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French Trio Launches Digital Cinema Service (EXCLUSIVE)

Variety logo Variety 5/17/2017 Elsa Keslassy
© Provided by Variety

While Netflix has sparked a heated debate at Cannes with its two competition titles, “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories,” a new French steaming platform, ecinema, is being launched with the ambition to premiere 52 world cinema titles per year, rolling out a new title every Friday.

The platform is being launched by Frederic Houzelle, who runs production company Atlantis; Bruno Barde, the artistic director of several film festivals, notably Deauville, Marrakech and Beaune; and Roland Coutas, a former producer who became an investor in e-business and created the online travel agency Travelprice.

The idea behind ecinema is to showcase a wide range of films, from crime thrillers to fantasy films and dramas, with a strong emphasis on genre — 99% of which will be non-French films. Documentaries and TV series will not be part of the offering.

The service’s acquisitions are being handled by Daniel Preljocaj, who previously headed TF1 Intl. Preljocaj has already acquired nearly 40 films from the AFM and Berlin. Some of those films will be part of the platform’s library, which will comprise approximately 100 movies.

Houzelle, the president of ecinema, who has produced the French version of “Top Chef” and “Dancing With the Stars,” pointed out that “in 2016, about 700 new feature-length films were released in theaters, but on average people only went to the movie theater three times.”

Barde, a film buff who serves as artistic director of the service, concurred: “So many brilliant movies don’t make it into theaters or if they do, they get lost in the clutter and get pulled out by exhibitors after a one-week run.”

That analysis prompted the ecinema service to keep each new movie for 12 consecutive weeks. “That’s enough time to allow the film to reach its full potential and for the buzz to build,” said Coutas, who is VP of ecinema.

“In France, local institutions are placing too much emphasis on theatrical distribution but audiences want to consume films anywhere, anytime and on any device, and we strive to feed into that building trend,” added Coutas, who also mentioned that premiering films digitally was an effective way to counter piracy in France, which has been on the rise for the last few years.

Barde, meanwhile, said the French box office is dominated by local pics and American movies, leaving world cinema films behind with a 5% market share. And even for American indie films, the competition in France is tough.

Set to officially launch on Sept. 8, ecinema.com will be available for a monthly rate of 9.99 euros for unlimited access to the platform, or 5.99 euros for a five-day pass. The first 100,000 users of ecinema will get a special rate of 5.99 euros for an unlimited pass.

The trio said they are working hand-in-hand with France’s National Film Board (CNC) and are in the process of securing distribution agreements with Universal, TF1 and Wild Bunch to acquire second-window rights to their films.

Whereas Netflix has been at odds with the CNC and French film orgs because it isn’t part of the French film industry, ecinema intends to play by the rules. The service will, for instance, be involved in producing French pics, giving them a budget ranging from 1.5-2 million euros and a significant editorial freedom to create original movies.

“Many talented and visionary filmmakers, such as Wim Wenders, Abbas Kiarostami and Nicolas Winding Refn and Park Chan-wook, were discovered in France and we want to perpetuate this tradition,” said Barde.

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