A new smartphone app which enables film fans to see movies in their own language at a local theatre.
secured interest in DUBS app and our business model from all sides of the film industry: production, distribution and exhibition
developed a content network for our initial launch comprising 3 major Hollywood film studios and Europe's #1 studio
created an exhibition network comprising 3 of Europe's largest theatre groups with #1 or #2 market share in 12 countries
guided the development of DUBS user experience, marketing and infrastructure through to 4 live consumer trials in the UK, France and Germany
created a strong pipeline of interest in DUBS among other studios and the largest theatre groups in North America, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East
For 3 years I led business development and marketing at Keen Mind Ventures, the developer of DUBS app, taking the idea from concept to contract negotiations with major Hollywood studios and Europe's largest theatre groups.
By the beginning of 2018, we'd:
DUBS is a smartphone app which enables film fans to watch movies at local theatres in their own language using just their smartphone and a pair of headphones. DUBS uses audio fingerprinting technology to precisely synchronise two tracks; the first playing with the film in the auditorium e.g. English, and the second, a studio-produced dub language soundtrack e.g. French, playing back to the user through their phone in perfect sync with the action on-screen.
When the team at Keen Mind Ventures first introduced me to DUBS, they'd already created a prototype and it worked incredibly well. It was straightforward to use, and the sync process was both accurate and reliable.
The venture capital firm behind the business initially asked me to help the Moscow-based inventor and CTO of DUBS to set up meetings and pitch DUBS to leading film companies.
The reason for this was straightforward enough. To be commercially viable, DUBS business model required a steady stream of content to distribute to a network of Dubs users. This wold mean seeking licenses for the rights to a lot of dub language soundtracks for films being released in theatres. Only this way could we ensure that DUBS users would have a good selection of films to choose from in the most popular genres and up to 10 of the world's most common languages.
From the very beginning, we set ourselves the goal of building a DUBS Content Network comprising 3 major Hollywood studios at launch, each releasing between 10-20 films a year in multiple countries.
Our business model also meant we needed to win strong support from theatre owners, whose policies surrounding mobile phone use inside auditoriums during screenings required careful consideration. For years, theatres have been asking visitors to turn off their mobile phone during screenings, so we knew we'd need their permission for DUBS users to playback licensed content using their phones inside auditoriums.
There is a precedent for the use of digital technology during screenings though. Nearly all theatres in Europe operate accessibility policies which cover the use of digital devices by hearing and visually-impaired audiences. Theatre staff are trained to help patrons use this equipment as it is supplied by theatres. This opened up conversations around opportunities to train theatre staff to help language-displaced individuals using DUBS, and potentially seeking first-line support inside theatres before or during films.
To enable early adopters of DUBS to visit local theatres to see a movie, we set ourselves the target of building a DUBS Exhibition Network comprising 400 'DUBS-ready' theatres within 6 months of launch. This could only be achieved if we developed close relations with Europe's largest theatre groups operating principally in the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Photography by Guy SP
Pitching DUBS app to Hollywood
To kickstart the project, we called folks responsible for dubbing services at the regional offices of major Hollywood studios in London, offering a short demo and an overview of the project. We figured if they found the concept interesting, they'd refer us to US executives with the ability to green-light digital innovations such as DUBS.
In the event, we were directed to the leadership of international distribution teams at five of the 6 Hollywood majors, and organised a week of demo's in LA with folks representing commercial, post-production, tech ops, content security, marketing, legal and finance.
We knew the commercial and marketing teams would ask us about the global opportunity for DUBS, as well as the size and nature of the addressable audience, so we set about defining our primary target audience, a segment we called 'language-displaced individuals' (LDI's).
We undertook a rigorous market sizing exercise, analysing bilateral mobility trends and patterns in the UN's official global migration and visitor databases. A harmonised dataset meant we were able to identify groups of native language cohorts travelling to and from countries, and exclude language cohorts from source countries that share a common official language with a host country, for example, an American residing in London would not be considered 'language-displaced'.
When we toured the studios to pitch DUBS, the response was overwhelmingly positive. There was a strong desire to continue exploring the opportunity to 'proof of concept', and a lot of helpful suggestions for new features to make DUBS app and technical infrastructure more secure, and 'friendlier for exhibition'.
All the studios indicated they could be comfortable with our proposed business model, taking delivery of licensed motion picture soundtracks in a secure environment and monetising tracks through our platform with a revenue-share arrangement covering multiple pictures, languages and territories.
With confirmed interest in developing DUBS from 5 studios through to live trials, we started re-designing the app interface and user experience, adding new 'exhibitor friendly' features, and building studio-approved content protection capabilities into DUBS app and our supporting infrastructure.
When the beta version was ready, we took DUBS on a tour of Europe's largest theatre groups. With studios explicitly signalling their interest in the project by sending content to exhibitors nominated theatres for each demo, we invited the senior management teams of large theatre groups in Europe to experience DUBS for themselves. With studio support, we were able to make 4 dub language soundtracks available for the films shown during each demo.
All the exhibitors we met showed very strong interest in DUBS's and its promise of a genuinely incremental audience. minimal effort and low operational costs.
We initiated 4 live trials of DUBS in London, Paris and Hamburg in collaboration with 2 major Hollywood studios and 3 European theatre groups to test DUBS among real users in theatres. We recruited participants to private screenings through PPC, paid social, posts to Facebook groups, and community influencers with viral hooks designed for sharing. We also engaged an independent research agency to send a mobile survey to participants immediately after each screening, with a brief to identify any usability issues and determine overall perceptions of the DUBS experience.
Users were hugely enthused by DUBS during these trials. Appeal, satisfaction, likelihood to use, and likelihood to recommend were all rated very highly, and the vast majority of respondents told us they'd had a "more enjoyable movie experience using DUBS".
We took the results back to the project stakeholders and agreed that DUBS had successfully passed the 'proof of concept' stage. DUBS appeal was very strong among people feeling excluded from the theatrical experience by natural language barriers. The app's design and user experience required a small number of minor modifications, but we were ready to finalise contract terms and launch DUBS in 3 countries within 3 months..
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Keen Mind Ventures had taken DUBS from an initial prototype to initial contract discussions with 3 Hollywood studio in just under 3 years - a relatively short time by film industry standards.
We'd enhanced DUBS significantly along the way through a collaborative process of listening carefully to feedback at pitch meetings and working together to figure out how to respond appropriately to the requirements of stakeholders from both studio and exhibitor communities.
The 'proof of concept' trials in Spring 2017 were a huge success. We succeeded in demonstrating there was strong demand for apps like DUBS, and our user experience research showed the app was both popular and easy to use.
Unfortunately, DUBS didn't didn't make it to launch for a wholly unexpected reason. Keen Mind Ventures withdrew from contract negotiations when the architect of the proposition was forced to leave the business to deal with family concerns.
Nevertheless, we'd taken DUBS from an innovative idea to prototype, and proof of concept to contract discussions with major players on the global stage. We were one step away from launching DUBS with 20 major films in the first year supplied by 3 Hollywood majors and Europe's #1 studio. Each film would be on wide theatrical first release, and there would be a minimum of 6 dub languages files for each film in each agreed territory.
Our network of theatres was also set to grow rapidly. Agreements with 3 of Europe's largest cinema groups meant DUBS users would have had lots of choice in the number and location of 'DUBS-Ready theatres', where permission to use DUBS on their mobile phone inside auditoriums was assured.
An unusual way to end a thoroughly unusual proposition!
Last updated: 2 September 2018