More than 3,500 films online for libraries:

Film­wer­te ope­ra­tes a spe­cial strea­ming plat­form with film​fri​end​.de and is now also set­ting its sights on the Ame­ri­can market 

Unli­mi­t­ed strea­ming from a sel­ec­tion of careful­ly cura­ted Euro­pean films for just 10 Euros a year? The Pots­dam-based com­pa­ny film­wer­te has crea­ted a film por­tal with film​fri​end​.de to expand what public libra­ri­es can offer. We are the Net­flix for libra­ry users - with a slight­ly dif­fe­rent pro­gram­me offer,” says Benoît Cal­vez, who is respon­si­ble for licen­ses and editing at film­wer­te and is now loo­king after the North Ame­ri­can mar­ket as the CEO of the Ame­ri­can sub­si­dia­ry myfilm​fri​end​.com. More than 800 libra­ri­es are now par­ti­ci­pa­ting in the plat­form in Ger­ma­ny, Aus­tria, Switz­er­land, Bel­gi­um or Luxem­bourg. So, say you have the annu­al pass cos­ting 10 Euros to use Berlin’s public libra­ri­es (19 Euros in Pots­dam), you will then be able to access more than 5,000 films from the com­fort of your own home. The Ber­lin public libra­ry asso­cia­ti­on VÖBB was also the first coope­ra­ti­on part­ner when film­fri­end was laun­ched out of Pots­dam from 2017. 

Hand-picked films of Euro­pean cinema 

film­wer­te deve­lo­ped its own video-on-demand sys­tem to ensu­re opti­mum access for ever­y­bo­dy accor­ding to their needs. Libra­ry users can eit­her log in via an inter­face with their annu­al pass data on the web­site of their libra­ry asso­cia­ti­on or access direct­ly via www​.film​fri​end​.de. This is then how some film gems can be dis­co­ver­ed becau­se the film­fri­end team careful­ly cura­tes all of the films offe­red on the plat­form and also pre­pa­res accom­pany­ing edi­to­ri­al con­tent. The­re are spe­cia­lists in the team for every cate­go­ry. film­fri­end works with a docu­men­ta­ry pro­du­cer for its sec­tion on docu­men­ta­ries, and the kids sec­tion is over­seen by a for­mer edi­tor from Film­dienst with a focus on children’s film/​special children’s film. 

The world­wi­de Pri­de Month in June saw the home­page recom­men­ding hand-picked LGBTIQ+ films on que­er cine­ma, inclu­ding the French film dra­ma “120 BPM” which pos­ted 99% posi­ti­ve reviews on Rot­ten Toma­toes and is regard­ed by this site as one of the ten best LGBTQ+ films of all time. But the sel­ec­tion also includes inter­na­tio­nal­ly known dra­mas such as “Dal­las Buy­ers Club” or “Blue is The War­mest Colour”.

For tho­se who have dif­fi­cul­ty deci­ding on which film to see, the­re are out of the ordi­na­ry cate­go­ries such as “Latin Ame­ri­ca Jour­ney”, “Natu­re on Your Door­step”, “We Love New York” or “Films about Film­ing” to help you make some new dis­co­veries. “We don’t licen­se ever­y­thing and we don’t offer ever­y­thing - that does­n’t make any sen­se to us. We put a lot of empha­sis on cura­ting the plat­form and careful­ly sel­ec­ting the films. We also respond to sug­ges­ti­ons from the libra­ri­es and, for exam­p­le, pro­vi­de dedi­ca­ted film cate­go­ries for plan­ned exhi­bi­ti­ons or an anni­ver­sa­ry such as the recent one for Sesa­me Street,” says Benoît Cal­vez. They curr­ent­ly have more than 200 licen­sors. “They like to work with us becau­se they know that we take extra care in cura­ting the films and high­light­ing them edi­to­ri­al­ly on the platform.” 

