film’s VR film festival
On August 14th, a selection of the best short films available on the streaming platform will be screened in VR Chat: a popular VR platform. Once your headset is on you’ll find yourself in the glamorous, custom-built, discover.film virtual cinema, enjoying the best of the shortlisted films in the running for this year's discover.film Best Content Award. The two Craghoppers Student Prize winning films will also screen in various curated sessions.
August is a big month for discover.film. The same day also sees the launch of its first original series, Virtually Speaking, created in lockdown using the latest VR technology and is the world’s first fact entertainment series commissioned for TV and OTT services filmed entirely in VR.
But you don’t need a VR headset to immerse yourself in all this. You can see it on the discover.film platform wherever and whenever you want a short form hit. And, in another big August development for the platform, in a matter of weeks the discover.film app will come preloaded on over 100 million Huawei handsets in 22 countries.
Co-founder Sarah Thomson tells us that the company is in discussions with a number of telcos globally to do the same thing, with more to be announced in the coming weeks. “We anticipate discover.film will be offered to an audience of more than 350 million users in the next five months,” she says. “Mobiles, for us, are amazing because for telcos it’s all about short form and their ability to both give their consumers the best, most engaging experience but also monetisation.”
This momentous month is a big moment in a business journey that began in 2016 when, as an independent film festival, discover launched The Discover Film Awards. As anyone who enjoys short films knows, they haven’t been the most accessible art form. Portals or dedicated platforms for them have been thin on the ground, making the films harder to find than they should be.
Building on this realisation, discover.film built a foundation of festivals (eight to date and another planned for April 2021). “Our quality content comes from brilliant filmmakers from all over the world that have a story to tell; bottom up versus studio down,” says Sarah. The festival even gives away the biggest prize worldwide for short film.
As a result, discover.film started receiving incredible content from all over the world. From the last festival it had about 6,000 submissions from 150 countries. “The quality has just gone up and up,” says Sarah. “Many of them are award winning. Many of them have Hollywood talent in them. They’re incredible in terms of both production value and also entertainment.”
From there, the natural progression was to build a digital destination for all this content, a freemium streaming platform launched in October 2019, that Sarah calls “home to the world’s best quality short form entertainment.” With modest media spend, she and her team started seeing subscribers growing. Now discover.film has more than 350,000 subscribers, growing every day, from nearly every country in the world.
The curated content there is cinema-grade quality but optimised for mobile and is available to stream, Chromecast or download straight to mobile or any internet connected device. For anyone with a love for short film it’s a great way to indulge.
As horrendous as the Covid-19 crisis is, the world has been locked in and wanting to be entertained for much of 2020 so far. discover.film’s been there to provide in that respect, seeing its usage go up on the site by 220%. People have been calling recently with content they want hosted on the site. Many have come to Sarah and her team to repurpose content because they can’t go and produce new video. Then there are the conversations with telcos who’ve been desperate to get their hands on content because “people are starting to rinse through the content that’s out there. We’re in real demand,” says Sarah.
Sarah explains that she sees discover’s nearest competitor as Quibi, a platform that’s been receiving a lot of attention recently. “But in many ways we are the complete antithesis of Quibi,” she notes. “They’re really focusing on Canada and the US right now from what I understand and our business model is very different. For a start we can offer both AVOD [ad-based video-on-demand] and SVOD [subscription video-on-demand] and we are global. They raised a vast amount of money, reported at $1.7B because they’re creating all their own content and as they are just an SVOD model, they need to sell a lot. They’ve done a deal with T-Mobile in the States, so they’re exclusively on 82 million handsets and we are signing many non-exclusive deals so expect our reach to be greater.”
Business models aside, discover.film is worth looking into if you’re a filmmaker grafting hard to make your short films happen, borrowing equipment and calling in favours to do what you love and gain experience. “We’re all about supporting these incredible filmmakers, giving them an audience and really putting the spotlight on the talent and on quality short films,” says Sarah. “One of the major things that filmmakers want is to be discovered, hence our name. They’ve made an amazing film, they want it to be seen. So that’s the first thing that we provide - a professional place for them to be found in a great way. We provide that visibility for them in a global format. And then for the best ones that achieve significant standout, there’s a revenue opportunity as well.”
“It’s a badge of honour to come on our site,” she adds. “We only take the very best, so you don’t get on here unless you’ve got an incredible film. We’ve got an amazing panel that sift through entries.”
She’d love filmmakers to know discover.film is there for them. “We’re really supportive of what they’ve done, banging the drum for talent in this area and wanting to promote it in a global format.”
Sarah also wants to stress the value of the platform to advertisers. In recent months the business has signed deals with airlines and distributors meaning it’s on several major airlines: British Airways, Qatar Airways, American Airlines, Emirates, Air Canada.
“Our pitch to advertisers is we’ve got huge standout because we’re going to be so prominent pre-loaded and very uncluttered. You’re able to take your brand and wrap it around incredible film content, often with Hollywood movie stars in.”
Now is an important cultural moment for short films, Sarah believes. “Why are they not seen in the right way? Let’s change the whole perception of them from being rather indie ways to show off filmmaking skills to actually valuable, entertaining content in its own right. That was the original premise of our business four years ago.
“Now short form in its own right becomes required. Every big network is spending money on creating short-form content right now. A lot of those, for example, have invested in Quibi to see if it works and if it proves to be successful they’ll create more. For us, it’s all about putting a spotlight on short film as the way forward.”
Some highlights you can watch right now:
DIRECTOR: DANIEL CLOUD CAMPOS - 13 MINUTES
Dance hopeful Cloud Walker has big dreams of making it in Hollywood but little confidence. In a moment of madness, he decides to go for the big audition - only one thing now stands in his way.
DIRECTOR: NICK WHITE - 12 MINUTES
Emotional weepy starring Benedict Cumberbatch playing dual roles as twins Charlie and Joe. When wealthy young dad Joe is given a terminal diagnosis, he hatches a plan that only his long-estranged brother can help with.
THEN & NOW (Kacey Ainsworth & Liam Tobin)
DIRECTORS: SIMON WADE & PAUL WADE 3 X 8 MINUTES
Filmed entirely in lockdown this gripping three-part series follows the reunion of two old friends. As the couple reminisce of their 30-yr friendship they slowly reach the trigger for their eventual estrangement. Shot entirely on Zoom, actors Kacey Ainsworth (EastEnders) and Liam Tobin (Coronation Street) keep the tension high in a drama with nowhere to hide.