The launch of pay-per-view website Ximon.nl means that Dutch audiences can view more and more titles from Holland’s illustrious audiovisual past. Nick Cunningham talks to company md Marc Jurgens
In 2007 the Dutch government greenlit the Images for the Future project in order to restore, preserve and digitise 137,200 hours of video, 22,510 hours of film, 123,900 hours of audio and 2.9m photos residing within the vaults of the EYE Film Institute and the Institute for Sound and Vision.
The cost was high - €173 million – and so far roughly one third of the target number of titles have been digitised. But the venture was never designed simply to provide archival footage for the production trade, nor research material for crusty film academics.
Central to the plan was the opening of the Dutch archive to the Dutch public. So the internet site Ximon.nl was launched April 7 2011 in order to, little by little, provide the paying audience with the majority of Dutch film and television production output since the invention of the media over a century ago.
The streaming costs are reasonable, from 99 cents to €4.95 for new titles, and the cost of boxed sets seem very cost-effective. A package for 40-60 pre-Second World war movies, for example, will currently cost a cineaste, presumably with a lot of time on his or her hands, twenty-five euros.
“While we should be financially self-sufficient, the objective is not to maximise profits,” points out Ximon director Marc Jurgens. “People tell me that I have this experimental documentary from 1929 and I could probably charge €25 for it, because if there is anyone in Holland who wants to see it than they are more than willing to pay that. But I would prefer to sell it for 99 cents and then allow more people to watch it. I would rather have 25 people watch the film, rather than one, and still achieve the same total revenue.”
Ximon is funded to the tune of €2.5 million, with the majority spend (€1.5 million) coming from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The remainder is shared between the EYE Film Institute, the Institute for Sound and Vision and the Dutch Producers’ Association (NVS). The website was launched also with the active support of the Netherlands Film Fund.
“There was massive press attention for the launch,” Jurgens points out. “There was a lot of twittering going on and we quickly had over 10,000 unique visitors. We made a substantial first day of revenues - it wasn’t huge but it was our first day. The website is working. People like the catalogue which is fairly substantial with more than 500 titles and 700 hours. We’ll extend that to 1500 hours in 12 months time. We put the ship in the water and it didn’t sink.”
Rights-holders see an impressive 65% return on each stream. Films can be accessed from abroad unless there are issues of local rights violation, which will be more likely with recent titles and in order to tickle the fancy of potential customers, Ximon offers one free stream per week.
While overseeing a portal for the viewing of Dutch films, Jurgens acts also as a selling agent for film produced locally. He has, in addition, ambitions to provide the best of available arthouse fare to his Dutch public. “I was at Mip-TV selling Dutch content to international cable companies,” he explains. “We are also interested in putting foreign content onto the platform too. We think that the end-users are interested in that and we have to be financially self-sufficient in the future. It is insufficient just to have Dutch material. We won’t put foreign material on our platform indiscriminately. Instead, we will focus on arthouse and quality films, films nominated and winning at international film festivals, but streamed solely for a Dutch audience. What companies like MUBI are doing on an international scale we are doing on a local Dutch scale and for that reason we are interested in setting interfaces with companies like MUBI.”
So, with the vast number of film and television viewing hours on offer, how does the paying punter know where to start plundering his nation’s audiovisual past? Through smart curation, answers Jurgens.
“We think that from a cultural perspective curation makes sense,” he stresses. “But we feel that in this new world of people watching movies or television, curation should be done by a recommendation engine based on three criteria; the user’s profile, his viewing history and the titles that we think should be promoted to him. We think that a customer will develop his own dedicated channel that is totally customised to his taste, and then the degree to which he wants to be surprised by completely different things can be changed. One day he may want to see something based on his profile, but now and then he may want to see something completely different because he wants to develop his tastes.”