Netflix, Amazon dominate discussions on film distribution in the UK
by Naman Ramachandran
- British and European players debate changing nature of the distribution industry
Dominant online American players Netflix and Amazon dominated virtually every panel discussion during the ‘UK Film Distribution – What’s Changing?’ conference on Monday at the historic Regent Street Cinema in London. The conference was organised by Roderik Smits and Huw Jones for MeCETES (Mediating Cultural Encounters Through European Screens), with the support of Creative Europe UK Desk, the University of York and the University of Westminster. Agnieszka Moody of Creative Europe UK Desk inaugurated the proceedings, stressing that she is very much based in London and not Brussels. As a theme, Brussels would also surface later in the day.
The first panel ‘The changing nature of film distribution’ discussed the Virtual Print Fee (VPF), which many independent productions cannot afford. Lawrence Gornall, managing director of distribution, sales and production company The Works suggested that the VPF be abolished for films releasing below 90 prints. The panel discussed the current UK 16-week window between theatrical release and pay per view, video on demand, home video formats and television, and how this is getting increasingly blurred with the advent of major digital players like Netflix and Amazon. “Cinemas are the last bastions of Luddite thinking,” said Angus Finney of Film London. Gornall pointed out that the US window is only 12 weeks and that creates a four-week piracy window in the UK, thus affecting home video formats.
Delivering the keynote address, Geoffrey Macnab, author of Delivering Dreams: A Century of British Film Distribution, reflected that the truism of ‘theatrical is the engine that drives ancillary sales’ does not apply any more, before going on to discuss Netflix and Amazon, terming them disruptors. He also said that the presence of stars does not guarantee theatrical box office in the UK, providing the examples of Misconduct, starring Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino that was released on digital formats along with theatrical and took in a scant £97; and Momentum, starring Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko, that collected just £46.
Elsewhere, startling numbers from online statistics portal Statista showed that the UK Video on Demand market is set to cross $2 billion by 2020. On a panel discussing online film distribution, Muriel Joly of content aggregator Under The Milky Way explained how this relatively new facet of the distribution business works. The conversation turned again to Netflix and Edward Humphrey, digital director of the British Film Institute said, “I'm surprised by how limitless their resources seem to be. They seem to have a grand plan. They either land as one of the largest entertainment providers in the world or they fail. There is very little room for failure.” Bertrand Moullier of IFTA Europe expressed concern about the proposed Digital Single Market, saying, “Brussels bureaucracy has no idea of the complexities of the value chain.” Netflix also dominated the panel discussing the convergence between film and television.