Are you looking to take time from your regular binge watching?
For global non-fiction fans, a new streaming platform from Studio XTR and late Zappos founder and visionary Tony Hsieh is avalable premium viewing experience on any device. Documentary+ platform is free to watch, but with ads.
With a large curated collection, the Documentary+ film library ranges from Academy Award-winners to festival darlings and critically acclaimed films. Documentary+ has a highly curated selection of award-winning films and nominated filmmakers including Spike Jonze, Kathryn Bigelow, Terrence Malick, Brett Morgen, Andrea Nevins, Roger Ross Williams, Zana Briski, Davis Guggenheim, and Werner Herzog, as well as up-and-coming filmmakers including Lana Wilson (Miss Americana), Ramona S. Diaz (A Thousand Cuts), Nanfu Wang (One Child Nation), Clay Tweel (Gleason), Kareem Tabsch (Mucho Mucho Amor), and Laura Gabbert (Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles).
“There has never been a more exciting time for nonfiction — we’re seeing visionary new directors emerge and streaming has given documentary films wide new global audiences,” said Bryn Mooser, co-founder of Documentary+ and CEO of XTR. “With Documentary+, not only are we building a home for some of the best documentary films of our time, but we’re giving filmmakers another option for distribution as competition continues to increase. The COVID pandemic created this great digital acceleration and we are building Documentary+ to be a key cornerstone in the future of the industry.”
XTR CEO Bryn Mooser in his interviews had said Documentary+ service is designed to feel curated, personal, like the [Criterion Channel] for non-fiction.
Since the company’s inception, XTR has invested into over 40 documentaries including You Cannot Kill David Arquette, Feels Good Man, 76 Days, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, The Fight and more.
The library includes classics like The Imposter, Born into Brothels, Cartel Land, My Best Fiend, and Life, Animated, and features pop culture icons like Michael Jordan (One Man and His Shoes), Christian Dior (Dior and I), Evel Knievel (Being Evel), Janis Joplin (Festival Express), and Pearl Jam (Hype!) alongside important political and historical figures like Cory Booker (Street Fight), Elian Gonzalez (Elian), and Neil Armstrong (Armstrong).
Documentary+ is available for free on all streaming platforms including Apple TV, Amazon and Roku, mobile devices and www.docplus.com.
Blockchain continues to be a watchword in the media and entertainment sector and beyond. The technology, which is set to disrupt the existing model of third-party distribution, will not only change the way we consume content but will also herald a new era of transparency and flexibility in the way the content is produced, says Alexander Shulgin, a visonary, investor, composer, entrepreneur, futurist, and a Blockchain specialist
How do you think Blockchain is going to change the landscape for media and entertainment industry?
Blockchain is set to change everything. It will change how the people access content; it will change industrial businesses and, of course, our life style. Media & Entertainment is one of the most important aspects of our lifestyle, which is already a trillion dollars industry. Blockchain will transform it dramatically. It will change the way the content is created and allow its decentralization. One will be able to create content while streaming or accessing it. Blockchain is not going to be about distribution of content, rather it will be about accessing it.
Before the digital era arrived, there used to be a Master Tape, which could be used to create limited copies of cassettes, DVDs, CDs, etc. When the digital era came the Master Tape disappeared because you could make unlimited copies of the same quality and distribute it. However, now distribution of unlimited copies of a film has become more and more expensive because you need to distribute the content in terms of Gigabytes and Terabytes.
Blockchain resolves this issue smartly. For instance, if a new series of Games of Thrones is launched there will be only one copy of it which will be in the DotBC standard. This standard is comparable to standards like MPEG or MP3, but it allows unlimited access to smart content.
So instead of distributing this one copy of Games of Thrones to 100 million firms, Blockchain allows you to give them access to this content. It will significantly reduce the cost of distribution and help the creator monetize every view by the users.
For instance, if you have distributed the copy of the content there may be people who will watch it for just five minutes and don’t like it. But in this case you have already spent heavily on distributed terabytes.
However, if you give access of the content to the people even if they don’t like it you will save lot of bytes. Also, the data used can immediately give you statistics. It is much like pay for what you watch.
Today, if I put my content on YouTube I am paid by advertisers only if I have more than, say, 10,000 views. If only 300 people watch the content, they don’t pay you. But the Blockchain will allow you to get paid for even one view that too immediately.
