Television

Start-up Filmboard to address the pain points of producers

The company in the process of having a pre-series A round to raise $1Mn

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MUMBAI: Filmboard prides itself as the only media and entertainment start-up that is out there to solve the problem of the producer (the content IP owner). More often, the content production budget tends to go beyond the predicted cost and estimated timeline. However hard it has been planned, it becomes difficult for producers to produce a TV show, OTT content or movies within the predicted budget. In fact, the producer has a “ten per cent rule”; if the budget doesn't go beyond ten per cent for a project, then it is not considered an over-budget project. Film Board, a media and entertainment start-up seeks to solve this problem faced by producers producing content for TV, OTT or films in India. With booming number of eyeballs and high growth rate, it’s a high time the Indian entertainment industry became world class in the way it makes its content and Filmboard aims to be the engine in that onward journey. 

Established in 2017, the company aims at addressing the pain points of producers in our country, from small producers to larger studios. It has launched services like BidnBuy which allows a producer to go beyond his/her immediate network to reach out to a larger set of vendors. In an interaction with Indiantelevision.com, the company's co-founder Sandeep Varma shares his views on the inspiration behind starting the company, its operations, revenue model, etc. 

Excerpts:

Why was the Filmboard founded? What is the vision of your company?

Filmboard started operations in 2017, but we have been in stealth mode for beyond a year after starting. The way audio visual content is made in India is very archaic and has been ready for disruption. Most projects do not have predictability in terms of cost or timelines and go over budget and timeline overruns. Filmboard has unique insights on why this happens and is out to solve this and reduce this incidence. The overall vision is that with its booming number of eyeballs and high growth rate, it’s about time the Indian entertainment industry became world class in the way it makes its content. Filmboard will be the engine to do this.

What is the unique selling point of your start-up?

Filmboard is the only M&E startup that is looking to solve the problem of the producer (the content IP owner). It focuses on those areas that are probably the only ones that are out of the producer's control, ranging from the small new producer to the largest of studios, and puts them under the producer's control.

What was the inspiration behind this startup?

The first ad film I made went over budget by seven per cent. That was criminal for me since I'd come in from large consumer marketing firms where we could predict large-scale projects as a matter of course. Worse was when I was congratulated that it was achieved 'in budget'. Soon, I realised that the 10% rule in filmmaking in India - under 10 per cent, escalation is not even considered over budget.

One of our key insights is that almost 70 per cent of the decisions affecting the budget are not creative in nature at all. For non-core areas, that's obvious - like where the cars will come from, or the hotel the unit will stay in, etc. But in even core areas, for example, the director may have a view on which camera to use, but not on which camera vendor to source it from. She/he would not know any better either. Or any equipment for that matter.

Years later, I made Manjunath, my first feature film, based on the life of Manjunath Shanmugam, the IIM graduate who was killed for doing the right thing. It was made with Viacom and NFDC and the moral support of the Manjunath trust fighting his case and his parents. Clearly, it was a passion product and here again, we went over budget and I was told it’s a creative product. However, I was the director and writer of the film and I had not changed even one decision from what was planned. Clearly, there was something wrong, and clearly, it was time to do something about it.

It was these pain points that created Filmboard. Along with an urge that our content creation process really needs to get world class. There are scores of overseas projects waiting to come into India, for all its talent and ability, but producers, and production studios abroad really need to have an easy, seamless and professional entry and exit. One of the key visions of Filmboard is to provide such a platform for overseas work to come in - this will lead to a surge in opportunities for the tremendous talent that exists in India.

How exactly does the operational model work? Explain the model

Filmboard is an omni channel B2B marketplace for filmmaking. All service providers in the market are verified, rated and reviewed (by past users of their service) so buyers (producers/filmmakers) can easily identify who they want to work with and why, figure out their availability, compare rates and book them end to end. Services include from equipment hire (camera, sound, lights), to locations (we have locations from Mumbai, Madh Island, to Uttraranchal to many more attractive locations adding up every day), to talent (actors, dancers etc) to crew (cameramen, sound recordist, writers etc).