One strea­ming solu­ti­on for many platforms 

Thanks to its tech­ni­cal white label solu­ti­on for video strea­ming, film­wer­te is not only ope­ra­ting the film­fri­end plat­form, but also offe­ring the pro­duct as a strea­ming solu­ti­on for film fes­ti­vals and muni­ci­pal cine­mas. Cine­ma Lovers was one such pro­ject whe­re cine­mas offe­red new releases direct­ly for home vie­w­ing during the pan­de­mic. The cine­mas are now open again and many of them are con­ti­nuing the strea­ming expe­ri­ence - among other things, to pro­vi­de their regu­lar cus­to­mers with a fifth or sixth digi­tal screen. For exam­p­le, should the latest Taran­ti­no film curr­ent­ly be on release, then one could also offer the director’s pre­vious films. The Ger­man Refe­ree Asso­cia­ti­on is also a cli­ent of film­wer­te and trains its young refe­rees via vide­os that can be acces­sed from home. 

As a plat­form, film­wer­te is the No. 1 in Ger­ma­ny for libra­ri­es. “You could also say that we are accom­pany­ing the libra­ri­es in their pro­cess of digi­ti­sa­ti­on. In the past, many DVDs and Blu-Rays were lent out by libra­ri­es, but nowa­days ever­yo­ne is used to strea­ming and instant access. We have taken over hand­ling this ser­vice for the libra­ri­es.” film­fri­end has sin­ce car­ved its­elf a nice niche as it has focu­sed on Euro­pean inde­pen­dent cine­ma for which the­re are few alter­na­ti­ves among the other plat­forms. The com­pa­ny doesn’t see its­elf in the same league as mega-cor­po­ra­ti­ons like Ama­zon and Net­flix, but pro­mo­tes its­elf rather as a Ger­man com­pa­ny that is pur­suing its own con­cept and strea­ming offer. 

Film­fri­end goes America 

The suc­cess and respon­se in Euro­pe pro­ve them right. Which is why the North Ame­ri­can mar­ket has now moved into Filmwerte’s sights. And also why Benoît Cal­vez is con­duc­ting the inter­view for the Media­Tech Hub blog from New York. He is curr­ent­ly the­re on a sto­po­ver for a few appoint­ments befo­re hea­ding on to Chi­ca­go for the Ame­ri­can Libra­ry Asso­cia­ti­on Annu­al Con­fe­rence - the lar­gest trade fair of its kind in the USA. “We are making rapid pro­gress in Euro­pe and the­re is a strong demand for Euro­pean pro­ducts and films in North Ame­ri­ca,” Cal­vez says. Moreo­ver, libra­ri­es in the US and Cana­da are a real insti­tu­ti­on. Com­pared to Ger­ma­ny whe­re about 10% have a libra­ry card, the figu­re in North Ame­ri­ca is 53% - mea­ning that there’s a real poten­ti­al the­re. Euro­pean licen­sors can now offer their films on myfilm​fri​end​.com spe­ci­fi­cal­ly for the North Ame­ri­can mar­ket and thus gene­ra­te addi­tio­nal circulation.

The first cont­act with the Ame­ri­can mar­ket came about after a dele­ga­ti­on with the Media­Tech Hub tra­vel­led to the USA in March 2023. Par­ti­ci­pan­ts from the Hub visi­ted incu­ba­tors, start-ups as well as the local digi­tal sce­ne during the South by Sou­thwest Con­fe­rence (SXSW) in Austin/​Texas. Cal­vez descri­bes the cont­acts and con­ver­sa­ti­ons he made as being so inspi­ring and con­vin­cing that they sub­se­quent­ly deci­ded to loca­te the Ame­ri­can sub­si­dia­ry in Aus­tin. This is whe­re they will be able to put out their fee­lers in the city that is now regard­ed as the next big eco­sys­tem for tech and media after Sili­con Val­ley. Com­pa­nies such as Tes­la and Dell have their head­quar­ters the­re and the much che­a­per rents and the spi­rit of inno­va­ti­on are attrac­ting lots of start-ups to the Texas metropolis. 

“We are also proud of our ori­g­ins in Pots­dam when we’re in the US. We score points with our loca­ti­on in Babels­berg, one of the Euro­pean cen­tres of excel­lence for film and media tech­no­lo­gies. And we are brin­ging Euro­pean con­tent to this mar­ket. That means that anyo­ne who would like to work with us in this area should know that we are always on the loo­kout for good mate­ri­al,” says Cal­vez in the direc­tion of distributors.

About MTH Blog

The media technologies of the future are already being used today – not only in the entertainment sector, but also in a wide variety of industries. Christine Lentz meets up with tech enthusiasts, established companies and researchers for our monthly MediaTech Hub Potsdam blog to tell the stories behind the innovative business models.