Is it like you pay from your credit card?
When you make a payment through credit card, the card company asks American Express or Mastercard to make the transactions and sometimes one transaction may cost you three dollars. But since using Blockchain you can make a trillion transactions in one go that too at the cost of one transaction, it won’t matter how many transactions you do.
Will Blockchain allow distribution of an Indian film in the Latin America, Brazil in their languages?
When producers give content, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon don’t provide the data. Sometimes they share some data but they keep the data mainly with themselves. The data is new oil, new gold. If you have the data then you can monetize it by selling it to the interested parties.
Machine learning, which is a form of Blockchain, will automatically know where the user comes from and provide the content translated in the language known to them. Suppose I come from France and I know French, I will be the French translation of the content automatically. It has become easier now with the emergence of language translation services like Google, Microsoft and others.
Is it going to change the way movies or content are distributed?
Distributor will not distribute because the producer will have the access. There will be no distributor. The nature of Blockchain will disrupt third parties. It will make direct connections with the user. Today if I have to send an SMS, my SMS will go to a Moscow server then it will go to a Mumbai operator before getting delivered to the intended person. It travels thousands of miles, which means extra cost. It wastes time and increases traffic. In case of Blockchain, it will go directly to the recipient. If it goes directly then there can be no latency. You can stream the content online and mix editing online according to my behavior. The way of protection of content will be changed.
Will this help startups?
Old companies are often very slow in adapting new technologies. There is a big chance for new emerging markets for start-ups.
Is this blockchain expensive?
It will cut a lot of cost. It needs lot of energy. Of course you need data mining centres and that will cost you but because it will cut a lot of costs it will be a win-win for all.
Will it help if five-six independent people come together, pool their content and distribute it in a big way?
They can join together to promote the content, they don’t need to create a platform.
Can we live without Google, Amazon or YouTube?
Blockchain will disrupt the search engines also. That’s why Google is now being transformed to Alphabet. Alphabet is Artificial Intelligence. We still have Google but it understands the future.
Also, that’s why Netflix focuses on content. The platform is a third party and a third party has no future.
What kind of media sectors can benefit and make money out of it?
You can make money in many ways. If you have data then you can barter it with other things. Blockchain will allow this to happen. Let’s say if I need fruit from India, you can give me fruit and I can give you my music. Money is something just to be equal to exchange.
Will Blockchain kill piracy?
Yes of course, because now you will have one master tape which cannot be hacked. It is almost impossible to hack Blockchain.
How did you get into the world of Blockchain?
I am from music, media and entertainment industry. Blockchain started as a peer to peer project in 1999. The first peer to peer project was Kazaa. I know the founders of Kazaa and I tried to find more about this technology because I was very angry about piracy. But it was not piracy, it was a peer to peer sharing. Later, the US government shut down Kazaa.
How has Blockchain shaped in Russia?
We have started it. A lot of it is used in payment transaction. But then we are waiting for 5G network. Remember in 1994 it was impossible to download MP3. In 1996 to download one MP3 file you needed one night. Now it is instant. In the same way, Blockchain needs more bandwidth. We are waiting for 5G and by the time 6G is introduced it will be bigger.
With the rise of OTT platforms, the demand for scripted dramas is soaring in India. However, there are very few bright minds in the Indian M&E space who have mastered the art of creating and marketing scripted dramas like Bobby Bedi has. After a spell of silence that lasted for almost a decade, Bobby Bedi is back in business with a bang with a number of projects lined up, and it looks like he is set on a mission to dish out some brilliant scripted dramas for a global audience
By Natarajan Vidyasagar & Vivek Ratnakar
For close to a decade, acclaimed Indian film producer Bobby Bedi (Sundeep Singh Bedi) has been just an observer. He has not done any major movie project or produced content. During this time he was creating museums and was dabbling with content every now and then.
When it comes to Indian media and entertainment sector, Bobby is among the brightest creative and business minds. This combination is rare, as in the Indian media and entertainment space you are either bracketed as a creative or a business mind.
