UK’s £6m Netflix rival puts fans first

By Kitty Knowles 11 February 2016
The Lobster was released on We Are Colony this week. Pic: Picturehouse.

We Are Colony is launching a £500,000 crowdfunding bid to not only bring fans films, but thousands of exclusive behind-the-scenes clips, scripts & artwork.

Founded by Sarah Tierney, an Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-winning filmmaker in 2014, We Are Colony is leading the way for British businesses and Benedict Cumberbatch fans alike.

The online streaming service – and Netflix rival – has already made its mark on the video on-demand industry, specialising not only in bringing independent film centre stage, but offering a vast library of exclusive special features for fans.

Today, having already raised £1.4m in funding to date, the site will launch a crowdfunding campaign in a bid to raise a further £500,000.

We caught up with CEO and founder Sarah Tierney to find out what makes We Are Colony special, how the company plans to rival Netflix, and why giving fans extra content is crucial to her business model…

Kitty Knowles: What inspired you to create We Are Colony?

Sarah Tierney: So I spent 10 years as a filmmaker, I worked in broadcast television and independent film, and then I moved into digital with a global video on-demand platform called Twig.

I decided to leave production mainly because of frustration: it was my view that filmmakers are often the first ones in and the last ones left when it comes to risk around creating films, and I felt that there needed to be a better way in terms of helping them to reach a local and global audiences.

The statistic is that around 6% of all films produced every year are responsible for over 80% of global revenue. That’s a total market failure and that’s also a customer failure, because you don’t witness the more diverse films.

KN: Why would film producers choose you?

ST: One of the other big differentiators is our B2B (business to business) offering, because obviously we work with content owners and help them take their content to market: there is the opportunity for a global release, we also allow our partners to monetise their film directly to consumers whilst monetising under-exploited extra content.

We’ve done pre-sales and we have some planned for earlier audience engagement, which I think is crucial. We also offer integrated marketing support, and can share any data with their licence holders.

Pic: We Are Colony
Pic: We Are Colony

What’s does We Are Colony offer customers that Netflix can’t?

There has been very little differentiation around video on-demand as an experience.

Most of the platforms offer the same thing, the film itself. We’ve differentiated ourselves by building a premium experience with a focus on extra content.

We create what we call ‘special edition bundles’ that include traditional extras such as deleted scenes, interviews with cast and crew, making-of documentaries, blooper reels etc. But also less traditional things like scripts, stills, storyboards, contact art, and maker statements.

We currently globally have 60 titles live, and that’s thousands and thousands of extras: on average a title could have anywhere between 50 and 1,000 assets.

Does anyone else offer these special extras?

iTunes has iTunes Extra packages on a proportion of their titles, but we really differentiate ourselves on product and user experience.

It’s all about creating community.

Who’s your target audience?

Our users in the main are not film buffs, we’re not a Curzon on-demand type audience.

They are young, very socially engaged and we tend to focus on fandoms creating our curation experience around either talent or genre.

It’s really about fans, we’re unapologetically about fans and mainstream fandoms.

Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch attracts We Are Colony fans. Pic: CreativeCommons
Benedict Cumberbatch famously complained of mobile phone use in theatres.

What’s been popular so far?

One highlight would be we that we just this week released The Lobster, which stars Rachel Weisz, Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly.

It’s an amazing Cannes Jury Prizewinning title; we had a behind-the-scenes featurette, we had clips, we had interviews, production notes, biographies, press stills, the lot.

Some of our most popular titles also really focus around talent, we have a couple of Benedict Cumberbatch titles, Ben Whishaw, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston – those have been very popular. We also did the exclusive global release of the deluxe edition of the Backstreet Boys documentary, engaging that fanbase and working very closely with the talent and their management.

Backstreet Boys, The Movie.
Backstreet Boys, The Movie.

Do you expect people to ditch Netflix’s vast movie catalogue for you?

I think that the consumer has wised up to the fact that Netflix isn’t necessarily the endless catalogue that it might suggest it is. Most people want to shop around now.

For us it’s about having content that viewers can’t get elsewhere; they might be able to see the film on Netflix, but we’re the only place you can get this exclusive behind the scenes story world experience.

Actual volume is not how you win.

We will never go after volume. For us it’s very specifically about quality titles and curated experience. We see iTunes and Netflix as marketplace, a utility – you go, you get your film, and your gone. Colony is about a story world of content around the film and creating a deeper curated experience.

Also people do already have multiple subscriptions; consumers in the US a couple of years ago had around 1.2 VOD accounts, and now have around 3.6.

Multiple membership for VOD platforms is the norm now.

The Lobster. Pic: Picturehouse.
The Lobster. Pic: Picturehouse.

Do you feel like you’re flying the flag for Britain?

We have a global user base now from 115 countries and the majority of our catalogue to date has been British films.

It’s a massive opportunity for us to take British film to a wider global audience, but we’re also increasingly bringing on to the platform content from north America, and non-english language content as well. There’s a real cross-border opportunity now with video on-demand.

We have come under really significant pressure to both move the business to the US and also to focus on US investment, and that’s not saying that we won’t necessarily look to do either of those thing in the future, but I feel very passionately that you should be able to build a global digital business from the UK.

There is a really significant opportunity to build a differentiated on-demand experience from the UK, and with that give that global visibility back to the UK film industry.

What do you hope to achieve with your latest crowdfunding bid?

So we are looking to raise £500,000 though Seedrs. It’s a war chest for growth, to really scale this early traction ahead of investment next year.

We’re focusing on four main areas; marketing and scaling our success; content and acquiring 100 more titles this year with a focus on more exclusive deals; product with a look to a next-generation video player, embedding the extra content within our linear viewing experience; growing our community features; and the team will also see some modest growth.

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