Summer 2012 represents a unique challenge for UK distributors with a packed sporting and cultural schedule, including The London Olympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the European Football Championships. But it also represents opportunities. Andreas Wiseman has an early look at how the industry is gearing up.

Simply put, the London Olympics will be the biggest sports tournament ever staged in the UK. Inevitably, distributors are concerned by the significant distraction it poses to UK cinemagoers and the congestion it is bringing to the UK advertising market.

It is not only a two-week period the industry needs to contend with. London, which accounts for one third of the UK’s annual box office, will be ‘dressed’ as the Olympic city for 100 days before, during and after the Olympic tournament starting with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee over the first weekend in June, during the tournament proper, which runs July  27-August 12 and ending with the Thames Festival in September.

In recent months Film London has made presentations to the industry outlining how the event will impact the local industry, and the Film Distributors Association has been active in compiling timetables and events schedules for its members. Distributors themselves have been carrying out additional research into the impact of the games on local markets and have seen an increased level of ‘activity’ in preparation for the busy period.

While distributors are used to tweaking their schedules for major international sports tournaments, summer 2012 raises the bar for the local distribution community in Europe’s biggest market, as Andrew Cripps, president, Paramount Pictures International, recognises: “Summer 2012 is a huge challenge for film distribution. You’ve got two high-profile events both of which resonate very strongly in the UK. As a general rule we’re far less concerned about competing against the Olympics as we are about competing with the football, but the UK in 2012 is a totally different issue. I think people will be all consumed by the coverage.”

“Summer 2012 will be a special case. The Olympics is going to be absolutely enormous, ” agrees FDA president Mark Batey. “Whether its dating, getting media coverage they want or hosting premieres, distributors will have to become super creative with how they prepare.”

More urgent than creativity, seems to be caution. In keeping with local scheduling during recent Olympic tournaments, there are currently no major studio openings scheduled in the UK during the event, with the likes of Warner Bros.’ The Dark Knight Rises, Disney/Pixar’s Brave and Universal’s Bourne Legacy all neatly sidestepping the showcase.

Indeed, private air space above London is already fully booked during the tournament, which could complicate flying in stars for premieres.

Securing sufficient advertising space, in what will inevitably be a tremendously congested market, is another headache for distributors, as a senior distribution executive - who preferred to remain unnamed - explained: “The peripheral impact on the advertising space is certainly an issue, with all the advertising brands wanting to capitalise on the tournament as well as the Olympic branding done by the city.”

Third party promotions could also suffer: “The third parties with whom we have partnerships can only spend their money once and I’m sure many of them have already allocated a large part of their budget to the Olympic message.”

In the coming weeks, distributors will have their eyes on LOCOG’s (London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games) online auction for prime outdoor poster sites, which gets underway on April 4. Despite the higher premiums and the priority given to official Olympic sponsors in key areas, Michelle Gardiner, Client Director, Film And Entertainment, CBS Outdoor, thinks the industry will still get its messages across: “We do anticipate an increased interest in advertising around the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The media auction opens on April 4 for sponsors, however there will still be plenty of opportunities both national and in London to satisfy demand from Olympic sponsors, existing advertisers and the film industry. What we do anticipate is that the market will move quicker and earlier than normal for that period and we have advised clients to be prepared to plan earlier for those key periods.”

The exhibition community, in particular, is well placed to gain from the Olympics, as Vue CEO Tim Richards points out: “For us in the UK the Olympics is predominantly a daytime activity, so our hope is that we will be able to show most of it, if not all of it, in 3D. We have 20% occupancy rate, so we can show a huge amount of content without affecting our core market at all. It’s never going to be a material part of our business but we will show everything and anything.”

And yet, while it is true that few studios launch major titles during Olympic tournaments, box office figures during Sydney and Greece did not slump considerably, and as the schedule reveals, many of the Olympic events will be over by the evening.

Of equal (if not greater) concern for distributors will be another major football tournament, most of whose matches kick off during the prime-time cinema-going window.

June 2010, the month of the last World Cup, saw the lowest box-office revenues, admissions and distributor media spend of any month in the UK that year.

Once again, few distributors are prepared to roll the dice by opening in the first few weeks of the tournament, which runs June 08-July 01. Paramount, for one, has moved Madagascar 3 from June to October.

“Everyone is so terrified to release films that attendance goes down. How much is that to blame on their not being high profile films out there? No one wants to take that risk,” Richards notes.

However, some are prepared to gamble (or dump, in other cases). Fox’s Prometheus is scheduled to open on June 1, one week before the tournament starts.  Universal’s Untitled Judd Apatow Project opens the same weekend but looks better counter-programming, along the lines of Sex And The City 2 and StreetDance 3D, which were the biggest winners last June in the UK.

The industry seems less concerned about the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. “I don’t think the Jubilee will pose a major problem. On events like that, on the day it may be an issue, like the royal wedding, but football is a month and the Olympics is two and a half weeks,” says Cripps, echoing a widespread sentiment.

The UK box office has been enjoying a rich spell at the head of the European market, and while there are niche opportunities afforded by the confluence of high profile events in summer 2012, allied to the usual distractions of sun and holidays, the period represents a severe test for the local market.