UK distribution and exhibition is mostly in rude health.
That doesn’t mean things are perfect, and one of the biggest challenges remains theatrical windows. Everyone’s always talking about it but there doesn’t seem to be any meaningful change happening yet. Sure, we’ve seen some experiments like Lionsgate UK with Bachelorette, but for the most part exhibitors and distributors seem to be at an impasse.
During our interviews with UK distributors for this issue, one story I heard was about an exhibitor not allowing a foreign-language film to shorten its window by three days. We’re not talking about a superhero franchise shortening its window by a month. We’re talking about a foreign-language film shortening its window by a few days. That kind of inflexibility is ridiculous.
With the landscape so competitive, distributors (both independents and studios) are spending a lot of money on marketing and advertising to get through to consumers. If a film is only in cinemas for a week or two, then money has to be spent all over again for the next release window months later.
For most smaller films it would make much more sense for everyone in the industry if they were available on VoD and DVD closer to the time of their theatrical launch. Maybe the pricing structure can change to reflect that flexibility and a VoD launch close to the time of theatrical release becomes nearly as expensive as a cinema ticket. Fair enough, I think consumers would pay if there was a legal option in place.
As Cameron Saunders from Fox points out, Hitchcock was launched theatrically and then off cinema screens for 78% of its theatrical window - the only way consumers could then find it was illegally. It’s those specialised films that are hurting - nobody is arguing that blockbusters don’t need the theatrical window.
What’s a headscratcher to me is why the exhibitors didn’t move into building their own online platforms several years ago - they would then control films across all the windows.
So kudos to Philip Knatchbull at Curzon Artificial Eye for taking a chance with his Curzon Home Cinema service. No, it’s not raking in lots of money yet, but it can grow in the future, and it’s that kind of curated brand that can do well as a tastemaking platform recommending films directly to its audience.
I spoke to Exclusive Media’s Nigel Sinclair and he said: “We are all witnessing the complete disruption of home entertainment… The way the world is moving, you have one screen in your home and one screen at the cinema down the road, both are actually good quality, and as a content owner I don’t care which place you watch it. As Stewart Till used to say, ‘There’s only two windows: one in the house and one out of the house.’”
Wendy Mitchell is editor of Screen International