Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Interview with Tobi Bauckhage, Moviepilot
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
How do a bunch of German moviemakers end up in Los Angeles, running a site helping studios to market and promote their films via their venture backed startup? That's the story we got from Tobi Bauckhage, the co-founder and CEO of Moviepilot (www.moviepilot.com), a German firm which is setting up shop in Los Angeles. Moviepilot is starting to bring its movie recommendations and discovery site to the U.S., and has set up shop here to connect with the local entertainment industry. Bauckhage talks about the firm's recent funding from DFJ Espirit, T-Venture, Grazia Equity, and others, and how the company has been helping studios like Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, Disney and Paramount market their upcoming releases.
What is the idea behind Moviepilot?
Tobi Bauckhage: We are a movie recommendation and discovery platform. We started about four or five years ago. Our platform is all about connecting early fans and early audiences with new and upcoming movies, months before a movie comes out. Our hypothesis is that fans have no place where, even six months before a movie, they have a place to connect with upcoming movies. We keep track of movies from first rumor to theatrical release, and make it so that you don't miss any information that is important to you as a fan. We create a page which starts at first rumor, and engages and supports those projects. On the back side, we're collecting data and understanding and gaining feedback from really early fans for upcoming movies. We work with studios to understand those early audiences, and give them feedback on social marketing and making their marketing more effective. We really help them understand what their audience is all about. We have over 4 million fans on Facebook in the U.S., and are now one of the largest media outlets for entertainment on the web and Facebook. In a nutshell, we're trying to build the largest platform for what we call first weekenders -- those who are so crazy about a movie that the see the movies on the first weekend. For the industry, we help their fans connect with upcoming movies, and use that to give them understanding of how audiences are built.
How did someone from Germany like yourself get into this?
Tobi Bauckhage: It's funny to see them talk to a guy with a quirky German accent, and tell them how to do marketing. It's a very funny experience. We're actually filmmakers ourselves, and four years ago started to produce and distribute movies independently. We were using technology to connect with our audiences, and we were really obsessed with data about our audiences. Especially when you have a small budget as an independent, you're really careful about how you use that budget. If you don't have much, you want to spend it in a targeted, much more targeted way to reach your audience. We realized that technology was very powerful, and could help us connect with great fans on the other side. But, we realized that there was no one else doing that. We started in Berlin, and also were connected with the movie industry and filmmakers and the independent film scene here. We used that platform to start engaging audiences with movies and that data, and built up. In the last four years, we built Moviepilot.de, which is like Yahoo Movies or Netflix on steroids. It's the definite portal about movie information, TV listings, ticketing, and all these different thing. It's also not just a huge database, it's about personalized recommendations based on your tastes. We try to understand your preferences, like Netflix does with their recommendations, and understand and give you a personalized experience.
About a year ago, we finally understood that if you want to give good recommendations about movies that are coming up, you have to know about a user's tastes first. We have to have data to give you the right recommendations. We saw that Facebook was a gateway to shortcut this data relationship with fans. We saw that you could use Facebook Connect to have a deep and strong data relationship. If you go to Moviepilot.com's Facebook fan page, we can drive you to web pages and you can connect with upcoming movies via Facebook Connect, and we can learn more about you and understand what projects you are following, what movies you like and how you are interacting with other pages like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB, your interests in TV shows, and start catering to you. Over time, as we learn more and more about you, we aggregate data and understand what a fan's taste preferences are.
So, we basically started in Germany with a history as filmmakers, and saw the opportunity to use technology to do better matching between movies and audiences. We were in Germany first, and saw an opportunity through Facebook to launch into the United States. We also started looking for funding, which recently closed, and we're now moving part of the company to Los Angeles, and building relationships with studios. We're already working with four out of the six major studios already.
How big do you expect your operations to be here in Los Angeles?
Tobi Bauckhage: We're looking to have about five to ten people here in the beginning. What this is all about, is as I mentioned, it's a quirky experience when I go to studios, and talk to the head of digital at Paramount and Fox, and tell them about their audience and that we can analyze their movies and tell them how to market that movie--they ask, where are you from again, and how do you know this? So, the first thing we're recruiting for is a strong sales team, that has a trusted relationship with the studios in LA. We're looking for senior people who have been doing business with the digital marketing guys at the studios for some number of years. We've done some really cool campaigns, and helped studios spend money on Facebook more effectively--some big movies, and in a very successful way. So it's going to be a sales team, a business development team, and helping our relationships with YouTube and Facebook. I'm going to move to LA, and we're pretty close to the Movieclips guys, and we think we'll have some support from them and start in Venice somewhere. We plan on opening up shop at the end of June.
Do you see a lot of competition from current US services?
Tobi Bauckhage: Interestingly enough, coming from the German perspective, there are great sites like IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, Flixster, and Fandango, who all offer great services for movie fans. But, if you look at sites for early fans to connect with movies, and for studios to engage with fans about upcoming movies, nothing exists. IMDB is a great database, but at the end of the day, they're driven by the strategy to sell DVDs. They're not focused on first weekend, first theatrical releases. As a fan, it's also not a very compelling place to go to find other fans. Flixter is interesting, and we've known them for three or four years. They've done a great job, but after being bought by Warner Bros. their priorities are different now. They're not about theatrical, they'r emore about home entertainment and Ultraviolet. I think there is lots of room to build a new generation of fan sites, that put the fan in the center.
What has been the hardest part of setting up shop in LA?
Tobi Bauckhage: Technology is disrupting the movie industry on many different levels, from funding, production means, distribution, and marketing. We're looking at distribution and marketing, which is the core of Hollywood and Southern California's core competencies. We're the new kids coming from outside town, which is Germany, where it's not such a big industry. We need to show them what we're able to do in a very compelling and convincing way.
I think the biggest challenge for the industry, and I'm an economist by trade, is that you're looking at an industry which is very supply driven. They are used to producing great product and putting it out, and having people come. In reality, it's very different today. More and more, entertainment has transformed into a demand driven industry. Because we've come from outside the Hollywood system, and want to disrupt this, becoming part of it is a challenge. It's also a challenge to have teams in Berlin, teams in London, and teams in Los Angeles. However, there are lots of great companies who have mastered this, like SoundCloud, and we're confident we can get there. We're also very excited about the weather here, because in Berlin, the weather really sucks.
Thanks, and good luck!