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European Film Distributors' Forum

Held on 14-15 April 2005 at the Imagination Gallery, South Crescent, 25 Store Street, London WC1 and presented by Film Distributors' Association and FIAD.

The event was kindly sponsored by BDO Stoy Hayward, Deluxe, DTS and the UK Film Council. It was attended by 69 delegates from 17 European countries.


At 9.30am, Frank Pierce, FDA President and Chairman, welcomed delegates to the inaugural European distributors' forum, the first of 16 platform speakers during the day.

Frank introduced Brian Leonard, Director of Industry at the UK's Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), who congratulated FDA on the occasion of its 90 th anniversary, dating back to 1915, and expressed the government's acknowledgement of, and support for, the distribution sector as the 'motive force' driving cinemagoing.

The opening presentation was by Ian Waymark of research company, TNS. Ian outlined the results of a two-year audience tracking project, showing the wider economic impact of theatrical film distribution. Benefits accrued to home entertainment distributors/retailers, with 20% of DVD purchasers having already paid to see the same film at the cinema, as well as the extra spending on food, drink and other leisure pursuits generated while a cinema visit was the primary reason for going out.

For more on this research, click here

Session 1: Audience development

The first main session took the topic of audience development. First up was Peter Buckingham, Head of Distribution & Exhibition at the UK Film Council. Peter presented the findings of some recent, detailed research into UK audience segmentation and the appeal of various film genres to consumers of mainstream and more specialised fare. The research findings will be published in due course on the website, www.ukfilmcouncil.org.uk

Ian Wall , Director of Film Education, gave an overview of his organisation, a UK registered charity established in 1985.

Film Education is the unique link between education and the film industry, and vice-versa. As the industry searches for additional admissions, schools offer a gateway to the youth market - the core audience of today and tomorrow.

Accordingly, Film Education devises study materials such as interactive CD-ROMs, DVD-ROMs and printed guides, teacher training programmes and events to secure a place for film and media content within the school curriculum. The principal event is the annual National Schools Film Week, comprising screenings and talks across the UK. During NSFW in October 2004, 129,500 children attended 900 screenings of 110 films at 200 locations. 32% of the programme was 'specialised' films. NSFW celebrates its 10 th year in 2005.

Teachers, rather than students, are Film Education's key target audience. The Film Education database includes 16,000 email addresses for its regular newsletters and updates. Teachers receiving Film Education materials may be categorised as 'hoarders', 'sharers' or 'evangelists'. A clear majority (54%) use all the materials they receive either immediately or within the same term:

When do teachers use Film Education study resources?

  • Immediately: 18%
  • With the term: 54%
  • In the future: 45%
  • Never: 1%

40% of UK schools make 1-3 trips to the cinema each year. The aim is to encourage students to sample, consider and - hopefully - enjoy a mix of films from around the world, complementing the holiday releases they may choose to see anyway.

In addition to the material circulated by post, there are now 102,000 downloads per month of items - digital study guides - from the Film Education website, www.filmeducation.org

Mark Foster , Client Services Director of Interactive Prospect Targeting (IPT) Ltd, gave a presentation on internet and email marketing strategies for film distributors.

UK expenditure on online advertising overtook that on radio advertising for the first time in 2004. At more than £600m a year, online ad spend has trebled since 2002. The UK presently has 6m broadband connections, but they are increasing very rapidly, thanks in part to heavy promotion by competing service providers.

When individual film titles are typed into search engines, there are opportunities to buy links to the pages, connecting surfers to the official film sites, with further links to buy cinema tickets.

There are also opportunities to build email databases of filmgoers:

Email marketing is on the move: Potentially a mass reach Targeting by age, gender, film interest, location Very precise timings 1-to-1 communication about latest releases prior to opening date Instant measurability of response More information at www.ipt-ltd.co.uk

David Pope of DTS gave a presentation showcasing DTS products for the cinema industry, and he highlighted the increased availability in recent years of subtitles and audio description, enabling far more sensory impaired cinemagoers to sample the latest releases.

Visit www.yourlocalcinema.com

Session 2 - Rights protection

Jim Angell , Operations Director at the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), and Dara MacGreevy, Brussels-based Vice-President of the Motion Picture Association (MPA), gave updates on seizures of pirated product in the UK and European region respectively, and the ever more sophisticated smuggling and importation techniques.

