Senna and the Case for Video

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As specialists in designing video on demand products, we at Ostmodern are passionate about the British Film Industry, and making sure our products showcase great British productions in the best possible way.

Last week I watched the 2010 BAFTA-winning documentary film Senna. Having no interest in motor racing, a film on the subject wasn't particularly appealing to me. However, it turned out to be a compelling and dramatic story.

Directed by British Director Asif Kapadia and produced by the London-based studio, Working Title, Senna has been one of the major success stories of the British Film Industry in recent years. It garnered international acclaim and gained recognition from the Sundance, Los Angeles, Melbourne and Adelaide film festivals.

Senna Poster

Source: Senna Press

The film broke Box Office records for a documentary in the UK, despite a limited release, taking £375,000 on its opening weekend. However, it had a relatively poor opening weekend in the US, initially playing to just two screens and taking only $73,000 (roughly £44,000). Appetite for the film picked up over time and it went on to gross $1.6m, above the average figure of $921,360 for documentaries shown in the US. By the end of its run, the film had grossed approximately $11.8m worldwide.

However, it was on video release that Senna had its greatest success, becoming the most successful British sports documentary ever. In the UK alone it sold over 750,000 copies on DVD. Figures from the British Video Association (BVA) show that video retail and rental accounted for a massive 62% of the film’s takings, including digital distribution as well as DVD and blu-ray. By comparison, the Box Office only accounted for 6% of the film’s revenue.

Senna Sales

Source: Data from BVA, 2012; Graphic by Ostmodern, 2014

The importance of video sales extends to mainstream blockbusters as well. The BVA cite the US/UK production Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr., which took 43% of its total revenue on video. According to figures from an Oxford Economics report, published by the BVA back in 2011, video retail and rental made up around a quarter of the £10.8m UK AV market.

While the total video revenue for the UK AV industry is still mostly comprised of physical sales, digital video on demand services are making an ever growing contribution to the home video industry. Last year, digital sales managed to offset the decline in physical retail and rental and bring about resurgence of 3.7% market growth.

The contribution of video sales and rental in the success of Senna, along with the growth of digital distribution shows the potential increasing importance that video on demand services will have as a platform for distributing content, particularly indie, niche and special interest productions, which are distinctive in British film.

At present this type of content faces an uphill battle for viewership. As UX director Tom Williams pointed out in one of my previous posts, content providers currently front load big-budget blockbuster content, leaving little room for more low-key releases.

At Ostmodern we are looking at new ways to encourage discovery and sharing, bringing great films such as Senna, and TV such as The Wire, which initially seem to have niche appeal, to a much wider audience. Tools such as detailed metadata and social media have the potential to surface content which resonates with the viewer, and not just the same big budget titles which have the benefit of extensive promotion.

In supporting niche, indie and special interest content, VOD will play a significant role in the future of the British Film Industry, helping it to stay competitive on the international stage as well as keeping alive the tradition of producing great British films.

Senna publicity images courtesy of Producers Distribution Agency, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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