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Sub-Genre Media Newsletter:
Weekly musings on indie film, media, branded content and related items from Brian Newman.

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Film 101: Acronyms and Terms

September 21, 2022

Whenever I give lectures to students or brands, like the one I'm teaching this week for NYFA (registration is still open) I find it useful to take a moment to explain some of the weird terminology and acronyms we use in the film world. I have a slide with these basic terms, and thought I should just share it here in case it helps you in your work in the field. This will be part of a new recurring column called "101" for lack of a better term, where I try to explain some "basic" part of the industry that I get asked about a lot, and make the info more accessible than in my closed-door lectures. Let me know if you like this or if you find it too, well, basic. 
  1. SVOD - Subscription Video On Demand – people subscribe to a platform and get access to free content, usually without ads. (Think - Netflix, Apple TV+, etc., but of course this is changing as Netflix and others adopt advertising)
  2. PVOD -  Premium Transactional VOD -a  high price sale or rental of a film; usually made available day/date (at the same time) with the theatrical window, earlier, or soon after. You often see this as a consumer as a film for rent for a high price point like $19.99 USD as opposed to a “normal” price closer to $4.99.
  3. TVOD - Transactional VOD (rental/purchase of a movie for a more standard price, like $2-5 bucks).
  4. FVOD & AVOD - Free or Ad-Supported video on demand. Watch the movie either completely for free without interruptions (like TCM on demand), or with advertising interruptions. This is the fastest growing segment of the marketplace. It pays pennies per view, but can add up over time and many titles (if you are a distributor or aggregator). 
  5. OTT - Over the Top – any service delivered via the internet, or through another platform (like your cable or TV system). This term technically applies to any service, even Netflix, but people tend to use it more often with things like Roku channels, which you get via their devices plugged into your TV and streamed via the internet, or through your Vizio or Samsung TV set. I don’t know anyone who watches these channels, but I theory, people do plug in their new SmartTV or Roku and just check out what they can get for free, and it’s a growing area.
  6. FAST - Free, Ad-Supported OTT Channel, with advertising, but delivered in a linear format (like TV, where shows are just playing when you turn on the TV). These are growing in popularity, too and you can’t take a meeting at a film fest anymore without this coming up in conversation. Toronto should have just been called the FAST fest this year, for example.
  7. Platforms - Distributors like Netflix, or Mubi. A catch-all term that’s often used to differentiate a service from a publisher.
  8. Publishers - Places like The Atlantic, or NYT (specifically Op-Docs), Conde Nast, Vice, etc. These also might refer to other digital channels, like WePresent from WeTransfer, and they could also refer to tiny publishers, like a niche surfer’s mag, online.
  9. Broadcast - CNN Films; ArteFrance, ABC, etc. The historical version of “platforms” before everyone was a platform. And now, most of them have streaming channels, too.
  10. Distributor - A24, Magnolia, Neon (in the US) - Buys rights by territory; releases and markets films to audiences, & sells films to a Platform/Broadcaster for its final home. But in practice, the industry often refers to a distributor as anyone who buys and releases your film, which intermingles an A24 with Netflix. Be sure what people mean when they say distributor, but I like delineating them as different than platforms, etc.
