Filmdoo. Bringing international independent films to the light on a globally available platform.
FilmDoo is not a usual film OTT Platform. Since its beginning, its aim has been to spotlight independent films from all around the world. Movies that are not on the classical distribution channels, finds their way through FilmDoo. A company with a disruptive new idea: an EdTech initiative for languages based on a multilingual international catalogue. We talk with Weerada Sucharitkul, CEO and co-founder, to know a bit more about them.
What was the need that you identified and prompted you to create FilmDoo?
We launched FilmDoo in 2015. Originally, we wanted to create a platform to help people discover quick films around the world. The need really came from me. I had the chance to grow up in other countries and I realise there is a lot more movies than Hollywood films. When I was living in the UK, I could not understand why I could not watch so many international productions. Some of these are blockbuster in the country and some of them are award winning films and you cannot find them anywhere.
The more we look into this; we understand that actually the very big problem in the film distribution industry is that there are not enough channels. Consequently, we only get to see a few of international independent films a year and the others never get distributed out of their country. So that is our brilliant mission. First of all, to help people to discover these productions from around the world that otherwise they would not know about. And second, to make them accessible, with subtitles, posters and trailers in English, so they can easily learn about the films and who created them. It was a genuine need and at that time we did not see any platform working with this content and, consequently, today we have one of world’s biggest international movies catalogue online.
How has FilmDoo evolved technologically since its birth? What has been the biggest changed you have faced?
The biggest change is that we have expanded into EdTech. Basically, in 2019 we started to notice that a lot of people were coming to FilmDoo from language resource searchers. You know, I’m learning French, so where can I watch French movies? So we ran a survey between our users and we found out that the 70% of the people told us that the main reason for them to watch FilmDoo is they are learning a foreign language.
So, it meant we were not only attracting the typical movie fans, but language students as well. When we looked more into this, we saw that nobody else was using license films or foreign award films to help people to learn. We basically developed a really innovative EdTech platform, where you can turn any film into a lesson and we create some gaming interaction.
Basically, the main technology change is that we have developed an in-hand gaming interaction that can be used for online teaching. Not only online, teachers can show the films on video in class and students can play, interact and answer questions while watching. That is the key technology that we have developed in terms that are completely different from the other platforms right now.
FilmDoo is a platform that defines itself as “Globally Available”. What challenges does this imply? How do you manage it in terms of copyright?
Not every film has the same right. Our aim has always been to work with content creators, field agents, distributors and film makers rather than against them. Unlike many other major platforms, who take exclusive rights and sometimes the content owner does not have control on the movie anymore, our plan has always been to talk and say “hey, you have an older film that maybe you sold to a few countries? what are you doing with the rest of the world? Why don’t you at least put it online and monetize it?”
A lot of these platforms do not forbid the accessibility. It might be like we need these countries where the content won’t be available. With FilmDoo, we can work with them. For example, if they need all this countries except for Malaysia, Indonesia and India. We say, OK, no problem. We can geoblock these countries that you no longer have the rights. We only need one month to change the country. If you want to do an exclusive view without Spain, you just let us know one month and we can geoblock that and we are not preventing you from making any more deals.
Our platform is available anywhere in the world, including Antarctica (laughs), but it depends on the film. Some of them we do have worldwide, because we work with independent creators as well, including documentaries and short films that go worldwide. Usually, for this type of production, the filmmaker is the right holder. But for a lot of films, we might not have all the countries, because the content already has a distributor. But in terms of accessibility, we are globally available, but the content depends on each country.
The challenge that this implies is how you launch a subscription? Our aim is always to make the films available in all these countries, but the subscription works more by location. You have this catalogue for America and you have the same catalogue for the UK. So that is why we did not launch with this model initially, because we would require the same film available in all countries to make sure all our users had access to the similar catalogue.
FilmDoo offers both free-to-watch content and rent movies. Why did you decided not to offer a subscription-based service but a pay-per-view model. What’s the reason for opting for this decision when the rest of the VOD world is opting for the other model?
I believe that the reality is that industry is moving away from PPV model. When we launched FilmDoo in 2015, ITunes was the market leader. ITunes had PPV and the 80% of market share. But now iTunes is closed down and moved to Apple TV, with a subscription model and nowadays more and more people are used to the platforms or even advertising free to watch.
So I think we have to expand to that. The future we are looking at is a blended model. They will still be some films available on PPV. Sometimes the content owners do not want to go on subscription, especially on newer films. So, this allows us to work with newer films who do not want to be on subscription model yet, but also with older films who want to capitalise more on the volume, plus our language learning platform, which will be a subscription platform as well. Never a 100% subscription, but always a blend to offer flexibility to what people demands.
The free movies and short films can be viewed via Vimeo. What about rented movies? What platform are you using for that video streaming?
