Umbrella Entertainment has flicked the on switch for its new streaming platform Brollie which was announced last week.
The platform offers Australian movies and TV plus a selection of cult favourites and world movies.
Established in 2001 as a home entertainment company by owner Jeff Harrison, Umbrella Entertainment has also been a fixture on the theatrical landscape in Australia and New Zealand since 2009. Jeff is a long-time retailer and distributor in the music business and is best known for his time running Gaslight Music in Melbourne.
Mediaweek spoke to Ari Harrison, the son of founder Jeff Harrison who has been Umbrella’s general manager for eight years and is a director of Brollie.
Inside the Umbrella business
Umbrella plays in a number of areas and was to be a big player in the distribution of DVDs. Despite much movie viewing moving online to streaming services, Harrison explained Umbrella still produces DVDs for the collector’s market.
“The same people who are now into vinyl are also interested in the remastering and restoring of movie classics. We add bonus features and produce special packaging which has been working pretty well for us.”
The Umbrella business model these days is a range of revenue streams, Harrison explained: “We release maybe 10-15 films a year theatrically. One of our big releases this year was Talk to Me which did close to $5m at the box office.” The film is an Australian supernatural horror film directed by Danny and Michael Philippou aka RackaRacka.
“We also release multiple movies each month across digital streams via various platforms including iTunes, Google, Netflix, Paramount+, Stan and Amazon. We deal with all the different players. We also deal with the TV networks Nine, SBS, and ABC. We also have educational programming and we sell to airlines. The physical market as mentioned before too with DVD and Blu-ray releases.”
Brollie: Finding a gap in the market
Working in all those different markets led Umbrella to come to the conclusion there was a gap in the market for a specialist streamer screening Australian productions and cult movies.
Harrison: “We set up Brollie so people could access certain content. Many people were asking us questions about where they could watch certain movies. Some people don’t wish to buy a $50 Blu-ray release to see a film. They just want to watch it on a streaming platform and a lot of these titles aren’t available on those platforms.
“At the same time we didn’t want to compete with other streaming platforms. We didn’t want to charge a subscription fee. By setting it up for free it will be accessible for everyone, but it will come with ads.”
Harrison hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a premium subscription level in the future which would remove all the ads on the platform and perhaps special access to certain content. “We haven’t focused on that just yet, but the idea is there.”
Build it and they will come
Harrison is under no illusion that they will build scale quickly. Even with a free platform, he said it could take a year to build the sort of scale that would be meaningful for advertisers.
“We will watch and understand what the market wants and we will adapt to that. The launch catalogue has over 350 films and TV shows. If the audience want more then will add more titles.”
Harrison said that content includes productions they already have the rights to. As word has been spreading about Brollie, they are being approached by people wanting to get their content onto the platform.
“We are looking at a number of offers and we are setting up partnerships with international library representations that are interested in adding their content to Brollie.”
Get into the club
One thing that will be sure to appeal to film buffs is the idea of joining the Brollie Film Club. “The club will highlight different themes and the first one is Australian Nightmares which will showcase movies like Road Games and Razorback,” said Harrison. In addition to the movies, we have behind-the-scenes features and interviews with writers and directors. Also lost and deleted scenes. All of these are things previously only available with the physical DVD releases.”
Not just Australian productions
Harrison: “While the majority of the content is Australian. There are also a lot of cult classics including things like Taxes Chainsaw Massacre and Suspiria. We also have a range of foreign language classics like The Last Emperor, and Another Round which won an Oscar for Best International Film in 2021. It’s an eclectic mix, but we feel we will appeal to an audience wishing to discover great movies.”
Brollie audience projection
Umbrella was not about to share any audience forecast in terms of how many people they might sign up. The price is right for a big sign-up. But just how quickly they might get to 500,000 or 1m or more is not clear.
The Brollie plan was always to have a free platform. “We wanted to be competitive in the market without wanting to compete with giants like Netflix, Amazon or Paramount+.”
As to similar models around the world, Harrison pointed to the Criterion Collection, a library of classic and contemporary films from around the world which are also available on the Criterion Channel.
“In Australia, we had a good look at what SBS On Demand does. They have been very successful. Also the Tubi platform is a successful AVOD player which is not that big here yet but is huge in the US. That was another platform we looked at to understand their audience.” Tubi is a growing arm of Lachlan Murdoch’s Fox Entertainment in the US.
Building the Brollie tech platform
Harrison explained Brollie has worked with a software company based in New Zealand for the platform. “It is being used by a lot of major film festivals around the world including the Cannes and Melbourne Film Festivals. We have been working with them for three years refining the back end to ensure it is ready for our audience.”