Once a salesman at multi-national companies like Philips and Sony, Bobby Bedi through his sheer perseverance as an entrepreneur in the media and entertainment industry, discovered the art of creating and marketing scripted dramas collaborating with top class talent who are now icons in the showbiz domain. To this day, there are very few in the industry who can match the reputation and consistent success that Bobby enjoyed in the scripted drama space.
Bobby’s first film as a producer was “In Which Annie Gives it to Those Ones”. The film was written by the now famous writer Arundati Roy, who also acted in the film. His second film “Electric Moon” was also written by Arundati Roy. His third film “Bandit Queen,” based on the life of Phoolan Devi, was directed by Shekhar Kapur, while dialogues were written by Ranjit Kapoor, and screenplay and book done by Mala Sen.
Script is the soul
In the “Bandit Queen,” script was the soul. Director Shekahr Kapur created the magic by converting a hard hitting script into a “lethal blow in the solar plexus of the world.” This is a classic example of when an idea is turned into movie, it is the harmony of creative contributions—script, camera, sound, art, performances and direction—that creates a great film. The film was premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section of the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.
Bobby’s fourth film as a producer was “Fire,” written and directed by Deepa Mehta, starring Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das. His fifth film production “Maqbool” (Favorite), directed by Vishal Bhardwaj and starring Pankaj Kapur, Irrfan Khan, Tabu and Masumeh Makhija, is an adaptation of the play Macbeth by Shakespeare.
Bobby’s next venture “Mangal Pandey: The Rising” is a 2005 Indian historical drama film based on the life of Mangal Pandey, an Indian soldier known for helping to spark the Indian rebellion of 1857 (also known as The First War of Indian Independence). It was directed by Ketan Mehta, and screenplay was done by Farrukh Dhondy. The lead role was played by Aamir Khan. It was followed by “Saathiya” (directed by Shaad Ali and written by Mani Ratnam), “The Stoneman Murders”, and “Chintu Ji…” But no major movie projects were undertaken by him after that. There was just silence.
Come 2019, Bobby is back in business with a bang riding on back of an explosion in the Over The Top Television (OTT) content, turning streaming platforms into mainstream entertainment. “I was doing scripted dramas in India when nobody was doing it. Everybody was doing Bollywood entertainment format which was very popular. We were side business. With the coming of Netflix, Amazon and other platforms, and also because of the dubbing of the major international content, India has got exposed to and now addicted to scripted drama,” says a bullish Bobby Bedi who is on a mission to regain the glory and dish out scripted dramas for a global audience.
His pipeline at his professionally managed Contentflow Studios is overflowing. “We have our own studio in NOIDA, in the National Capital Region (NCR) of Delhi. We have our own team and our CEO is managing the business. My job is only to creatively drive it. Before the year is out, we would have done couple of more major projects . Suddenly, we are back in business with a bang,” says Bobby.
Bobby’s recently produced film “Bitter Chestnut,” directed by Gurvinder Singh, is rising on the popularity chart with every passing day. It was showcased at the world premiere of the recently concluded Busan International Film Festival. The film attracted critical acclamation at the 20th Jio MAMI, Mumbai Film Festival. It will continue its festival circuit journey in 2020, beginning with International Film Festival Rotterdam (Jan 22-Feb 2). Gurvinder’s earlier two films “Alms for the Blind Horse” and “Fourth Direction,” premiered at Venice and Cannes Film Festivals and have won numerous international awards.
“The whole premium scripted drama area is pretty much a white space in India, where they make great films, great soap operas… but nobody is really making high-budget, high-quality, 8-10 episode scripted drama.” James Farrell Head of International Originals, Amazon Studios
Recently, Bobby Bedi’s Contentflow Studios has signed joint venture agreements with acclaimed film producer Manmohan Shetty (Walkwater Media) and Optimystix Entertainment for a three film deal and set-up a new company.
Contentflow Studios is developing couple of Webseries for MX Player (The Times of India Group). It is also developing digital drama series for Aditya Birla Group’s Applause Entertainment, a leader in content creation and IP Studios led by M&E industry veteran Sameer Nair.
India’s top industrial company Amar Raja Group, Star Entertainment Worldwide and Contentflow Studios have joined hands to create a new content division to produce thriller series “Curse of the Kohinoor,” which will feature leading stars from Telugu Film Industry. “Curse of the Kohinoor,” will be directed by Colin Teague, whose credits include “Dr Who?” and its spin-off “Torchwood.” The heist thriller series tells the story of a plot to steal the Kohinoor diamond, the centrepiece of the British Crown Jewels.
