MEETING WITH CLEMENT MONNET, FOUNDER & CEO OF CINESSANCE, THE STREAMING PLATFORM OF FRENCH CINEMA.
by French Tech SF
Clement is a French expat who has lived in Europe, Asia, South America, and North America.
Fascinated with technology, cinema, aviation and politics, Clément holds a Master degree in Business and Administration and is an aircraft private pilot.
He is a serial entrepreneur, passionate about cinema and technology. Surrounded by friends from all nationalities, he often tries to share a slice of his culture by showing them some of the best French movies. But it is not an easy exercise and frustration is often the result.
Clement decided to leverage his past experiences in B2C and product, his passion for France and cinema, and his unique position as an expat entrepreneur to build a streaming platform dedicated to French films and tailored for a global audience, this is how Cinessance was born.
"I created Cinessance, to ensure that French Cinema could have a new life abroad, a renaissance… In 6 months, we: built a team, raised funds, selected the technical provider, acquired the content and prepared a marketing campaign for our launch."
French Tech SF: You have been living in San Francisco for 6 years and have been an expat for over 10 years. Can you tell us about your career path? And where did the idea for Cinessance come from?
Clément Monnet: I grew up and studied in Clermont Ferrand, France. My first internships were in aeronautics. Then, I went to Singapore to work for Airbus, and after in Beijing as Chief of Staff to the CEO of Airbus China. I worked in new technology, which attracted me to San Francisco. I joined the incubator of Airbus in Silicon Valley, which was recently created by the Group CEO.
At the end of 2015 with Uma Subramanian, we developed a project called Voom, an Uber for Helicopter booking platform. We launched it in Brazil and then in Mexico. During 4 years, more than 200 000 users downloaded our app and we had a high conversion rate for the industry. We were offering 10-min helicopter flights for the price of a black car service. Then Covid happened and Airbus, as an investor, decided to stop.
I then decided to create Cinessance. I wanted to take advantage of my experience of having created a product, a brand and a business from scratch, and having grown it internationally. Add to that my passion for France and cinema, I wanted to put it all at the service of the users.
The project was born from a problem I faced, which was - as I quickly realized - also shared by many. you couldn't access French films online from abroad.
After extensive market research, and checking with my international network, I realized there was a strong appeal for French content but no easy online access to it from any country but France. France is the second largest film exporter in the world behind the US, we are producing more than 300 films per year, but still the world isn’t able to access those movies online. There was a gap to close, and that’s why I created Cinessance, to ensure that French Cinema could have a new life abroad, a renaissance… thus the name Cinessance.
FTSF: Why didn't this solution already exist?
CM: There are two answers to this question. First, there are a few French platforms that do this on the French market but they don’t scale globally. It is not easy to internationalize a company. You have to have done it before, you need special skills, capital, and the right investors. You also need to do it at the right time, timing is of essence..
Then, the large platforms like Netflix are generalists who do not specialize in all the niche markets, even when they are a sizable niche like ours. They have some French films, 3% of their catalog, but it’s almost entirely their own production. Whereas they produce 5 to 10 French films, you still have 98% of the production that is available and not accessible abroad. At Cinessance, that’s what we intend to promote, those new releases which don’t have an online export channel today, and those old classics that the world deserves to discover.
FTSF: Cinessance is presented as the “Netflix of French films”, can you tell us more? What is your business plan and how does the platform work?
CM: The business model of the platform is very standard. We pay distributors to acquire films. Then we offer these movies to our users by subscription or with the possibility to rent the movies.
We can also do revenue sharing with distributors, to motivate them to our success. Quickly, we can have a business with a nice growth and a breakeven point quickly.
For the technical piece, we work with a technical integrator called 24i, a Dutch company, very experienced in building streaming platforms. They are the ones who made Broadway HD, the “Netflix of Broadway”. We work very closely with them and thanks to their long experience in the industry, we managed to bring Cinessance to the market in a record time (6-months) and on three platforms: Web, iOS, and Android.
In 6 months, we: built a team, raised funds, selected the technical provider, acquired the content and prepared a marketing campaign for our launch on November 16.
My past experience allowed me to prioritize and avoid pitfalls. When you create this kind of product, it is important to have market assumptions. There is a problem, we bring solutions. To validate these hypotheses, you have to quickly bring a proof and put it on the market, listen to the users and see their reactions. What is crucial is to quickly go to market and collect feedback to improve your product and ultimately fix the problem your customers have.
FTSF: What are the features of Cinessance: targets, catalog, subtitles, types of films, rentals, subscription, number of users, media, ...?
CM: Our target is the captive market of French-speaking learners, Francophiles, and also the French diaspora abroad. This represents 420 million people globally. In the US, if you look at the last ten years, 14 million cinema tickets for French films are sold on average every year. This is huge because those 14 million people like French cinema and can’t access it today from their living room. But beyond that, there is no objective reason why all the people who have streaming platforms today will not watch French cinema. There are 360 million streaming platform users in the US only and more than 2 billion in the world. Today, there are only 3% of French films on the big streaming platforms.