We believe this puts the power right back into the hands of the producers instead of them depending on the freelance Line producers. Since the industry currently is used to the turnkey model (project execution), Filmboard also offers premium line production services. This appears like the current freelance line producer execution, but it’s quite different.

In this, all bookings are done on Filmboard; so a producer knows why our line producer is recommending one service provider over the other (basis ratings, reviews, rates). By introducing this kind of transparency, we are opening ourselves to being challenged by producers, which is part of the power we want to give the producers.

Our insight is that with the influx of cleaner source of funding via international studios like Sony Pics, Viacom, Disney, etc., and now Netflix, Amazon, along with listed Indian entities like Alt Balaji and Zee5, accountability and transparency of production expenses is going to be more and more in demand.

Therefore, we feel we are here at the right time, on the cusp of change.

What are your products or services?

Our solution is a marketplace portal which is buyer-facing with first ever verified, rated and reviewed database of service providers is completely transactional with the key features of- Convenience to book any service required for filmmaking categorized under talent, crew, services and locations; transparency on rates and availability of spot rates and bargains; discovery of vendor and price;  comprehensive to cover all that is needed for film production; and payment/service assurance.

One key attribute to Filmboard is 'Innovation'. This means we will be constantly launching a series of innovations, the kind of which the industry has never seen before. For example, right now, we have already launched BidnBuy, which allows a buyer (producer) to go beyond his/her immediate network to reach out to a larger set of vendors to bid for a service he wants, or the execution of a whole project. Our first trial post, based on a genuine requirement, received almost 20 bids in the first two hours itself. This is when we have as yet hardly spent any money on promotion even on social media.

Another innovation we are in the process of launching is a GPS-driven actor's app, given that a lot of actors miss out on auditions in a radius around them, and production houses/ casting directors miss out on good talent. Soon, we will upgrade this to a tech-innovation which allows live online auditions from anywhere in the world, customised so that the director/ assistant director can direct an actor on how to do an audition better.

Another innovation we are working on is 'Spot Rate’. This uses the excess inventory available with a lot of vendors. For example, a camera vendor may have 10 cameras and we have seen that a lot of them have an average under 40 per cent utilisation. So, we have convinced many of them to drop rates on excess inventory for limited periods. Producers can then execute projects cheaper; excess inventory gets used (therefore maintained), and everyone's happy.

We expect that such 'first time ever' innovations will brand Filmboard as a new-age innovative kid changing the way content is made.

How much does your products / services cost to the buyer?

In terms of charges/ revenue, for booking any service on the portal, there is a transaction fee to be charged from the service provider (seller). This is typical market place fee, and ranges between 8-15 per cent of the transaction value.

However, the industry right now is more used to someone handling the project on turnkey basis, which is called line production. Filmboard offers line production services as well, where the whole project is planned, and executed by Filmboard. While this is done by existing freelance line producers as well, Filmboard uses technology and a lot of transparency in this.

All bookings are done on the portal and Filmboard follows typical project management principles and is developing a unique proprietary software to execute projects. For line production, a fee is charged from the producer. Filmboard charges between 12-20 per cent of project value for line production.

A third, and new fee that has emerged as an opportunity unique to Filmboard, is 'convenience fee' which may be charged in certain cases. For example, if there is a geographical distance between buyer and seller and Filmboard provides easy access which otherwise was not there, or a difficulty to find technology needed, which Filmboard because of its large database has access to and other such cases. In such cases, Filmboard will charge a convenience fee from the producer (buyer).

Tell us about your target audience. How did you acquire first set of customers/clients? Name a few clients.

On the supply side, Filmboard deliberately focuses on the non-glam side. No one has focussed on this, and the main business happens here. Equipment suppliers, location providers, service providers to talent and crew.

On the demand side, while the total addressable market includes producers of feature films (all languages), digital videos, TV, music, ads & VFX/animation, we identified our early adopters to have two key attributes. One, need for financial accountability, and two, being tech-savvy/forward in business approach/willing to experiment. Therefore, ad film makers who need to report their commercials to brands and corporates/ have smaller ticket sizes, and those making short films/ web series became our first line of target and early adoption is already happening at their end.

