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Beyond us-vs-them

Distribution and exhibition have to find a way to work together and even compromise on new models.

The issue of breaking down release windows is still very much in the spotlight. Arbitrage has been an indie hit in the US after Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate launched it simultaneously on VoD and theatrically (it has now racked up $7.8m). Earlier this month, Paris-based Eye On Films was working with Dailymotion on free VoD launches of Paraisos Artificiais and Nuit #1 ahead of their theatrical openings with the aim of increasing visibility and supporting cinema releases. Yet one French chain of cinemas cancelled bookings for 12 of the planned 15 screens for Paraisos Artificiais after the VoD launch. So in this case a film was hurt, not helped, by a new model.

During a BFI London Film Festival panel, Europa Distribution co-president Jakub Duszynski of Polish distributor Gutek Film said something very perceptive. “We’re totally aware of exhibitors’ problems with [multi-platform] strategies, so we’d like to invite distributors to a major conversation about what we can do to look for new models and to seek new solutions to this situation,” he said.

“Because without exhibitors the whole puzzle falls apart. Basically our business is structured around theatrical releases. Without theatrical release there is no serious exposure, the PR for the film is almost zero. Exhibitors are bringing to the table much more than just our share of ticket sales. They’re creating that awareness of an event, so we need to include them in the conversation. When they ask what do they get in return, if we are asking them or informing them that we will release a film day-and-date, we definitely need to have a ready answer, what do they get in return?”

He’s one of the few people arguing that it’s not distributors vs exhibitors in a sort of good vs evil battle. Working together is essential, as is more open-mindedness on both sides.

At the AFM Finance Conference, Tom Ortenberg, whose Open Road is backed by leading US exhibitors AMC and Regal, unsurprisingly noted that day-and-date multi-platform releases were fine for some films but would find others “cut off at the knees” if they wanted to expand theatrically (there are only about 250 screens in the US that would be available to a film not abiding by traditional windows). But he conceded: “Not every picture should go through a wide theatrical release. Do I think there will be shortened windows in the future? Yes I do. Do I know what those windows will be? No. Nobody has a crystal ball.”

Exclusive Media CEO Nigel Sinclair added that US exhibitors were only filling 5% of seats Mondays through Fridays. “If that was an airline, even Alitalia would shut it down,” he joked. “Exhibition and distribution have to converge and have the same agenda.”

That’s the way forward. If distribution and exhibition are each concerned for their futures, they have to find a way to work together on new models. The situation won’t change much if there is just an us-vs-them mentality. There has to be cooperation and compromise.

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