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ZURICH 2020 ZFF Industry

The Zurich Summit asks: can local content save the theatrical business?

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- During the event, a group of European distributors and film experts discussed the threats that could potentially kill off cinemas, including the pandemic and the streaming services

The Zurich Summit asks: can local content save the theatrical business?
The participants in the discussion at the Zurich Summit

The crucial topic of how the theatrical business can survive, not only in the current pandemic period but also after that, has been addressed at the Zurich Summit. During the discussion moderated by Roeg Sutherland, co-head of CAA Media Finance, a group of distribution experts from across Europe presented their own findings.

Kim Magnusson, head of creative at Scandinavian Film Distribution, underlined that distribution is still king, and as the Nordic market is mainly dominated by Nordisk and SF Studios, local films manage to find their way to viewers. Thanks to plentiful public funds that support distribution, private investors also put their money there. Interestingly, local films saw a 40% increase in admissions over this summer, despite the limited capacity of the cinemas. Danny Perkins, chief executive of Elysian, focused on the UK market, where non-studio titles such as Parasite and 1917 [+see also:
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had box-office takings of £40 million, while the romance After We Collided managed to attract more than 2 million viewers with minimal marketing, proving that the teenage audience is still attending the cinemas.

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On the other hand, in Germany this year, the numbers have fallen from the regular 130 million admissions to around 50 million, as Torsten Koch, managing director at Constantin Film Verleih, mentioned. He added that they are still producing new content, but half of it is aimed at the TV audience, which will help the companies make up for the theatrical losses. He also added that there are also simply too many films being released in Germany, and inevitably, some of them don’t entice the audience into the cinemas.

The French market has its own peculiarities, as Stéphane Célérier, of Mars Films, explained. The situation for local films was incredibly positive, as there was a 40% increase in admissions over the summer, but the entire overall market suffered losses of over 60%, as the dearth of Hollywood films made it plummet. Also, VoD services are unable to gain a foothold in the market, owing to the strict regulations that stipulate a 36-month window before a film can go on a platform; however, in the future, even France will have to adapt to the wider world. Christoph Daniel, producer and managing director at DCM, mentioned that the last decade has been encouraging for arthouse cinema in Switzerland, but since there are hardly any big films, the business has been weakened since June.

Sutherland suggested that the less distributors depend on US films the better, as they can avoid the tight windowing that, in the case of AMC Theatres and Universal, has fallen to just 17 days, as well as the threat of streamers that are lacking content. Perkins agreed that the theatrical window is crucial and that local languages can possibly protect many films from going straight to the streamers. He also argued that it is ridiculous to suggest that cinemas won’t survive, as similar crises have hit before – when TV and home video threatened them, for example. Karl Spoerri, CEO and co-founder of SPG3 Entertainment, agreed that it is impossible to invest when faced with a window of 17 days, and suggested that local content and the relationship with talents will greatly aid the future of cinema. After all, all of the classic films have survived until now because of their theatrical releases and by creating memories – and this is irreplaceable.

Spoerri also suggested that cinemas should become more personalised experiences, as distributors are brand builders and the audience needs to go to an event, not just for the film. Daniel agreed that new locations could attract viewers, and smaller screens could represent good-value entertainment in Perkins’ eyes. Magnusson mentioned that independent cinemas are being renovated in order to survive, because otherwise they will simply fall apart. However, at the same time, he hopes that streamers will not be in control of local productions, even though they would still need the theatrical releases as platforms for the promotion of content that they would make available later on. He also revealed that Swedish pubcaster SVT and Netflix are working on a joint venture for a new series that is set to world-premiere on the streamer and will reach TV screens one year later.

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