Moving The Netherlands’ biggest film festival online

Converting their website into an interactive streaming platform meant that the Rotterdam International Film Festival could celebrate their 50th anniversary - even when confronted by COVID restrictions. But could a 100% digital film festival attract and engage the movie going audience? We took a gamble and won.


IFFR, International Film Festival Rotterdam


Digital strategy, experience building, app and website development

The road to a future-proof platform

In 2020, the International Film Festival of Rotterdam celebrated its 50th anniversary, in the midst of the corona pandemic. Despite the many uncertainties, organisers were dead set on having their celebratory, half century edition happen. But this determination did present them with a complicated challenge. How do you organise an international film festival and show films, if you don't have access to movie theatres and without the physical presence of your audience? How can we make it possible for the audiences to meet the moviemakers and for the movie professionals to network? As IFFRs digital partner we set about to create engaging, immersive virtual experiences to rival real-life festival.

People came, saw and enjoyed


online participants


increase in reach above


increase in participating professionals

Embracing digital opportunities

As IFFR's digital partner we have been successfully working together since 2015. That year, peak traffic volumes caused the foundation’s site to crash during the ticketing season. To ensure the smooth running of their ticketing operation the next year we developed a Drupal 7 website as a short term solution. Its architecture was already home to the integrated ticketing system, user accounts and the festival management system for movie info, programming, and the likes. This proved to be an important first step that, 6 years later, would literally save the day (in their anniversary year, no less).

With the Drupal 7-based website having run its course, we hypothesised about the next step for IFFR. How could we make sure that their website evolves towards a more future-proof Digital Experience Platform that would propel the foundation and the festival forward? What if, for example, we could use the gigantic movie database of films and movie information the IFFR has access to, as well as other data sources to offer users more in-depth digital experiences? IFFR immediately recognised the opportunities of this approach and gave us the green light.

Solution: enhanced immersive experiences

Then the pandemic hit Europe yet again, forcing IFFR to make a do or die decision: cancelling the festival or presenting it entirely online. Together, we decided to digitise the event. This meant moving to a different kind of architecture and a different approach.

We would first develop an API to open a wealth of information from all the backend systems to the consumers, and only then build a variety of applications on top for users.

The IFFR website is built on the Digital Experience Platform (DXP) Drupal. This open source CMS has space to add new functionalities quickly and flexibly.

To work as efficiently as possible, we used the PaaS (Platform as a Service) simultaneously on different projects for IFFR’s digital ecosystem. We were working on the API and creating new apps, while at the same time rebuilding the IFFR website in Drupal 8. While other technology partners built custom video-on-demand software, we focused on finding and developing ways to enhance the digital festival’s fan experience. All thanks to that multitasking API.

“We have managed to create a new virtual IFFR experience. The approach and construction of our digital landscape have greatly supported and accelerated the development of all individual applications. This would not have been possible without the decisiveness and flexibility of our digital partner iO.”

Juul Veenboer

Juul Veenboer, Head of IT, IFFR

setup iffr | iO
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So, what are these enhanced experiences?

We created a container to house the film database and a ticket module. Guests could buy their tickets and stream the films from the programme online. To avoid rights conflicts, the website checked, based on IP data, whether the online visitor was in the correct geographical location to watch IFFR movies.

The API served as a middle layer between data sources like the new Drupal 8 content management system, the movie database and the ticketing system on the one hand and a number of touchpoints on the other hand.

One of those touchpoints is the Film Finder app, an app we created to help fans fill in gaps in their schedule. Users can view and rate movie trailers, enabling the app to build recommendations based on ratings and tickets they had already purchased.

Virtual meet & greet

An important part of the IFFR experience is the interaction between the audience and filmmakers. Usually film directors take part in a live Q&A with the audience after the screening. So we added chat functions, video meetings and rooms for breakout sessions. This also served the networking needs of film professionals who usually come to Rotterdam to meet and do business.

Other examples are IFFR Unleashed, which gives users access to all films in the IFFR database, and MyIFFR, showing festival-goers an overview of their purchased tickets, personal schedule and more.

The result: a virtual and future success

IFFR’s 50th edition proved to be a success, it's first online edition provided a seamless festival experience for the user.

The 2021 digital-only festival welcomed no less than 132,286 online participants, with 20 percent attending the online premieres and nearly 80 percent watching movies on demand. An audience of 4,492 filmmakers and movie professionals attended the virtual IFFR Pro Days with its online panels and sessions.This was a ten percent increase in the overall number of participants, as well as in the number of countries represented.

Although the closing of cinemas could have been a barrier for attendance, the digital-only festival created new opportunities.The IFFR attracted 16% more visitors from outside the Randstad (city of Rotterdam and larger environment) than in previous years, and attracted significantly more international visitors.

With a new set of programming, ticket service, blog, agenda, favourites, digital pass, and merchandising apps, and a dedicated section for movie professionals, people could enjoy the festival vibe virtually. Judging from the smooth frontend experience, visitors would never know how heavily loaded the system was at the back. The app offers its users very rich experiences, most of which are translated through complex processes with a lot of processing tasks.

After visitors launched the app, they could chat, watch movies, and buy tickets. And in Q&A's there was a distinction between what was presented to the general public, the professional or the moderator.

All in all, the new set of new apps and online experiences made users’ digital visit to the festival as easy, convenient and enjoyable as in real life. Not only did this allow IFFR to celebrate their anniversary edition, the festival now also has a digital platform for other exciting experiences in the future to complement their in-person event.

The iO and IFFR partnership was one of the winners @ Dutch Interactive Awards 2021, in the hotly contested category of Digital Transformation.

Jury quote:

"This is what people think of when they think about transformation. To take an established festival and in no-time, to develop an entirely new concept that delivers new business.”

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