The subtitles of our films are currently in English and very soon also in French for learners. Our ambition is to make our platform a new tool, an indispensable digital material, in the students' school bag. The platform evolves every week with improvements and user feedback. We participate in the diffusion of French culture and language.
The catalog is built according to the wishes of our audience, and based on customer surveys. Our initial catalog was mainly built thanks to the suggestion of all the people who participated in our market research. The platform is built to please our customers and meet their needs.
We have a subscription model with unlimited access to the movies in the catalog and about 90% of our movies are included in the subscription. The rest are rentals. Eventually, everything will be included. You can have up to five users today on one account and it’s available on web, IOS, and Android where users can cast from the app directly to their TV.,... In a few months, we will also deploy on Apple TV and Roku TV.
FTSF: What makes viewers go to Cinessance more than to other streaming platforms?
CM: There is no secret, for a company to work, the secret is in the quality of the execution. That's what makes us different. Our team has a great expertise. We all have experience in different fields, technical, film and financing. The right people make it possible to get things done quickly and well. We also know our audience very well. I have been an expatriate for 10 years, so our entire network is foreign. We know our audience very well. That's a differentiator. It is also the ability to have the ideal content and exclusive movies that our users will like.
FTSF: The platform was launched on November 16th, how did the launch go?
CM: The launch went very well. I'm very happy. We had a great press campaign with lots of media coverage. The public reception has been impressive with very good reviews of the app. It validated all my personal and business assumptions.
More than 1000 users in less than 24 hours. The conversion rate into subscriptions is already very high, which is a very good sign.
Our next bet is to do targeted marketing to get known. We will do targeted campaigns in the coming months and special activities to reward our existing community of users.. We've started a Ciné-Club where we gather to talk about a movie. The first one was organized with the actors of the famous movie Quatre Garçons Pleins d’Avenir who joined us for an hour discussion and shared anecdotes about the movies and the sequel they are currently writing.
FTSF: What are your medium and long term development goals? Tell us about the team, your partners and how did the financing of your start-up go?
CM: We want to develop cross marketing and partnerships with famous French brands abroad such as in the food, drinks, cosmetic industry We will also work closely with bloggers, influencers, actors and directors as we want them to become active members of our community.
This is an exciting brand with a lot of marketing channels to explore, the content is great, our assets are fun and interesting.
Today, I'm surrounded by a team of 3 part-time advisors (Cinema Industry, Technology, Finance) based in the US and France and consultants (marketing and design). The next area where we will likely hire is marketing.
Regarding the content of our catalog, we will increase it to 300 films in 2022 with more classics and recent films, including some exclusivity. We will also have very qualitative TV shows.
We have raised enough money to develop the platform, secure the content and launch with a pre-seed round I’ve done with Friends & Family, as well as angel investors. We have raised several hundred thousand euros for the launch and then we will need to raise additional capital to accelerate the growth.
FTSF: Why did you decide to launch the US and Canadian markets first? What are the next markets to come?
CM: Canada was obvious to me, with 11 million French speakers and 8 million in Quebec. There is a big potential there. In the US, it's a very open market for video on demand with a target of 14 million people and over 360 million streaming consumers. In addition, the number of cinema admissions for French films is enormous. This market was unavoidable. Moreover, I know it perfectly.
Then, South America is very interesting, we have a good network there and French cinema is working quite well in theaters.. But we will expand when it’s time. It's important to satisfy our user base in North America first and get to know precisely their needs before doing something else like global expansion.
FTSF: Cinessance wants to reach the French community, what are your expectations with the French Tech SF?
CM: I'm aiming for 100% subscription from the French community :) Word of mouth is important for us. French Tech can help us in the search for funding. Our goal is to associate the French brand and the Tech brand with our initiative. We are a growing Tech company. French Tech also has the vocation to help create French Facebook, Google, Netflix, ... that's what we aim to become.
FTSF: What were your biggest challenges in developing and launching Cinessance? And how did you approach them?
CM: One of my biggest challenges was negotiating the movie rights. In the end it was a challenge that we overcame. Distributors are very selective in selling their rights. They want to know about the credibility of the buyer, which was easy for us because of the expertise and reputation of our team. Then the negotiation took a lot of time. We standardized our requests, set up processes, to accelerate our development. Today, we are going much faster.
FTSF: How and where do you see Cinessance in 5 years?
CM: Within 2-3 years we will be able to talk about internationalization and within 5-6 years we will have several million subscribers. We will have an internationally known brand and maybe 10 years from now, we will start to participate in film financing. That’s where I see Cinessance in the future!
FTSF: Do you have any plans for partnerships or other marketing actions?
CM: In addition to the actions I've already mentioned, we would like to partner with French events such as the famous Francophone Film Festival of Angoulême. We also offer the possibility to buy Cinessance as a gift card from our website, to offer it to others, which is a great gift for the holiday season.
The subscription is 6.99 dollars monthly and 69.99 dollars annually.
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