A: Is a mix. We use Amazon hosting as well as we do some internal development. But the main streaming platform we use is Brightcove. We have been using Brightcove for a few years. Our films are very secure with them. For the ones that are license owner, we have to make sure there is protection and Brightcove is one of the best providers of video streaming.
FilmDoo helps its users discover a variety of independent movies, or at least “off-the-market” films. How do you help people discover films? Do you bet on curated content? Are you testing some AI engines and services that can find the best movie based on your previous views?
We are always working on that. Is not one answer. As other platforms, the reality is that we have a blend of technology and curated content. I do not think you can ever use one by itself. The technology allows you to organise the first filter, but the human curation gives you that relevant connection that technology might never pick up. We have an editorial team, who watches the films and catalogue them by themes, subjects and language level as well. So there is definitely a human connection that we use for our newsletters, blog and promotion.
We have quite a volume of films now, so the first filter comes from our IA develop. The concept is similar to other platforms: “Hey, if you like Superman, here you have a Japanese Superman”. If you like a certain type of film, we would try to match the same kind of film from other country. Obviously, we also use automated emails, but on top of that we also send a more human newsletter with our new releases and promotion. So is a mix.
What is really interesting is where we are going next. We are going to combine our AI with film recommendations by language level. We are using this technology to know the users knowledge and match it with a movie. For example, if you learned a lot of animal’s vocabulary, we can recommend you a film with a lot of this to learn.
You’re currently offering HD movies. What about UHD? Are distribution channels prepared to offer streaming movies in this format?
Platforms will have to support that formats. But the reality is that is not cheap. Also the files sizes are a lot much bigger and the investment of the technology development. But even the host, to stream the film, file processing….
I guess the some of the biggest platforms are looking to that. They have the infrastructure that can bring the costs down. I think some of the smaller like us; we might have to wait until the economy is affordable. Right now, I think the big ones will be probably the leaders with its infrastructure. And hopefully, we could learn from them.
What is the cloud platform of your choice?
We use Amazon. But we use many platforms. We also use Rackspace, a hosting. We use Oracle; we do a lot of testing with Oracle. And we are always looking for more cloud platforms. We embrace the standard platforms because for our developers and team members is easily shareable, is common knowledge.
FilmDoo can be enjoyed via web. Are you planning the development of mobile + TV applications?
Two years ago, it was on our road map. But two things happened. One, we realise that we were expanding into subscription platform. So that put the plan of the TV app on hold, because we realise it doesn’t makes sense. Most people do not use PPV on TV anymore and is very rare on a mobile app. It works if you have a free content that you just click one app and you can watch the film. But who is going to watch a movie and pay per app anytime, it doesn’t make sense. A lot of people will pay for a film on the laptop and then they will stream the content through Chromecast or Apple Air. Having an exclusive app for PPV content would not have been a good use case.
And two, we started to develop our EdTech platform. As we nearly are developing it, we think to have a TV app and a Mobile app when technology is fully launched. That will be game changer. You can watch a film on a big TV, while playing language games on the mobile phone. So it’s definitely on the road map and we are looking to accelerate that for the next year.
We’d also like to talk about FilmDoo Academy, which is a really interesting development. Could you tell our readers a bit more about this?
I did not mention that the academy is a B2B model. We work directly with schools, academies, etc. Not directly with the public to sign up yet. But we will be looking to make it available directly to language learners.
The FilmDoo academy is on a different website from Filmdoo, which is our original streaming platform. But they are the same business. We are looking to launch a blended subscription model for that as well for the next year. So that will be great changes.
What’s the future of FilmDoo? What will your next steps be?
I would love to point out that we are looking for great productions from all around the world as we now have our own user upload platform. If you go to the filmdoo.com you can see “Submit a film” on top. We allow a lot of filmmakers to directly upload their creations. Of course, we do not take any content, we are not YouTube. There is still curation making sure that it fits our criteria. But this would mean that more artist can directly submit their films and would have more options.
And this is important; there are two things I want to remark. One, we all love the big platforms. But even if they are working now with international content, the gap is wider for foreign independent filmmakers. The opportunity for their voices and stories to get told and distributed is getting less and less. Why? Because the platforms prefer to make its own content. They prefer to commission their content, maybe as part of a series, or as a part of their marketing strategy or what their data tell them. So it’s getting harder for independent films to be discovered and monetize.
In fact, a few weeks ago I discovered that Amazon no longer accepts shorts films and documentaries, which is sad because many independent filmmakers have to make documentaries or shorts films because of their limited budget. But Amazon is turning their back on them. I am sure because they have a lot of volume and they need to prioritize, but there is no solution outside yet. I am more committed than ever that there has to be a place to help international and independent filmmakers to get seen, distributed and monetize. At least, they can submit content directly to FilmDoo and hopefully we will be able to make it easier for these filmmakers to get to a global audience. That is the aim.