Upstream clinches partnership with Universal Pictures

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Jun 15 2021 06:19 AM


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MANILA -- There’s nothing like watching films on cinema. Your favorite action blockbusters, animated capers, romantic-comedies and horror-suspense thrillers become larger than life when seen on the big screen.

However, since local theaters are still boarded up, the next big thing in watching our favorite films are through video streaming online.

Last December, the Metro Manila Film Festival 2020 successfully delivered the entries through online streaming made possible by the live streaming platform with Globe Telecom Inc.

Apparently, Upstream didn’t stop with just local films. Recently, Upstream inked a video on demand (VOD) deal with NBC Universal Pictures to bring the biggest Hollywood releases right into your homes.

“This is a very special partnership,” Upstream president Dondon Monteverde told ABS-CBN News. “We are the first Filipino live streaming platform to clinch an unprecedented partnership with NBC Universal Pictures.”

Universal Pictures is home to global blockbuster film franchises like “Jurassic Park,” “Fast and the Furious,” “Despicable Me,” “Minions,” “Boss Baby” and many other popular titles.

Monteverde thanked NBC Universal for the trust and confidence they gave to Upstream. Not only new releases will be shown on Upstream, as Universal also gave license to show old titles from its catalogue.

Starting the streaming for Upstream last June 1 is the family-comedy, “The Croods, 2: A New Age,” led by Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds.

In the line-up for the second quarter of 2021 are “The Fast and the Furious, 9,” “Let Him Go” with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, “Bios” starring Tom Hanks, “Fatale” with Hilary Swank, “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and M. Night Shyamalan’s “Old” with Gael Garcia Bernal.

As early as November last year, Upstream started to train the local audience to watch content at home. Upstream is presently the only platform that will stream the latest titles from Universal, with P210 for the price of the ticket, good for the entire family watching at home.

Monteverde said Upstream had to go through the eye of the needle in securing the deal from Universal Pictures. “We had to review a very, very thick contract,” he disclosed. “Then Universal had to review the track record of the partners.

“They also looked into the infrastructure, which is important to them. They looked into the kind of system Upstream has to offer. Inisa-isa nila ‘yun. Lahat ‘yun went through a rigid due diligence from NBC Universal. I’m thankful that they saw Upstream platform that can really showcase their films.”

The titles that Universal will give to Upstream are not yet carried on Netflix and other social streaming sites or even on VOD subscription. “That’s why we’re saying the titles can be viewed first time on Upstream,” Monteverde said.

Their target is the Filipino audience who have not watched films on the big screen for more than a year now. “We all know cinemas will be back later, hopefully soon,” Monteverde said. “Maybe in the last quarter of this year.

“For now, while it is not yet happening, at least we are able to bring all these very good current titles access to the audience and even the library titles that NBC Universal has. We are targeting a big demographic of Filipino audience.”

Compared to HBO or Netflix, Upstream has a different library of titles for its online theater. “Sila kasi, nagtatambak ng titles so subscribers can watch,” Monteverde said.

“Tayo kasi sa Upstream, ang titles natin, two to three months, then we move on to current ones. The goal of Upstream is try to bring the latest content, not really the old content. Our target is cinema content, but we will also show videos like the fight of Manny Pacquiao, which will be exclusive to Upstream.”

With the platform of Upstream, they can reach out to 12 million immigrant Filipinos and OFWs so they can watch films that our industry has been making.

“We can actually bring their content to a global Filipino audience,” Monteverde explained. “We have thousands of kababayans abroad who are actually consistently looking for content.”

Although still on the infancy stage, Upstream is ready to face challenges in running an online streaming service. “We cannot exactly get the traditional market share of cinema, but we are happy with the result of the MMFF on Upstream with the tickets sold.

“With that alone, we can jumpstart that to really let our kababayans know there is a platform that will showcase current titles. We can even reach out to the Filipinos abroad with the content produced also by Filipinos. 

“We are not just looking at the domestic market, but we also want to capture all the Filipinos who are longing to watch the content made by our local producers. We are looking at 12 million Filipinos abroad.”

Monteverde started to conceptualize a streaming platform with Globe – Quark Henares and Joe Caliro – as early as April 2020, when they realized the pandemic will not just taper off soon. 

“We were talking about what might happen to all those producers who have already finished shooting their movies, saan nila ipapalabas ang pelikula?” Monteverde shared. “Globe is in the telecom business and has its ISP [internet service provider]. They are on 3.5 million households.”

“With the Upstream Originals that we have been doing, nakakapagbigay din kami ng trabaho sa mga Filipino industry workers,” Monteverde added. “We are not stopping to produce content at meron kaming pinaglalagyan.”

Upstream is coming up with its first original production, “A Girl and A Guy,” directed by Erik Matti. It will be shown starting June 24.

“We are also partnering with a lot of our fellow producers that have finished content to be shown here,” Monteverde said. “We did that with Regal for [the Mother’s Day offering] ‘Mommy Issues’ and we’re even working with ABS-CBN for some titles, a series and a feature film to be shown on Upstream. Maganda nagsasama-sama lahat at nagtutulungan tayo.”

Apparently, Monteverde has laid out a long-term plan for Upstream. However, he will be ready, too, once everything returns to normal. 

“Eventually, what we’re looking for is a good collaboration with the cinemas when things go back to normal, in bringing quality content to the Filipinos.” Monteverde said. “There are learnings this pandemic. We really know a lot of Filipinos are looking forward to watching in the cinemas again.”

With Upstream’s partnership with Universal, Monteverde hopes it will be an “eye-opener” for other Filipino content producers who will eventually see they can trust this Upstreaming platform.

Yet, he knows getting content is not really easy and poses a lot of challenges. “We are not just showcasing Hollywood and Filipino movies,” Monteverde said. “Recently, we bought titles from Europe, like [the French and Dutch film] ‘Benedetta’ from the same director of ‘Basic Instinct,’ Paul Verhoeven.”

“If you will look at it, streaming has endless opportunities. There’s so much content coming from everywhere. With Upstream, you get unlimited and front row seats. As long as maganda ang performance ng Upstream, pwedeng tumagal ito.”

Right now, Monteverde is pleased with the numbers of Upstream. “Even then, streaming is always here to stay. Matagal na ang TVOD na platform and there’s a big market for that already. Ang slogan namin sa Upstream, ‘This is made by Filipinos for Filipinos’.”