  11. Sales Agents – a person or entity who sells your film to a distributor or platform/streamer and takes a commission on the sale. In the US, the distinction between a sales agent and a distributor is clear, but in Europe and outside the US broadly, the terms are often conflated. Most US sales agents do not charge a fee upfront, but instead take a commission on their sales, and are thus picky about what films they represent. International sales agents are mixed – some are commission only, some charge a fee for their services plus commission, and others pay you an MG/advance (see below) against future sales of your film. And if you know me well, you'll know I think this is also a term defining the laziest people in the business...
  12. Ancillary – Historically, this has meant all the rights to your film beyond theatrical and streaming (in olden days, anything after theatrical, really). This might include rights for Educational, screenings, Nontheatrical screenings (anywhere a movie might play other than a theater, from a festival to a bar), but also airlines, etc. Each of these different venues is often a tiny revenue stream in and of itself, but they can add up in aggregate to important income.
  13. P&A – prints & advertising. Historically, this meant the costs of making a film print, which was shipped around the world in big film cans, which were expensive. But now, it can mean a DCP (the digital cinema package, or digital version of a film print), or even just a link sent via Vimeo, Dropbox or something more or less advanced. The P&A costs also include things like shipping, and miscellaneous costs associated with distributing your film, as well as the costs around marketing (the A or advertising of P&A). The P&A costs of any film release are often significant, inflated or fudged, and might be a good topic for a much longer newsletter post someday.
  14. MG or Advance – The minimum guarantee or advance versus future income which a distributor (and sometimes a sales agent) pays upfront to the filmmakers, in advance of future sales. If you read that someone paid $1MM for a movie at Sundance, that was their MG or advance. The distributor then makes money releasing the film, and they recoup this advance/MG cost plus interest, and deducts their fees, their hard costs, etc. and anything left-over is profit to be shared with the producers. In a way, an advance is a license fee for your movie, but technically, a license fee is a one-time payment, where an MG/advance implies you might see future revenue (good luck with that, but that’s another newsletter topic…). When Netflix buys a movie, for example, it’s a one-time license fee and you don’t see any additional revenue, although this might change as they add advertising to their mix. 
  15. Derivative Rights – The rights to make a prequel or sequel, or to remake your documentary into a narrative film, and so on. These don’t enter the conversation as often as you’d think, but they can come up, and in general, you want to be sure that the IP rights-holder (often the filmmaker or brand) keeps these rights, and/or is compensated for any use of them.
  16. Territories – The places a film is shown. Usually, geographic, such as the US, or North America, or Europe, or MENA (Middle East, North Africa). But this could also be language based (English or French speaking territories) or something similar. 
  17. Delivery Costs – the costs of delivering your film to a distributor. This might include finishing the film to very precise technical specs, paying for E&O insurance (errors & omissions insurance, which covers things you forgot to do right in making the film, broadly speaking), and many other costs. These costs can be significant, and while everyone thinks they’ll make a deal where the buyer/distributor picks up these costs, this is rarely the case.  
And everything is intermingling and changing every day. Most broadcasters are now streamers and have an SVOD channel, as well as a FAST and/or AVOD offering. Same with distributors, many of whom have built their own platforms. And pure SVOD players like Netflix are now adding ad-supported tiers making them a mix of SVOD and AVOD. And then you have Amazon, which offers a bit of each of these. Confused? So is everyone else, so don’t worry, just ask around for help with any terms you don’t understand. Or ignore them all, and just make or watch a movie. Also known as a film. Or to the heathens and the suits, content.

