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National Film Board of Canada to launch Netflix for docs

Talking at Sheffield Doc/Fest, Tom Perlmutter, film commissioner for the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) announced the creation of a new subscriber video on demand service (SVOD) especially for documentary films to be launched around June next year.

The Netflix-like monthly subscription service, exclusively for documentaries, is to “redefine the documentary experience of the 21st centrury.”

Currently 1.5 billion viewers across the globe watched close to 200 online videos each month for an average of 18.67 hours, and over 35% of smartphone users accessed mobile video services.

“Broadcasters are becoming just another app on the screen so the market place is changing. Audiences want to engage with documentary content that challenges and inspires them. And they are not finding it in the usual places,” Perlmutter said.

“Even if they find it then it is very limited: American broadcaster PBS's documentary series POV commissions 17 quality documentaries, the BBC's Storyville are probably not far off."

The commissioner called the new service “a documentary initiative to engage a global audience” and said: “Now, more than ever, the world wants to know more about the world.”

The content, which will exist of around 2000 documentaries to begin with, will be downloadable for all smart TVs and continue to be developed alongside new upcoming streaming devices.

To date, OTT services have been concentrated mainly on broad consumer offerings. This, and its competitive pricing (said to be around £2.99/CAD $5.99) will ensure that the service is no competitor to Neflix but can exist alongside it.

The as of yet unnamed facility is a NFB initiative, however, will not be a NFB service. The organisation, a pioneer when it comes to interactive storytelling, is currently talking with partners over the world to start a global partnership. The service will be set up as a for profit enterprise.

The idea , Perlmutter announced to an audience at Sheffield Doc/Fest in the UK, is that it will be international and multi-lingual, will be curated and will “dare to engage, challenge and provoke”.

The film commissioners would initially work with existing names but would like to work towards a situation in which they can also commission original content to premiere on the service.

The new product will first be released in June 2014 in Canada, the States and France, and will then be rolled out to other territories.

It  will have room for thematic programming, connect with live events, and the product will have an algorithm which can link to the headlines in the news (even on a local level), plus it will be able to provide content that is fitting to viewers' needs and interests.

Perlmutter said of Netflix that the service had “a very crappy design", adding that it worked as "a supermarket shelf and doesn’t make use of the opportunities that exist.”

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