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We Are Colony: Tackling the death of traditional film and abundance of content

Founder of content streaming platform We Are Colony explains why the film industry should be making the most of digital content to provide the best experience for modern consumers

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The way the public consumes content is changing. The younger generation is choosing to watch TV through streaming services when and where they want, forcing the hand of many companies, such as Channel 4 and the BBC, to ensure a more flexible digital offering.

The proliferation of content providers and social media platforms means consumers have unlimited access to films, TV shows, articles and pictures anywhere, any time.

Sarah Tierney, founder and CEO of We Are Colony, explains that the growth in content providers and social media means consumers are spoilt for choice, and it is often difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.

“There’s an abundance of content right now. Consumers are looking for trusted homes they can feel part of and that can help curate their content offering,” says Tierney.

“Just because you can get to everything doesn’t mean you know what you want.”

Helping create a community of users

Global streaming platform We Are Colony, which allows users to access films on demand, is Tierney’s answer to the changing film industry.

The difference between We Are Colony and other streaming services – such as Netflix or Amazon Prime – is the “exclusive extra content” that comes with films, such as deleted scenes, concept art and commentaries.

“My experience as a producer was that so much goes into the creative process, but so little ends up on screen,” says Tierney.

“There’s a lot of underexploited material, and this coincided with the decline of DVDs and the growth in video on demand.”

Tierney claims users are increasingly moving towards social platforms. Although services such as commenting and discussion are not yet available through We Are Colony, they are “on the roadmap”.

“Our users started to call themselves members before we did, which was a lovely thing. It showed real brand affinity,” says Tierney.

“We’ve worked hard on tone of voice to create that intimacy with our users so they trust us and feel like this is a place for them.”

We’ve worked hard on tone of voice to create intimacy with our users
Sarah Tierney, We Are Colony

The brand aims to build on this community element and create a loyalty scheme, which will offer more exclusive content to people who sign up.

Tierney claims the brand is already appealing to the “young, hard-to-reach demographic”. Due to the nature of the film and television industry, members are often divided into “verticals of interest”, such as genre or actor.

The service currently sees a 33% conversion rate, meaning one-third of people who sign up end up making a purchase.

“We’re embracing the fandoms, it’s about users having passion for a film and simply wanting to get deeper into it,” says Tierney.

“We love our users. They’re charming because they are enthusiastic about the quality of the content or the quality of the performance. They’re really protective over the brand.”

Learning from the music industry

Originally working as a film maker and moving onto being a digital e-learning content distributor, Tierney has noticed a consumer shift towards “curated communities”, which allow users to collect and share content.

The change was similar to the digital shift in the music industry, which saw fans downloading digital music rather than buying physical copies. However, Tierney says the film industry has not “learnt the lessons” of the music industry’s move to digital.

“How do you empower a content creator to reach an audience efficiently?” and “How do you empower an audience to make good choices and enjoy the content they want to watch?” are two questions Tierney says the film and TV industry should be asking.

These are some of the challenges We Are Colony faces alongside ensuring content can be streamed to the whole of its global audience, which can be difficult due to licensing terms.

The team will have to negotiate a deal either with a sales agent who owns world rights, multiple licence owners or only release in one region.

The consumption and transaction of a film is confined by borders, which is a total paradox
Sarah Tierney, We Are Colony

“It’s frustrating for our users when we do that, but I think it’s one of the things that contributes to piracy,” says Tierney.

“The marketing of a film is borderless – that’s what social media has done for us – but the consumption and transaction of a film is confined by borders, which is a total paradox.”

Often people who are passionate about content are also the ones pirating it. Tierney points out people are almost four times more likely to pirate content if they have been to the cinema in the past few weeks.

Tierney says users will get in touch to ask how they can access content legally so they don’t end up pirating it – unless they feel they have to.

“People would pay for it, but they can’t and they exhaust the legal means by which to see it,” says Tierney.

“When people think about piracy, they think it’s down to 15-year-old boys in their bedrooms. It’s a far more sophisticated problem than that.”

Building for the browser

We Are Colony is a global brand with registered account holders in 115 countries.

Due to the large number of users in developing countries who may have access to a smartphone, but not native iOS and Android apps, the firm has chosen to use a browser-focused development.

“It’s the less fashionable approach in this world of native apps, but our view is that it gives us true operability globally,” says Tierney.

The firm spent 18 months internally developing proprietary systems, including its front end, player platform, content management system, embeddable player and customer relationship management (CRM) platform.

“We are absolutely a tech business,” says Tierney. “It gives us a competitive advantage, we want to create a brilliant user experience.”

A woman in technology

Tierney is not new to the startup world, having worked in four small businesses – three of which she founded – and she has noticed significantly fewer women on the tech scene.

Although Tierney sees herself as a “non-technical founder”, she says she is a woman in technology, and admits she has faced challenges.  

“I’m absolutely a sector specialist. I’ve spent a couple of years at a disruptive education tech platform and really learnt product,” says Tierney.

“The challenges of our business are product, user experience, some real tech issues such as CRM, making decisions about how we build out our native apps – all of those lie in my remit.”

Unlike many women who are in technology, Tierney says she did not “fall into tech” and her move was a conscious decision.

“It was a conscious choice for me to move from television into the digital space because of the opportunities. There was not enough true embracing of the opportunity of digital,” says Tierney.

Growing a UK business

The firm is currently in its equity crowdfunding round, and has made the choice to use business investment website Seedrs to raise funds – investors can buy a share in the company and become community ambassadors for the brand.

“Doing it through Seedrs was a conscious choice to bring both our networks and members – and even our friends and family – to back us and help us grow.”

By doing this, Tierney hopes to get We Are Colony off the ground before further investment takes place to keep the firm UK-based. This is to try to resist the US pull many startups face when trying to scale.

“We seem to be very good in the UK at nurturing and helping tech startups to get established, but we quite often lose them when they’re in their growth phase,” says Tierney.

“I believe it’s possible to build a global disruptive scalable digital business in the UK.”

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