INTERVIEW: MovieSaints brings refund concept to TVOD

One of the biggest impediments to buying an independent film online as a one-off transaction is not knowing whether or not you’re wasting your money.

There are times when reading too much about a film before you watch it can spoil the experience, and anyway critics and reviews sites don’t always get it right. It’s partly this element of doubt that has helped SVOD services to become so dominant. For a monthly fee you gain access to a wide range of movies and TV series rather than betting your hard-earned cash on just one.

However, US and India-based streaming platform MovieSaints believes it’s come up with the perfect TVOD model that will encourage wary viewers to take that risk. The site, which charges around $4.99 per movie, enables viewers to claim a full refund if they decide they don’t like the film they’re watching in the first ten minutes.

If they watch beyond ten minutes, they pay a non-refundable platform fee of $1.99, but can decide over the next 24 hours if they want a full or partial refund of the remaining $3 – the share that goes back to the filmmaker or sales agent. If they select a full refund, MovieSaints splits the $1.99 platform fee with the filmmaker.

Viewers can also opt to pay above the $4.99 fee if they decide that they really like the film they’re watching and want to support the filmmaker.

“We understand that buying an independent film online is a risk in terms of both time and money for the viewer,” says Movie Saints CEO Priyadarshi Rishiraj. “So we wanted to create a platform that reduces risk for the viewer, at the same time as making money for the filmmaker.”

The curated platform aims to introduce one new movie a week and recently started streaming Reshel Shah’s documentary Black Sheep, about a group of transgender women in Mumbai, and Estonian filmmaker Martti Helde’s In The Crosswind, which recounts the Soviet Holocaust through one woman’s story and letters.

Black Sheep

Other titles recently acquired by MovieSaints include Kenyan drama Nairobi Half Life; German documentary Sound Of Heimat; Latvian filmmaker Renars Vimba’s Mellow Mud; and Chinese filmmaker Wang Xiaoshuai’s Red Amnesia. The platform acquires TVOD rights on a non-exclusive basis, primarily for India, but will also pick up other territories where available. All titles are subtitled into English.

Although Rishiraj and his co-founder Nivedita Siddharthan, who met while studying and working in Philadelphia, are originally from India, they initially didn’t think the subcontinent would be a big market for them. They shifted focus when they realised they were getting more traffic and transactions from India than overseas.

“When we launched the Assamese film The River Of Fables last year, we didn’t open it up to India as the filmmaker wanted to do a local theatrical release. But lots of Indians outside [the northeastern state of] Assam wanted to see the film as well,” Siddharthan explains.

“There’s this perception that Indians don’t pay for content online, but less than 1% of our viewers have taken a refund and many are paying more to support the filmmakers. We believe the untapped digital market for arthouse films in India has huge potential.”

The platform has now introduced a rupee payment system and is developing a separate price structure for India.

As the platform aims to encourage viewers to discover new films, it also produces bonus content to help put the films into cultural context; tracks upcoming movies through their festival career and global release schedule; and has a feedback board for viewers to interact with cast and crew.

“The idea is to develop more of a connection between the filmmaker and the audience so they can visualise the person they might be taking money back from or decide to support,” says Rishiraj. “We have a creators’ Q&A section, so if you’ve supported the film you can ask the cast and crew questions. And if you’ve watched more than 90% of the film you can write a review.”

The site also encourages viewers to give feedback if they requested a refund, to explain exactly what it was that they didn’t like about the film. “We’re hoping this helps the viewers to rethink their decision-making,” says Rishiraj. “At the end of the day, the only way we can expand the market for niche cinema is to encourage more people to see more and better films.”