Confident that their DVD-swapping service has fallen on the right side of copyright laws for movie streaming, the founders of Paris-based Vodkaster are now planning to make the service available around the world next year.
The company announced the first phase of that expansion strategy recently when it launched a Kickstarter campaign last week for the international version of the service, which will be called “MovieSwap.” The campaign already raised $92,066 against its goal of $38,464.
According to Vodkaster co-founder David Honnorat, the money is nice, but not the most important goal of the campaign.
“We’re looking for investors in the U.S. and the campaign is an interesting asset,” Honnorat said. “It’s a way to show investors that many people are interested in this product, and not just in France.”
Launched in 2014, Vodkaster sought to do an end-around litigious Hollywood Studios by connecting its movie-streaming service to DVD ownership.
People who own DVDs can send them to Vodkaster, which then makes a digital transfer of the movie. Currently, Honnorat said Vodkaster maintains a warehouse that has 200,000 DVDs people have sent in. People who send in DVDs get some credit in their accounts that they can use to watch other movies. Users can also just add money to their account with a credit card.
Once the movie is in the Vodkaster library, anyone can pay a small fee to watch it, usually ranging from €1 to €3. The trick is that for each person who wants to watch the movie at the same time, Vodkaster must have a DVD of the movie for each person. If 200 people want to stream “The Matrix,” then Vodkaster needs 200 copies of “The Matrix.” Otherwise, there is a delay until a copy is freed up.
It’s cumbersome, perhaps, but by keeping this direct link to DVD ownership, Vodkaster hopes will to stay on the right of the law. Maybe, but a recent article in Hollywood Trade publication Variety hinted that studios aren’t so convinced of the legality.
Still, in 1.5 years of operations, Honnorat said Vodkaster has not received any legal threats or requests to cease operations. Instead, the service has grown to 12,000 titles with 120,000 members and 650,000 movie streams per month.
MovieSwap will operate in a similar fashion, but will have a few notable differences also. First, it will be a subscription service instead of pay-per view. For one monthly fee, users will be able to access the services.
And second, users must actually “swap” a DVD. So you need to send in a DVD that has been uploaded. And then when you want to watch another movie, you “swap” your DVD for another DVD:
It’s an interesting strategy, but to make it effective, MovieSwap will have to attract larger numbers of users and DVDs. And whether enough users are willing to go through the hurdles to set up an account, ship DVDs, and then participate in the service will be interesting to see.
Honnorat believes the popularity of the Kickstarter campaign is proof they will. And he believes there is opening because Netflix continues to shrink its catalogue, and blockbuster movies are hard or expensive to find online.
The company will be developing the beta version with campaign backers this summer, with plans for a global launch of MovieSwap in 2017, Honnorat said.
“We expect to get a lot of DVDs, and we want to optimize everything to create a great user experience,” he said. “And we’re going to take our time to do that right.”