18 April 2021 The Irish Film & Television Network
Irish Film & Television and the VoD Market
11 Jan 2021 : Feature Desk
VoD (Video-on-Demand) is no longer the upstart newcomer disrupting the traditional video and television markets, rather it has become a cornerstone of the industry.

Irish content is already proving successful on streaming platforms, with titles such as The Young Offenders, The Siege of Jadotville and Angela’s Christmas finding success on Netflix, TV shows such as Normal People reaching a huge international audience on Hulu, and, more recently, Oscar-tipped Animated Feature Wolfwalkers becoming the jewel in the crown of Apple TV+’s first slate of acquisitions. But as the VoD market continues to rapidly change and evolve, there are huge opportunities for the Irish Film & Television Sector to capitalise on emergent trends and cement Ireland’s place as a global production hub for screen content internationally.

The success of platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and newcomers such as  Apple TV+, Disney+ and myriad niche platforms such as Shudder, which specialises in horror titles, and the demand for new and exclusive film and television content has resulted in something of an original content arms race. Significantly, VoD platforms have nearly doubled the amount of non-US content acquired or commissioned over the last four years.

Irish content creators are well-positioned to meet this demand for content across numerous international VoD markets, and  Ireland is also primed to benefit from this content arms by expanding its existing studio space to accommodate more and more large-scale international productions, such as Foundation, which is filmed at Troy Studios in Limerick for Apple TV+. But with an ever-changing marketplace, the industry will need to adapt and evolved to capitalise on these advancements. 

The Global VoD Market in 2021

With 2020 now (mercifully) behind us, it is notable for having ushered in a new age of Video-on-Demand, with Hollywood’s major players switching from trying to compete with or even live with Streaming giants to making direct-to-consumer their focus.

In December of 2020 The Irish Film & Television Academy (IFTA), in association with the BAI, hosted an online event titled VoD and Broadcast Evolution: The New Frontiers, a series of panels exploring the opportunities for Irish Content Creators as presented by the burgeoning VoD landscape. In the first panel of the day Demystifying the VoD Sector, Guy Bisson of Ampere Analysis noted that two unrelated cycles accelerated VoD adoption & consumption.

Firstly, that COVID-19 devastated the theatrical window and severely impacted traditional broadcaster’s ability to generate content. With little to no content in cinemas and broadcasters unable to film, audiences turned to the large libraries of VoD platforms.

The second is the emergence of Studio Direct as a major market force, with large Companies and studios experimenting with windowing and embracing the new strategy to go direct to consumers. This was seen in 2020 by Disney releasing both Mulan and Artemis Fowl directly to Disney+, while more recently Warner Bros. sent a shockwave through the industry when they announced that all of their 2021 movies would be released both in theatres and on their streaming service HBO Max at the same time.

2020 also saw a slew of new entrants to the market – Disney +, Quibi (Which has already folded), peacock, HBO Max, Apple TV+ and CBS All access to name but a few. In addition, there was a diversification of VoD models with AVod (Video on Demand supported by Advertising as opposed to subscription) platforms such as VUDU and Crackle emerging, and several established entities experimenting with hybrid business modes including an entry-level, free model, with higher-value content gated behind a subscription wall. The US Office’s first two seasons are free on CBS All-access for example, but to view the other seven seasons audience will have to pay.

Another change is the amount of non-US content on streaming sites. Bisson points towards the change in content from the rest of the world on Netflix over the last four years. In 2016 21% of Netflix originals were from outside the US. In October 2020 it was 37%.

Even more encouraging is the fact that 63% of Upcoming Original Productions for Netflix come from outside the US, and 43% from Amazon. New entrants however are heavily reliant on domestic US content with Disney and Apple are at 18% ROW (Rest of the World, non-US) while Peacock has 0% and HBO Max is at 3%. All of the above have combined to create an ever-increasing demand for content (and places to produce it).

 So how is Ireland positioned to benefit from this?

Ireland’s Screen Content on International VoD: Where are we now?

  • Australia is an enormous buyer of Irish Content of SVoD by Volume, second only to the USA.
  • The Breadwinner is the most distributed  Irish Title across  SVoD platforms internationally.
  • More than 40% of Irish Content streaming platforms around the world are either Children and Family titles or Documentaries.

These are just three takeaways from Bisson’s and Ampere Analysis’ research into Irish Content on SVod as presented in IFTA’s VoD and Broadcast Evolution: The New Frontiers event. It shows Irish titles doing well, but points to a number of key trends in the type of Irish Content that is doing well internationally on VoD, and where it is most successful.

The top ten export Markets  (excluding UK and Ireland) for Irish Content on SVoD by volume (Hours) are as follows:

  1. USA                      
  2. Australia
  3. Canada
  4. New Zealand
  5. Denmark
  6. Finland
  7. Norway
  8. Sweden
  9. South Africa
  10. The Philippines

USA is the largest buyer of Irish Content but Australia is a major buyer. In all of these markets, Netflix and Amazon are the largest buyers but regional players like Stan and Foxtel in Australia, and Viaplay and Acorn tv in the Nordic countries (and the latter in the USA as well) are vital too.