“We have ambitions to create premium scripted series for the Indian and global marketplace,” says Padma Galla, director of Amara Raja Media and Entertainment. The new entity will collaborate with producers and broadcasters across the world.
“We are bringing the very best talent from the Indian and UK scripted worlds together in this premium production for the international market,” says Rahul Aggarwal, Director Star Entertainment.
Surge in demand
Behind all this development is India’s digital dominance to lead the OTT and new emerging online video audience. KPMG in its recent annual M&E 2019 report has projected that the online video audience in India which was 225 million in 2018 is likely to cross 550 million by 2023. India is seeing a surge in demand for mobile and broadband data, which is fuelling growth in the number of subscribers.
The entry of Reliance Jio Infocomm into the segment with its JioGigaFiber technology is set to further reduce broadband rates across the country, fuelling competition and further growth in subscriber base. Jio already has 340 million mobile subscribers.
According to Ericsson, India has the world’s highest per smartphone data usage of 10 GB per month. With video streaming, 10 GB will jump to 18 GB by 2024, says Ericsson.
Bobby Bedi concurs that Jio has transformed India’s content consumption on the mobile. “Jio has helped totally. It has brought prices down. It’s brought telecom majors Vodafone and Airtel down to those levels. Today data is accessible across the country. In fact I have problems in making phone calls, I am finding it easier to make WhatsApp calls and live phone calls on iPhone. Because it is certainly no longer a medium for communication, it seems to be a medium for entertainment”.
Bobby reckons that it’s content and script that will drive this medium. “We have decided that for the first few films we are going to rely on either novels or novelist and published material as the resource material or true stories for our films because we don’t want to work with writers who have three days of partying and come out with a script. If you work on an existing work of fiction then somebody has published work, somebody has given thought to character and story.”
Leonardo Dicaprio & Aamir Khan
He also believes that “films are remembered not because they have stars, but they are remembered because the films themselves”.
“‘Awara’ is remembered because of the Awara Hoon, ‘Shree 420’ is because of Shree 420, ‘Sangam’ because of Sagam. These movies have explored scripted stories of very high calibre. ‘Guide’ of Dev Anand is an R K Narayan story,” he says.
The need of the hour is to have actors who can portray any character on screen. “We need people like Leonardo Dicaprio and Brad Pitt who can play any character. Except for Aamir, stars play themselves.
Alluding to Aamir’s portrayal of a middle-aged father in ‘Dangal’, Bobby says that with Aamir it is very difficult for the audience to understand that it is not Aamir, rather this is this girl’s father. That is why the film did so much better in China than India. Even though it has done very well in India, in China at least they don’t know that they are watching this film for Aamir. There is a damn good actor who is playing father’s role.”
Speaking on the potential challenges of OTT platforms, Bobby says that going forward the biggest challenges would be to maintain profitability and creativity. “Today we are just starting. Series like ‘Sacred Games’ or ‘Made in Heaven’ have wowed audience. But once there are hundreds of series like ‘Sacred Games’ and ‘Made in Heavens’ then you will be fighting for the eyeball. They will also be competing with the rest of the world.”
Bobby is already thinking ahead of competition in terms of content. “I am not even thinking of competing with ‘Sacred Games’. ‘Curse of the Kohinoor’ is about telling the history of gems in India from Independence till today through a fictional story. Hopefully, I line up with a very big star for it. Today one thing that Netflix and Amazon have done is that they have made the world language blend.”
But despite the opportunities OTT space has created, Bobby is of the opinion that it has limited the revenue flow for people like him. “One of the biggest drawbacks of the OTT space is that people like me, people like Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar, Subhash Ghai, or Raj Kapoor’s family—anybody who had successful slew of important films and has lived of owning those properties and the flow of revenues from them—will be at the receiving end in the long term. OTT is getting more and more into the buyout space.”
“While we create the IP and we make money out of it, we don’t own it and it does not become a returning IP and that to my mind is going to be the biggest problem in film financing in the future. I think that if I have a choice I would fund them… to earn for myself and license them rather than sell them out because I wish to own some of my properties,” he adds.
