– . – Brave New World
Brave New World
However we characterise the current testing period for international film, it is not a crisis of demand. As the box office reminded us last year, people want film. But the distribution and exhibition ends of the business are having to deal with a difficult reality: that people want film on their own terms.
Digital technologies have created the potential for a more demand-driven business, but they challenge traditional business models. Distributors and exhibitors have united on dealing with the most glaring downside of digital change: piracy. But providing legitimate alternatives is a much more complex issue, and one that accentuates tensions between the two customer-facing sectors.
These issues are now coming to a head with the rapid advance of D-cinema and the development of more convincing download and streaming businesses. At the forefront in the UK are the Cinema Exhibitors’ Association and the Film Distributors’ Association, separated by a couple of floors in the same Soho building but both trying to map out a clear future…
Mark Batey CEO, Film Distributors’ Association
Among the first clichés of the digital era in cinema was that it would cut out the ‘middle men’, allowing producers to go straight to the consumer. Self-distribution, though, hasn’t yet made it much beyond the margins. There may be a restructuring of the industry to close the gap but Mark Batey, chief executive of the Film Distributors’ Association (FDA), believes the value of the distributor is becoming increasingly recognised—not least because so much digital innovation is coming from the sector. Rather than the bureaucratic middle, suggests Batey, “distribution is the lynchpin that links content and audience. It is absolutely key in this world of huge choice.”
Phil Clapp CEO, Cinema Exhibitors’ Association
To the casual observer, the exhibition industry looks to be breezing through what had threatened to be the most turbulent period since the Eighties. The centenarian cinema business was not meant to skip merrily through the crash, and possibly only James Cameron was sure that 3D really would add such a profitable extra dimension to the mix. The Cinema Exhibitors’ Association (CEA), however, has seen this cheery script too many times to wholeheartedly buy it. The trade body, which represents around 90 per cent of cinema operators, knows that box-office numbers tend to be reported, like football results, in terms of triumph and disaster, shorn of historical context. Nonetheless, chief executive Phil Clapp’s claims that the theatrical business is based on “fragile” economics needs to be justified.
What he offers is a measured and ultimately positive argument; at the heart of it is the sense that D-cinema offers the potential for something of a renaissance. Exhibitors should be able to exert an unprecedented degree of influence over their business, programming a wider variety of content at the flick of the switch and being more responsive to consumer demand.