Ukrainian movie UKE is available on Amazon and Apple TV — the case
Recently, the documentary “UKE. The Untold Story of Hockey Legends” that will tell you stories of Ukrainians who won the Stanley Cup became available on Apple TV. It is also available on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, and YouTube Movies and Shows. It is the first case of the simultaneous distribution of an English product made by Ukrainians for four international platforms. Today the movie is available in over 70 countries.
The director and producer, Volodymyr Mula, has had a conversation with AIN.UA about how a Ukrainian documentary did enrich the online databases of international video services and why it is not on Netflix.
When I started to think about the idea of my third film (the previous two called American Dream, 2015 and American Dream. In Search of the Truth, 2017), I set a strategic goal to create an English product for the international audience. Why this topic? I continued to research Ukrainian emigrants and their connection with Ukraine. Plenty of people worldwide identify themselves as Ukrainians and enjoy the worldwide glory, but in Ukraine, almost nobody knows them. Especially in hockey. For me, it was crucial to tell the stories of those people in Ukraine and, thanks to them, make Ukraine better known to the world. That is how UKE. The Untold Story of Hockey Legends arose. We worked on it for three years.
The total production cost is $225,000, and about $175,000 was a grant from the Ukrainian State Film Agency.
It is a 100% Ukrainian production. First, we invested our own money, then we have got some sponsor funds and applied for a grant from the State Film Agency. During the production, I started negotiations with the NHL to conclude a license agreement. Otherwise, we would not have been allowed to use labels, trademarks, titles of hockey clubs — all the NHL branding stuff — in the film. It was a round sum, but I clearly understood that everything must be legal if we enter the international distribution market.
Why not Netflix?
The first goal I set for myself was to get on Netflix. It was a pretty ambitious goal. When I started talking to people in the industry, especially in the US, they told me that many other platforms would make it easier to gain an audience. Moreover, I had a conversation with the Netflix UK office. They said that the product is great, but they did not take the finished documentary film from other producers now — created movies themselves or invest in the pre-production phase.
Interestingly, Netflix has a global database. So, if you contact the company once, it adds information about you and your movie to it. And it does not matter what office you visited, they can see it. There is no point in contacting Netflix’s US, Canadian, or other offices. The system works quite well.
Amazon Prime Video
The Amazon Prime case is partly a result of our cooperation with an American partner company. If you want to get on the international video services, you cannot do it without that kind of partnership because none of them works directly with Ukraine. The partner company does a great job in the US market: it builds communication with Amazon and gets its share of movie sales. And Amazon Prime Video gets its standard fee — 50%.
Together with our American partner, we fulfilled all technical recommendations from Prime Video for the movies and got familiar with the technical documentation. Every platform has its specific technical requirements. Amazon has several requirements for a film itself. In addition, you must send them all the graphic files in specified formats. The subtitles are also very important. They must be certified. In other words, they must be precise and demonstrate what happens on the screen. But even when you think you have fulfilled all the requirements, Amazon Prime Video cannot accept and refuse your film without naming a cause.
We did this with UKE without any claims and wasting time because I already had the experience with my previous movies. My first success in online distribution was on Amazon Prime with the American Dream. In Search of the Truth. This new case took us two months. And now we at TeleProstir Studio started to offer our help with Prime Video to Ukrainian producers who are sure about the level of their films.
It is worth mentioning that you will get nothing only because your movie was released on Amazon Prime Video. You need to understand how to attract people to watch your film. It is a giant marketplace where you can buy so many and so different movies. To make people watch your work, you must do either a magnificent promo campaign or somehow attract the viewers to come because the competition is unbelievable. They also have a rule — if a movie is not admired among viewers the platform can remove it.
The UKE promo was focused only on the American audience because Ukrainians also will watch the movie. After all, it is a Ukrainian product dedicated to issues positively accepted by our transatlantic viewers. In the first place, I wanted to film personalities who are well-known in the USA. I understood that they would help me with promotion on Amazon Prime Video. Otherwise, it would be too expensive to make promos with celebrities. The film characters gave interviews to us for free. They were just excited about the idea of the UKE movie.
Since July, it has had excellent numbers. You can buy the movie for $14.99 forever, and it will be stored in your library. Or you can watch it once for $9.99. 50% takes Amazon Prime Video; after that, you must pay various fees in America. So, the total income from such kind of distribution can be about 30%.
Our promotion is organic. I use social media. The film characters use them too. They have a great audience, and each of their posts on Twitter attracts attention. The advertising on media and TV in America is also too expensive.
Amazon provides its services — there is a promo system inside the marketplace. You set an ID for an object. In my case, for the movie. And the system recognizes your project. Then you set the price per click, the duration of the campaign, and your bank details. After the activation, the service automatically shows your movie on the main page of Amazon Prime Video among “Recommended.” You pay only after a person has clicked on the recommendation link and visited the movie page. From our experience, it is better to pay for the internal Amazon ad service than Facebook or Twitter ads.
I did not plan to go on Apple TV, but people from different countries who wanted to watch my film started asking me to create such a possibility. So, I began to look for options. Basically, I needed to find a platform that cooperates directly with Apple. According to the Apple policy, you can communicate with them only through authorized companies, so-called official representatives. I must find one — it was a European company.
Then I must convince European people that UKE is a cool movie with great potential. We started our communication in March, and only in June, the partner company gave its consent to deal with our film. Thus, I received all the technical requirements and specifications in June. During the next two months, we worked on technical issues, and in September, we have got an answer with a list of errors to be fixed. It is complicated to do everything right from the first. Because Apple TV’s technical requirements are different from Prime Video’s ones. While Amazon asks you to provide 3 graphical items, Apple wants to have six; the sound should be only 5.1. No other platforms have such format requirements.
Finally, in October, they confirmed all stuff. But not so fast, pals. Today the UKE movie is available in over 70 countries. The number of countries could be much higher. But in some countries, it is illegal to run films in English without localization, especially subtitles. Nowadays, we cannot show it in Germany, Spain, Italy, and France.
Recently, I’ve got the point that if a movie becomes available on Apple TV, there is activated a “radio effect.” If your product arises there, it becomes remarkable for media, film critics, local websites in different countries. My case is pretty funny. I was informed about the film release on the platform not from my partner because it was the weekend but from news on a Polish website.
The income is almost the same as at Prime Video — about 30% from the total box office. You must understand that entering Apple TV is more about your reputation than income at that stage. Nevertheless, it creates great opportunities for the studio — now the Ukrainians can watch a Ukrainian product on legal platforms worldwide; foreigners can enjoy a high-quality Ukrainian product, and our film production will catch the eyes of foreigners.
Where you can watch the documentary in Ukraine
We all know that it is impossible to cover the expenses for such content in Ukraine. The film was released at the beginning of December 2020. At the moment, it has been watched by over 5,000 people. From the perspective of documentary film-making, we made a record as the most successful documentary. But what are 5,000 views from the online streaming services perspective?