The highest and probably juiciest fruit is the well-entrenched production studios especially those that are family-oriented (like Nadiadwala/Dharma etc), and one of the visions of Filmboard is that in a few years, each and every project should have hired something from Filmboard. So, we expect the marketplace model to grow substantially for even the above players to fill their gap at Filmboard.

Some of our clients on board and have used Filmboard's services include Rebel Foods (Faasos/Behrouz etc), Times Internet, Large Short Films (Royal Stag), Gaana.com, Radio Mirchi, British Council, IIM Lucknow etc. We are in active talks with companies like Josh Talks and One Network Entertainment (Suresh Menon’s company) for a long-term engagement.

What is the business model and how has been the revenue growth? Please share revenue data, YoY, MoM growth data.

The revenue projected at Filmboard is on these primary streams:-

Line production revenue (premium service): This is a fee already existing in the industry where freelance line producers charge a fee ranging 12-20 per cent from producers for planning and executing a project.

Transaction Fees: This is charged from service providers (sellers) to the opportunity to get business. Internationally, this ranges between 8-15 per cent of project value.

These are already existing in the industry and so there is no concept selling involved in getting people to accept this.

Convenience Fees: This is charged from buyer for a service rendered which is otherwise difficult to get like services in different geographical access.

We have earned a total revenue of Rs 78 lakh out of which 61 lakh is from our premium line production services. We are going at about 10 per cent month on month growth. Our GMV (on marketplace portal) stands at Rs 17 lakh.

What are the funding details? Are you planning to raise funding in the future?

Filmboard has got seed capital from some internationally highly placed individuals to form a versatile board of strategic investors – Global HR head of ABB in Zurich; leading IT expert in the US; top supreme court lawyer; and ex-creative head of a top radio channel, ex-MD of Aditya Birla Group company, top executive of top FMCG company. We got in these strategic investors is because we feel credibility is the main thing missing in this industry.

We are in the process of having a Pre-Series A round to raise $1 million and are in active discussion with a few early-stage funds. Having said that, there is also a fair amount of interest from more high networth individuals with high credibility. A lot of people seem to have been waiting for this industry to be disrupted.

What challenges have you faced so far? How did you overcome them?

Challenge is the archaic attitude especially of old timers in the industry. This shows up in:

The 'Chalta hai' attitude towards film budgets constantly going over what was planned. This really puts off corporates coming in as well as overseas players. They just can’t understand it.

Most new things in the industry are announced and nothing comes through. A lot of films are announced even in media and we never hear of them later. To ensure we don’t get into that trap, we took on a lot of high networth professionals who are achievers in their own fields to come in as strategic investors.

None of the above challenges is unexpected - we knew there would be a lot of heavy lifting involved.

Having said this, being a genuine pioneer throws up many other challenges.

For example, even the formal investment community in India is more prone to easily fund the me-too's from the international market. We are creating a genuine intellectual property which we will then plan to take abroad to film-rich markets like the UK, the US and South East Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore). However, there is only a handful of investment teams who have the bandwidth to look seriously at something completely new and yet lucrative and with great potential. And we are very sure that we want only partners who not only are looking at a good, healthy exit but also would like to partner in creating something that's a 'first time ever' - with legacy.

How do you think Filmboard will be especially relevant to the TV and OTT industries?

TV series production tends to be tighter, more corporatised because of large players in India for a much longer time (TV channels), but high volume (lot of continuous production needs).  Feature films tends to be more individualistic, so possibly is more disorganised.

OTT platforms are new but are actually building on the model of the way the TV industry operates. A lot of big TV producers are now big OTT producers, so the same knowledge/ways of working are being transferred. So we expect in the OTT also, there will be a few large players who are outsourcing creation of content to production companies.

In TV, often, one popular series is produced by different companies all selected by the channel creative teams. So, the creative consistency is maintained by those.
 

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