Interestingly, across the board, only approximately 20% of this content is filmed with the rest being made up of TV or Documentary work.

In terms of Genres, more than 40% of Irish Content to streaming platforms around the world come from two Genres: Children and Family, and Documentaries. The full breakdown as per Ampere Analysis’s research can be seen below

  1. Children & Family 21%
  2. Documentary 20%
  3. Crime & Thriller 14%
  4. Drama 11%
  5. Comedy 9%
  6. Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror 9 %
  7. Romance 5%
  8. Reality 4%
  9. Entertainment 4%
  10. Action & Adventure 2 %

In terms of Film, Ireland’s 10 most widely distributed titles on SVOD (Most numbers of deals in terms of countries and platforms) are as follows:   

  1. The Breadwinner
  2. The Great Wall
  3. Maudie
  4. Sing Street
  5. Brooklyn
  6. Hostage to the Devil
  7. Handsome Devil
  8. The Young Offenders
  9. The Siege of Jadotville
  10. Angela’s Christmas

So what does this tell us about the Irish Sector’s place in the VoD landscape? For one thing, it is clear that Animation works very well for Ireland on VoD.  It is no surprise that Children and Family Content has done so well for us or that an Animated Title tops the list of most widely distributed films such is the massive success of the Animation Sector on these shores.

The second Panel in  VoD & Broadcast Evolution: The New Frontiers was a Case Study of Irish Animation and its Success in the VOD Sector which featured Paul Young (CEO, Cartoon Saloon), Alix Wiseman (SVP Distribution & Acquisitions, 9 Story  Media), John Rice (CEO, Jam Media) and was moderated by  Ronan McCabe (CEO Animation Ireland).

Cartoon Saloon, Jam, and Brownbag (Acquired by 9 Story Media) are among Ireland’s three most successful Animation Studios and all of them have worked extensively with major VoD platforms. Cartoon Saloon’s recently released Wolfwalkers was the first animated feature exclusive to Apple TV+ and is hotly tipped for an Oscar this tear.  Despite being exclusive to the streaming platform Apple was happy to commit to a theatrical release for the film.  Brownbag meanwhile has worked with streamers on titles such as The Stinky & Dirty Show on Amazon Prime while Jam Media has also worked with Amazon on Jessy & Nessy.

On the panel, the participants expressed the importance of Animation to VoD as a vital type of content for keeping audiences,  and indeed the importance of VoD to Animation in Ireland as a market alongside traditional linear broadcasting. Jam Media’s Rice said: "There's a huge variety of places to go whether linear or streamers. The fact is they're all becoming streamers - BBC for example are moving more content to iPlayer as opposed to channels. Streamers realise animation content is important for keeping audiences" while Cartoon Saloon’s Paul Young noted that unique content is important for a VoD platforms Brand saying “ It's becoming like walking into a shop, which gives you one brand, then you go into another shop and there's something else. “

Again, unique content is key.  So what are the VoD opportunities going forward for Irish Animators, Content creators, and the industry as a whole?

VoD Opportunities for the Irish Sector: 2021 and Beyond

As mentioned earlier the original content arms race provides opportunities beyond merely providing a market to sell content or a source of funding to commission work. There is currently an acute global shortage of studio space to meet the growing demands of those engaged in the “content creation race”.  This is a key opportunity for Ireland’s film and television economy going forward: As outlined in the Olsberg report (2017), Ireland currently suffers from a shortage of high-quality studio space for its television, film, and media industry and the report highlights a requirement to make the sector more competitive internationally

Recent developments such as the greenlighting of a new 150 million-Euro Studio Space and Media Campus in Greystones, Co. Wicklow will effectively double Ireland’s studio space. The project would add to the existing Ardmore Studios and Ashford Studios who have already put Co Wicklow at the centre of the Irish movie and TV industry, with productions including Braveheart, The Tudors, Penny Dreadful, and Vikings shot there.  Outside of Wicklow, there is Troy Studios in Limerick who are currently playing host to Apple TV+’s Foundation Series which is believed to be the most expensive production shot on the island of Ireland, and in the North, there is the iconic Titanic Studios which were host to HBO’s Game of Thrones. Ireland’s potential as a site for large-scale studio filming is increasing rapidly (IFTN will be presenting a feature on Ireland’s studios in the coming weeks)

Combined with Ireland’s attractive section 481 tax incentive programme, its world-class crew, and the consistently high level of content (including the hugely successful animation scene) coming out of the country, Ireland’s screen sector is well-positioned to adapt to and capitalise on the increasing importance of the VoD sector and its continuing evolution.

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