However, far from being ungrateful, Bobby sees it as an opportunity to convince Indian directors to start creating films with wider global audience in mind. “Indian stories have travelled across the world in the past. Is ‘Gandhi’ not an Indian story? It is an entirely Indian story. Except for one sequence the entire film was shot in India. Likewise, ‘Jungle Book’ and ‘Slumdog (Millionaire)’ are Indian stories. We just need directors to start thinking in that direction.”
“India is home to some of the world’s greatest stories. It’s been thrilling to watch these amazing storytellers embrace the artistic freedom possible at Netflix to create entertaining stories.” Bela Bajaria, VP International originals, Netflix
As an insider who has seen the Indian Media and Entertainment space transform from close quarters, Bobby has some more insights to share. To ride the new wave of content-driven cinema, he says that it is imperative that “we have to become less greedy”.
“Presently, if this money is flowing the industry has the habit of putting all the money in the bag. But we need to change and find ways as to how we can put the money back to derive more value out of it.”
“The reason that we are behind in the game is that India never needed scripted dramas. But now when we need scripted dramas, we don’t have good writers. A lot of platforms including Hotstar have introduced big writers programme; Yashraj has a writers programme; Reliance has a writers programme; and Zee is also trying to create one.”
Bobby can clearly see the existing gaps and is ready to fill them up by building strong partnerships with the international M&E community. He believes that his efforts will pay once India gets used to large format proper scripted dramas. “Then there is no going back. People will never go back to Saas Bahu dramas.”
Having set high standards in the Indian M&E space through his work, Bobby’s eyes sparkle with anticipation when he talks about the future. He’s as ready as he’ll ever be to take Indian stories to global audience, transcending the barriers of geography, language and culture, to communicate with the world, and bring the humanity closer using the universal language of cinema.
We are living in times of dramatic changes – and I guess the only way to move forward is to analyze changes without fear, analyze regional and cultural specifics of filmmaking and audiences, says Dorothee Wenner, delegate and South Asia programmer to the Berlin International Film Festival
International Film Festival of India (IFFI) is marching towards 50th anniversary in 2019. What has been your experience at IFFI?
It is a highly important meeting point for international and Indian film professionals alike, and I really enjoyed the Goan flair whenever I attended in past years. However, the timing of IFFI is tough for us Berlinale programmers, as main selection screenings are ongoing at home and most of our research needs to be done before IFFI takes place – our deadline is October end.
For over a decade, year after year Berlinale has been on a discovery spree of Indian films and directors and you are part of discovering talent. Your views…
My Bombay-based colleague Meenakshi Shedde and I work nearly the entire year, trying to get an overview of what is under production. It is an extremely work-intense enterprise trying to get a picture of what is going on. In India, only very few official organizations exist which support our work in comparison to countries like Korea or Argentina. The effects can be frustrating, but also very rewarding, as I’m discovering every year a number of films by filmmakers I have never heard of; I see films about topics, areas I never knew they existed… The bottomline is that the tremendous passion for cinema and filmmaking in India is what drives me. To my knowledge, it is unsurpassed by any other region in the world.
Do you see visible changes in the independent Indian cinema? What are your views on new narratives among the current generation of filmmakers?
Yes, I do see changes. Presently, many more independent films deal with political and social changes ongoing in India; the remote areas are coming to the fore in terms of attention. Violence, the class divide and religious tensions are depicted in many more movies than a few years ago. Also, I noticed that the new generation seems to be more at ease, more daring in experimenting with new cinematographic languages and expressions.
There are 2,000 films that are produced in over 20 languages in seven film markets in India. What needs to be done to bring structural changes in the Indian cinema ecosystem to identify cinemas of India?
That is a big question and a proper answer would fill a book. To start with, I think cinemas in India should be supported by a cultural understanding and a force that allows looking at filmmaking not solely as a commercial business. There’s a need for non-commercially (or: not solely commercially oriented) niches to develop and prosper new ideas, formats and new audiences. Especially, the current distribution system is suffocating and would need structural support to become more diverse.
Do you think India needs to create institutions equivalent of what other countries have in film space?