Stuff I'm Reading

Have Film and TV got Gen Z all wrong?: Films and TV series are representing Gen Zers and Gen Z culture more and more, but “visibility doesn’t equate to authenticity,” according to BBC writer Emily Maskell. Maskell provides a number of case studies that reveal what Hollywood is doing wrong. But she also acknowledges what they’re getting right: For instance, (1) “A common theme in these films is the decentralization of Hollywood's white male hero, another Gen Z cinematic recalibration; women of color are in substantial leading roles, and taking on a larger part of the stories.” (2) As film critic Xuanlin Tham puts it, "[in these films] identity and sexuality aren't treated so much as destinations any more, but indefinable, constantly ongoing processes." Maskell leads a nuanced discussion of this burgeoning canon of film/TV (e.g. does increasing visibility of marginalized identities always equate to progress?) so be sure to check out her BBC piece.  (GSH)

Chicken & Egg Pictures Now Hiring Program Director and Program AssistantChicken & Egg Pictures, a nonprofit organization that supports women and non-binary nonfiction filmmakers, is currently hiring a Program Director and a Program Assistant. Interested candidates can apply now! Stay tuned for additional Chicken & Egg career announcements coming soon. (BN: This is one of the best orgs in the biz, and these are great opportunities).
Branded Content
Podcasts: Why Spanish-speaking creators are a superpower for branded content: In 2021 32% of Argentinians, 25% of Colombians and 30% of internet users in Spain listened to podcasts. In 2025, Mexico will be home to 40 million podcast listeners. “The most significant advantage of podcasts is that they are 100% global. Any show can be heard in any country. This allows creators, brands and agencies to reach broader audiences that continue to grow - but it also emphasizes just how important it is to have content available in multiple languages,” explains Creative Strategist Natalia Aldasoro. The takeaway: If you’re a brand looking to authentically engage with Latin American audiences, hire creators that speak English and Spanish (and ‘Spanglish’). Not only will the content be understood by wider audiences, it’ll actually resonate with listeners on a deeper level. Check out Aldasoro’s piece for TheDrum for her perspective. (GSH)

Big gaming companies get DHS help to keep players from becoming terrorists: After the United Nations warned of extremists radicalizing members of online gaming communities, the US Dept. of Homeland Security awarded (a measly) $700,000 to a research group aiming to work with major gaming companies to develop counterterrorism tech to protect vulnerable gamers. Historically, gaming companies relied on concerned players to report threatening players, but that doesn’t really work, especially as “radicalization often works by pumping up a gamer’s self-esteem (Middlebury deputy director of Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism).” While it would be inaccurate to claim that gun violence is correlated with shooter games (this argument is used by the NRA and others to shift the conversation away from guns), it is true that real-world-threatening White Supremacist ideology thrives in online games: Nearly 1 in 4 respondents of a 2019 national ADL survey said they were expsed to white supremacist idelogies in online games. “The ADL recommends that online gaming companies go even further than social platforms when it comes to transparency. ADL wants to see gaming companies conducting audits and including metrics on “in-game extremism and toxicity in the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s rating systems of games.”” Check out Ashley Belanger’s piece for ArsTechnica for the full picture. (GSH)

The Metaverse From A Developer’s Perspective: Jason Yim, CEO for an XR developer studio explains that ideally, the metaverse “presents an undeniable opportunity for [a multiplicity of] industries across the globe,” and its building blocks – Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality – are already falling into place. He writes, “AR has the advantage when it comes to scale, as over 83% of the world's population is on a smartphone—meaning more than 6 billion people already have access to experience AR.” And while VR has been off to a slower start, mainly due to accessibility, “the VR market is expected to experience exponential growth during the next few years as headsets mature.” As expected, all eyes are on Apple to commodify the headset (remember when one of Meta’s Oculus Quest headsets was recalled after giving people hives?). My opinion: Apple is probably waiting for competitors like Meta to fail or produce something less than ideal before rolling their own headset out, which will likely dominate the mass market and shape the metaverse to come. Check out Yim’s Forbes article for more details. (GSH)

Facebook Bans Holocaust Film for Violating Race Policy: The social media platforms and algorithms that influence what we see, how we think, and how we act are surprisingly bad at censoring the right things. Remember when TikTok flagged the words “Black Lives Matter” “supporting black voices” and “I am a Black man” but not “White Supremacy”, “I am a neo nazi”, and “I am anti-semitic”? Well, now it’s Facebook’s turn – they recently banned all promotion and advertising of BEAUTIFUL BLUE EYES, a film directed by the sons of a Holocaust survivor about an NYPD cop hanted by the murder of his family during WWII. Why? Because it “includes direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person’s race.” After appealing and requesting a review of the decision, Facebook “confirmed it didn’t comply with our Advertising Policies or other standards… You can no longer advertise using Facebook Products. This is our final decision.” I guess the decision wasn’t final because as of yesterday, Facebook reversed the decision. But the point is social media platforms need to do better when it comes to censoring/flagging/banning content because films about the Holocaust or phrases like “I am a Black man” getting shut down is not it. Tatiana Siegel for Rolling Stone has the story. (GSH)

GSH = Articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman, not Brian Newman (BN)
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