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Vyer Films and The Evolution of Subscription Services

An upstart subscription service aims to introduce curation into the formula.

It's obvious that subscription-based services are going to play a continually large role in the economic success or failure of indie film as time goes on and viewership becomes concentrated in the VOD - as opposed to the theatrical - realm. This would indicate that perhaps there's room for some smaller, niche content providers as opposed to the juggernauts like Netflix and Hulu (iTunes and Amazon, of course, are pay-per-view). KC McLeod, CEO of upstart streaming service Vyer, is banking on such a change. (Full disclosure: KC was a classmate of mine at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, in the film program.) Interested in pushing the possibilities of VOD forward, McLeod has created Vyer in order to put forward an alternative VOD option - a site with a small amount of titles that are carefully curated by staff to appeal to a certain niche of film lovers. What niche? What staff? How does it work? Read on to find out - I recently discussed the details of the innovative new site with McLeod over the phone. 

Tribeca Film: Why don't you tell me a bit about how Vyer works?

KCM: Vyer Films is a film curation and streaming service. We take the best films coming out around the world, playing festivals, and we work to connect them with audiences online that are looking for new, unique films. It's about connecting to audiences with an interest in films of quality - but audiences who may not have the time or ability to go out into the world and track those films down. 

Nobody knows where to see good movies - people want to see good movies, but they can't find them. 

Tribeca Film: How does the revenue-sharing structure work?

KCM: The deal we have with filmmakers is that 70% of the revenue we generate from subscriptions - minus the costs of processing credit cards, things like that - goes to them. We remit them back to the filmmaker or the sales agency, whoever we've done the licensing with. The remaining 30% covers how we operate. 

Tribeca Film: So it's a subscription model, not a pay-per-view model.

KCM Yes. There are three tiers of subscriptions. It's $20 a month. We put out four movies a month, but we also have a back catalog of options. We find that our subscribers tend to watch two films a month. So that $20 we make breaks down to $10 for each film, and $7 of that goes back to the filmmaker. It's not necessarily what they would get from a theatrical booking, but per subscription, it's much more than what you might be seeing from a place like Netflix. 

Tribeca Film: How did the idea for the site materialize?

KCM: A few years back I had several different friends who had gone to film school with me, and they were all having issues finding financing. It's hard to ask people for money when there isn't a clear path toward making money back. You know, hopefully it gets picked up, hopefully people go see it - too many hopefully's. So I wondered if there were ways to overcome those difficulties. What emerged was, there seemed to be two issues. One is, nobody knows where to see good movies - people want to see good movies, but they can't find them. Then, you also have great movies with small audiences, movies that no one will see if you don't live in New York or LA. So it seemed like an elegant solution could address both of those issues at the same time - where filmmakers can find audiences for their work while audiences can find good stuff without having to scour the trades, read blogs, in order to find good stuff - they can just come to a trusted curator to find stuff that is interesting to them. That was the core concept. Vyer launched in 2011, but we really figured out how to make our model work for people last summer. 

Tribeca Film: How did the business side of Vyer come together?

KCM: For a long time it was a solo venture. I would have friends function in various ancillary roles when necessary. The team in place now came together in the beginning of this year, after we raised financing from an angel investor by demonstrating this was a model that would resonate with audiences. 

The diversity of experiences that are out there are what we want to provide to our audience. 

Tribeca Film: When you acquire a film for Vyer, is it an exclusive deal? And beyond that, how do you find and select the films for the site?

KCM: Some films on the site are exclusive deals, others are non-exclusive. We don't consider ourselves in the exclusivity business - we consider ourselves in the curation business. What we continue to believe is, if this movie is somewhere in Netflix's catalog, are people going to find it? Often, the answer is no, even if it is available. So if it's available on a different platform, that won't stop us from featuring it ourselves, because we want to feature the films and extol their virtues. For finding films, we try to follow film journalists going to festivals, stay aware of what's out there, see what people blog positively about, and see what people describe as different or unique. The diversity of experiences that are out there are what we want to provide to our audience. It's also about talking to production companies and learning about what they're producing. 

Tribeca Film: What are some films on the site now that you're excited about?

KCM: One is Leones, a film that was at Venice and the New Directors/New Films, very elegantly shot, which deals with themes that harken back to the beginning of foreign cinema being popular in the United States. It had no distribution in the US, and we were excited to bring it here, because there's been a core of critics here who were praising it. We also just put out Bal, which is the latest in Semih Kaplanoglu's Yusuf trilogy, which actually did have some distribution here. Next month we're putting out a film from a New York director named Nathan Silver that we're excited about. 

Tribeca Film: It seems that one thing that would be attractive about the site is that, because the catalog is purposefully small, there's a merit badge that comes from being featured on the site. 

KCM: That would be the highest compliment, if filmmakers were going around being proud of our catalog. We feel very proud of the filmmakers who are willing to be part of an alternative catalog, an alternative idea. When we select films, something that's also important is that we select films that are part of the catalog of what we have. We sometimes see great films that just aren't the right fit for us. I know that's such an entertainment industry phrase, but as time goes on and we cultivate an audience, we have to think about what the audience for Vyer is. 

We want to be there to say, we know that your time is limited and valuable, we want to make you feel like you're making the most out of your time.

Tribeca Film: Who is the typical Vyer customer?

KCM: We're targeting someone who enjoys films, but who is at the point in life where their career is getting more serious, their family life is expanding, and they want to be able to experience new and interesting films, but there are more important priorities for them. We want to be there to say, we know that your time is limited and valuable, we want to make you feel like you're making the most out of your time. There are so many great things out there, but you can't expect everyone to search for them. There are a lot of companies out there that talk about making life easier, but is life better when your most treasured resource - time - is being wasted? So for our typical customer, time is truly valuable. 

Tribeca Film: What's next for Vyer?

KCM: We're looking at expanding the number of platforms we're available on - devices and boxes. We're also looking to expand the kind of titles that we offer. Many of our films are foreign, kind of serious, and we're trying to diversify a bit - we're trying to seek out more comedies. We want to offer a range, and we want to incorporate more English-language titles into our catalog. Beyond that, we want to keep asking what a meaningful experience that we can provide is. How can we grow our service in a way that we continue to help people manage their time? That's the next big question for us. 


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