FEED Issue 24

START-UP ALLEY Discover.film



Impressed by the quality of the submissions in the 2016 Vancouver Short Film Festival four years ago, Steve Harmston approached the organisers to find out where he could view some of the programme content. Even with streaming services well- established by then, Harmston was surprised by the answer: on someone’s laptop. He recalls: “I’d watched 90 minutes of the most jaw-dropping content, that had been curated in such an imaginative way, but I’d identified a market failure – there was just no distribution platform for it. “The aim became to take these high- quality short films into the mainstream and off festival organisers’ laptops.” Harmston, a database entrepreneur who’d previously sold an events and publishing business, VentureOne Europe, to Dow Jones, went full throttle launching a website, as well as approaching some key industry names. These included Discover.film’s co- founder Sarah Jane Thomson – founder of AIM-listed ad spend monitoring company Thomson Intermedia – who now heads up the firm’s commercial division. Meanwhile, documentary filmmaker, Secret Millionaire exec producer and former stand-up comedian Jaine Green was appointed head of the site’s content and festival curation. According to Harmston, within months of launch the team had so many submissions they had to introduce a fee – and the site now regularly receives over 5000 short films, documentaries and dramas per year. There’s also a biannual, WITH THE ROLL-OUT OF 5G THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WATCHINGMOVIES ON THEIRMOBILES IS INCREASING

SMART SHORTS Discover.film’s platform for bite- sized movies and documentaries has been hugely popular, and has even led to a spin- off film festival

London-based film festival built around the top 50 submissions. According to Harmston, the festival currently offers one of the highest cash prizes for short films (£20k), the latest recipient of which was John McFarlane for his short, Tony & the Bull , the tale of a former butcher and his friendship with a teabag-stealing Highland bull. The festival feeds back into the content platform and has enabled the start-up to network with distribution outlets, TV executives, brands, investors, journalists and other social influencers. The platform itself is both a B2B offering for brands, telcos and travel companies; and a mobile-first D2C service. Businesses can purchase video packages – either with the Discover.film branding or as a white label solution. The company has recently signed deals with a range of transportation companies including Qatar Airways, British Airways, National Express, Cathay Pacific, American Airlines, Air Canada, Virgin Trains and Eurostar. Harmston adds that all filmmakers receive a percentage of the profits made from these deals. The consumer proposition is positioned “as a midway point between Netflix and YouTube”, according to Harmston, with a social media layer that will enable the platform to grow its own community. “We’re currently building a social layer into the site, creating shareable playlists and reviews, and a voting mechanism,” he adds.

Discover.film’s own dedicated app was launched in October 2019, and the platform is available on Google Play, App Store, Amazon Fire, Rocku and Apple TV. At present, viewers can sign up to the site for free and receive access to high quality and entertaining content, often featuring well-known faces such as Danny De Vito, Stormzy and Brie Larson. Over time, Harmston envisions the evolution of an ad-led ‘freemium’ version and a premium, subscription-based platform with an interactive/social layer. Discover.film data reveals that the site regularly attracts over two million viewers from over 180 countries. The big question hanging over this platform – as well as Jeff Katzenberg’s high-end short-form service Quibi – is whether investing significant funds in short form will pay big enough dividends for investors. Earlier attempts, such as Viacom’s AwesomenessTV and Comcast’s Watchable, ran into difficulties. Harmston thinks that some of these services may have been too early to launch. “Timing definitely matters – with the roll-out of 5G, the number of people watching movies on their mobiles is increasing. And with viewers, attention spans are getting shorter. A well-crafted eight-minute short is often better and more satisfying than a three-hour film.” And investors appear confident. So far, the start-up has raised over £2.5m in reported equity funding, which is being invested in further content acquisition and technology.

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