Broken Windows, Lost Chances

Netflix was snubbed when it offered $2.5million more than Fox Searchlight for the rights to The Birth of a Nation at Sundance. This was because it wanted to release online at the same time as cinemas. The producers obviously thought that appealing to popcorn munchers had more value. Managing release windows has become quite an art. At Rights Tracker we think it should be much more a science.

The historical background to this goes way back to the evolution of cinema as a medium. Once upon a time Hollywood majors were vertically integrated. They owned the studios, the movie making machinery plus the cinemas. They even owned the stars, to the degree that DW Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin created their own studio (United Artists) until this was subsumed back into the system.

Films would be released in the US first and then the time expensive prints would be shipped to other English language markets such as the UK (which is why you could always view cinema movies in France with their subtitled prints before you could in UK cinemas). This was the beginning of 'windowing', or the creation of specific rights windows that could be individually exploited.
The coming of television saw these rights extended to TV, but well after the cinema release had ended.

But then came recorded media, first in the form of VHS and then DVDs. This presented more windows of opportunities, which now went Cinema - VHS - TV. There were also some minor parallel markets such as hotel entertainment systems and in flight viewing.

At the same time, the international market became more complex and languages and dubbing continued to add further dimensions to the rights available to exploit.

It was this increase in complexity of the rights selling market which resulted in the founding of our company, Rights Tracker. Our initial desktop systems helped TV sales houses to make the most of their films and programs.

But the world moves on and what already seemed like a bewildering range of rights opportunities has increased further with the introduction of the internet and cloud platforms. The number of possible permutations are nearly endless.

This has had a positive impact for rights owners by opening up new rights opportunities for platforms such as Netflix, but has brought the negative impact of piracy and an ease of copying and distributing which was unthought-of when the original cinema model was developed. Now global releases at the same time are a must for some high profile TV releases such as a new season of Game of Thrones.

Of course, the distribution model is also more complex now with few vertically integrated players in the mode of the old studio model (Comcast is perhaps the best current example).

Rights windows are now far, far more complex and it isn't difficult to see a day when rights owners will begin using artificial intelligence to figure out how to maximize their sales. Indeed, we are already looking at this opportunity at Rights Tracker, along with how the power of the cloud can be used to leverage maximizing revenues from rights windows.