What I’m desperately waiting for are alliances of independent filmmakers which create official bodies strong and big enough to represent their impact and voice their demands in the larger field. If the new institutions would be modelled accordingly – yes, that could make a difference.
India has co-production treaties with 14 countries in audio visual space. This tool has been rarely used and less than 10 films have been co-produced in last one decade. How do we change this? Do you think the new generation of filmmakers can make use of this if the scope of co -production is expanded to news screens (mobile, OTT)?
Looking at the production realities of Indian filmmaking, it is the smaller and medium budget productions which are most likely to venture into successful international co-productions. And yes, I do think this model could have a very stimulating effect on the Indian industries overall. To get there, screenplay writing and project development would need to get more attention; more support. And often: simply more time.
With companies like Amazon, Netflix and Google driving cinemas across geographies, how do you see the future for cinemas?
I’m a cinephile and convinced that cinema as an art form will survive. Having said that, I’m very aware that we are living in times of dramatic changes – and I guess the only way to move forward is to analyze changes without fear, analyze regional and cultural specifics of filmmaking and audiences. It is a political, cultural and economic responsibility to keep local, regional cinematographic infrastructures intact – not only by protecting existing realities, also by being inventive in looking for new forms of collaboration, innovative financing, by experimenting with films’ exhibition and of course: new models of audience building. Amazon, Netflix and Google have become extremely powerful players, initially only due to their financial capacities – but it is not money alone which creates good cinema. Until very recently, I think a lot of people in the industry were in kind of a shell-shock by the pace the Silicon valley or digitization are transforming the industry – I’m not excluding myself. But over the past few months, I’m very pleased to see that the awareness to come to terms with the new realities, mainly by developing counter-strategies to the new capitalist super-powers has gained momentum. Not to be misunderstood: I’m full of admiration for some of the films, series of lately produced by Amazon, Google, Netflix. It’s just their tremendous strive for a total market domination which I detest – and which in my view needs to be tackled.
This is crucial time for Indian filmmakers and producers planning to attend Berlinale and European Film Market. Please give few dos and don’ts on preparing for Berlinale?
Berlinale is not a last-minute-destination: usually it works much better if you make your schedule in advance. Define what you want to achieve at the festival and make a strategy accordingly before you leave. Team up with colleagues, friends who’ve been to Berlinale before. Book your accommodation now. Bring warm clothes and shoes; go to the gym to be fit once you arrive. If you don’t have a next project to take care of: Berlinale is a perfect destination for film buffs eager to see as many films as your body/brain allows in 10 days – it can be totally rewarding and time of your life!
Nearly 30 years after liberalization, today India has 108 publicly-listed family-owned businesses, the third highest in the world, while China tops the tally with 167 such companies followed by the US which has 121, according to a recent Credit Suisse report.
The report points out the significance of family members in shaping the businesses world-wide. In 1995, Jackie and Mike Bezos invested $245,573 into their son’s fledgling e-commerce website. “It was a big gamble, Mike Bezos, the stepfather of Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos, recalled onstage during a 2015 event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia,” writes Tom Metcalf of Bloomberg.
However, the gamble paid off and today Jeff Bezos’ parents could be billionaires after a 12,000,000 per cent return on their initial Amazon investment.
“That would make them wealthier than Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen, the 30th-richest person on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index,” adds Metcalf.
Although the holdings of Jeff Bezos’ parents haven’t been publicly disclosed for the past two decade now, “continuing donations of Amazon stock to their charitable foundation suggest they still control a healthy chunk of the world’s second-most valuable company.”
More than the speculation on the holdings of the parents, which could be worth almost $30 billion today, it is the returns of 12,000,000% on their investment “that would make even the most celebrated venture capitalists blush”.
“Soft-Bank’s $20-million bet on Alibaba has returned about 720,000% since 2000, according to calculations by Bloomberg. Sequoia Capital’s WhatsApp investment returned roughly 36,000% by the time Facebook Inc. bought the messaging service for $22 billion in 2014,” writes Metcalf.
However, according to Eduardo Gruener, co-founder of GFG Capital in Miami, “Extraordinary returns don’t come around often.”
“Replace Amazon with nearly any other name in the market and the ending may have turned out as a nightmare.”
But in the case of Jeff Bezos’ parents they hit a jackpot by backing him when he needed it the most. The rest is history.