VOD Spotlight: Nolan GallagherMarch 11, 2010
Nolan Gallagher is the founder of Gravitas Ventures, a Video On Demand distributor with over 350 titles available a year. On Demand Weekly interviewed Gallagher about his perspective on Video On Demand and what Gravitas has to offer to TV viewers.
On Demand Weekly: How did you get started in the Video On Demand (VOD) industry?
Nolan Gallagher: I had the good fortune to work at Comcast back when VOD was first being rolled out nationwide. Part of my role was to work with all of the studios to market their films and the VOD service as a great new way for consumers to enjoy movie watching in the home.
ODW: When did you launch Gravitas Ventures?
NG: Gravitas Ventures was launched in 2006 soon after I completed my MBA and signed a license agreement with Warner Digital Distribution.
ODW: Can you elaborate on the amount of programming and the categories Gravitas provides to VOD users monthly?
NG: Gravitas Ventures releases about 30 VOD programs every month or over 350 titles annually making us (we believe) the largest distributor of independent films to the VOD industry.
We tend to focus on films with a theatrical release and/or recognizable cast in order to maximize the buy rates of our operator partners. Gravitas works with over 150+ content partners so our programming includes feature films, documentaries, animation, alternative sports, wrestling/mixed martial arts, comedy, and music concert programming.
ODW: Do you produce or acquire the content?
NG: We acquire content
\ODW: Other than a film festival like Sundance, where do you find films to acquire?
NG: Often we acquire from sales agents and through referrals from friends of producers we know. These augment the films we pick up from leading festivals and markets like Sundance, Cannes, SXSW, Berlin, Toronto, Tribeca, AFM and NATPE.
ODW: A few films from the 2010 Sundance Film Festival (SFF) announced they would be available on VOD immediately after the festival. How was SFF for you and do you feel VOD turned a corner as a post festival platform for filmmakers?
NG: We loved Sundance and in the last year have worked on Crips and Bloods: Made in America, We Live in Public, Ballast,The Merry Gentleman, and Good Dick that have all premiered in recent years at Park City. I do think that filmmakers are continuing to realize that VOD will play a key part of their overall release strategy. As a result, we have been involved in more and more hybrid distribution releases where producers instead of signing 10-20 year all rights deals for no/low money with one company are proactively splitting up their rights with certain companies that do certain ancillaries (DVD, VOD, television) very well.
Aside from the positive benefit that it could maximize financial returns on a film, we think a side benefit is this allows producer teams invaluable experience working with a diversity of companies that may serve them well on future films.
ODW: Many of the theatrical distributors who acquire independent films have been downsized or gone out of business in recent years. How important is VOD to independent filmmakers?
NG: It’s essential because the decisions being made today by producers on how they handle VOD can stay with a film for decades. We often remind our partners of the old maxim the “devil is in the details” and encourage them to ask all of their potential distributors very specific questions on how a film will be handled in the VOD space.
ODW: With so many distributors in the marketplace, many of whom now claim to handle VOD, how is Gravitas different?
NG: At Gravitas, we live and breathe VOD all day long. VOD was the reason Gravitas was started and making each film a success is our primary focus on behalf of our content and operator partners. Because we have put out about 500 programs in our history, we have accumulated knowledge in acquisition, distribution, and marketing that we add to daily. We like to say we offer a one-stop shop of experience to help take some of the considerable guess work out of VOD.
On a personal side, we have been told by numerous filmmakers that we are remarkably candid in our dealings. We find that some other companies do not make VOD their priority. We aspire to be really great at VOD and will not get involved in other ancillary rights if we feel we cannot meaningfully help the filmmaker in the short term.
ODW: "Straight to Video / DVD" often carries a negative connotation. What can filmmakers, talent, VOD distributors and VOD Operators do to avoid this with VOD?
NG: At Gravitas we often put our films into every home that has cable, satellite, telco, or online VOD service. When you add it all up across 100+ operators that may be 80-100 million North American households. Really proactive companies like Apple, Amazon, AT&T, Comcast, Microsoft, Netflix, Time Warner Cable and Verizon (to name just a few) have over the years invested billions of dollars to make independent film readily available to a filmmaker’s friends, family and fans. I see that as a very positive development for the film community.
ODW: How do VOD users typically find out about your films / content?
NG: We have marketed our films in a variety of ways including through: 30 second television spots, direct mail sent out by operators, targeted radio campaigns in key VOD radio markets and social media through our Twitter (http://twitter.com/GravitasVOD) and Facebook pages (http://www.facebook.com/pages/El-Segundo-CA/Gravitas-Ventures/122172092136)
That being said, any distributor is very happy when a film is discovered through great word of mouth. We have worked with some tremendous filmmakers who have created inventive films and as a result many of our titles have accumulated tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of rentals.
ODW: What is your most successful film to date?
NG: That would be The Secret, which was a sensation a few years ago and continues to inspire people daily. Recently, films like Crips and Bloods: Made in America, Good Dick, and American Meth found a wide VOD audience.
ODW: How could Cable VOD Operators (Comcast, Time Warner, etc) promote smaller VOD films better to their subscribers?
NG: Without speaking about certain operators, I can tell you that Gravitas spends allot of time analyzing the various user-interfaces/guides offered throughout the VOD industry. Last year we made a suggestion to a top 10 operator that they may want to build a documentary category to complement other existing genre categories like action and comedy. We were thrilled that the operator in a future guide rollout not only incorporated our suggestion but also unexpectedly built out a Gravitas folder in their independent film section. Since that happened, we have seen better buy rates on our docs which helps everyone (consumer, operator, producer).
In a world where consumers have tens of thousands of VOD choices, it helps in our marketing outreach, if both Gravitas and our filmmaker partners can drive awareness to exactly where a compelling program can be found.
ODW: With so many options for consumers to watch video content, how big can Cable VOD become?
NG: I wiser person than me said that VOD is only in its 2nd inning. Operators, studios and filmmakers innovate on a daily basis and movie lovers will be reaping the benefits for decades.
ODW: What new titles should we look for this spring?
NG: Wow, we have so many interesting films coming out but to name just a few, people should check out We Live in Public, which won Grand Jury Prize: Documentary at Sundance 2009; The Ceremony, which is an edge of your seat thriller that played SXSW in 2009; The Flying Scissors, if you thought you knew it all about rock, paper, scissors competitions, Rock Slyde, if you have missed Andy Dick in your life; and Assault of the Sasquatch because you can never be too prepared when out in the woods.
Gravitas Ventures films and programs are available in over 70 US million households including: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Cablevision, Charter, Insight, Mediacom, Bresnan, and Suddenlink.