Piracy rates are at an all-time high and still rising. In the UK, approximately 3m counterfeit DVDs were seized in 2004, making the UK the world's black market film capital outside the US. More at www.mpaa.org, www.fact-uk.org.uk and www.piracyisacrime.com.

Tim Kuik , Managing Director of Dutch anti-piracy organisation, BREIN, focused on growing internet piracy and actions needed to stem the rise:

  • Prevention : Putting in place security measures to protect film prints at every stage of the pre-release and release cycle
  • Deterrents : Lobbying at local and EU levels for tougher legislation for copyright theft - given the known links with serious, organised crime
  • Investigation : Local action to investigate and prosecute serious offenders, in co-operation with the police, trading standards officials and Customs & Excise
  • Communication : Publicity materials to educate parents and children about copyright and the dangers of buying/using illicit copies. It was acknowledged that it will be extremely difficult to shift public attitudes when consumers do not equate 'sharing' with 'stealing'
  • Business models : Developing and offering legitimate alternatives to online pirate copies, so consumers can pay to download film files of their choice

More on BREIN's activities at www.anti-piracy.nl

In open discussion, it was pointed out that ISPs should be urged to take greater responsibility for the content they are hosting (that it should conform to the law). Piracy is regarded as a benign, all-encompassing term for a variety of activities - some of it undertaken at home, college and work by naïve individuals; but some of it connected to international narcotics, pornography, firearms and human trafficking. It was felt that the well organised latter category should be the priority for international action.

European Distributors' Forum 2005

Session 3: Support for distributors

This session addressed two areas of much-needed support for theatrical film distributors:

  • aid from government bodies
  • collaboration with broadcasters

Hughes Becquart , Head of Distribution at the MEDIA Programme, advised delegates that details of the next MEDIA Programme, succeeding MEDIA Plus, should be confirmed by the end of 2006, to take effect in 2007. Discussion concerning financial parameters was continuing. Support currently embraces theatrical distribution, international sales, exhibition, financing and digital developments.

More at www.europa.eu.int/comm/avpolicy/media/index_en.html

UK MEDIA Desk website: www.mediadesk.co.uk

Antoine Virenque , General Secretary of both FIAD and FNDF, noted that in July 2004, the EU had announced a provisional budget for 'MEDIA 2007+' of Euros 1.05 billion.

He argued that improvements must be made:

The market-linked Automatic Support scheme rewards success, but some distributors fall below its threshold It is increasingly difficult to get support from the Selective scheme (which seeks to accelerate the circulation of 'specialised' films) now that the EU has expanded from 15 to 25 member states FIAD has proposed a simple new support scheme for 'quality' films - one distributor, one film, where the film has been selected for a European festival ( Berlin, Cannes, Venice). Support could be market-linked to the extent that the films go on to play in Europa Cinemas' screens. This proposal would deliver better access to the European markets for films from emerging talents and from new member countries.

FIAD also requests additional help from the MEDIA Desks in the preparation of applications.

Antoine concluded his presentation by reminding delegates that, if you ask any guy in the street what he knows about European countries, he will reply: football players, food, wine, chocolates, skiing. FIAD wishes passionately to see films added to this list!

Then, Steve Jenkins, Head of Films at BBC TV acquisitions, the UK's leading public service broadcaster, spoke about the importance of film in television schedules.

Across its four channels, BBC One, Two, Three and Four, the BBC spends approximately £45m a year on acquiring films. In 2004, 1,408 films were screened on the BBC. Films retain an important place in the schedules: viewers want and expect to see them, and they bring international stars and high production values to the channels - higher production values than any broadcaster could afford to invest in a two-hour film. A theatrical release is normally a pre-requisite for acquisition, as this bestows a greater stature on, and general awareness of, the title. With their high repeat potential, films deliver good value for money too.

The BBC is under pressure to spend more of its acquisitions budget on UK productions and less on those from the US/Hollywood. The BBC feels, however, that some distributors are not as aware of TV scheduling principles, audience expectations and market realities as it would like.

In addition to its other television, radio and online programming about films, the BBC now runs an annual World Cinema Award event on its digital channel, BBC Four.

Visit www.bbc.co.uk/film

Session 4: Digital cinema

Steve Perrin , Deputy Head of Distribution & Exhibition at the UK Film Council, presented a case study in the strategic use of digital cinema technology.

He identified some current issues in D-Cinema:

  • Technical standards and DCI compatibility
  • 2K vs 4K resolution
  • D-Cinema vs E-Cinema
  • On screen quality and appearance
  • Interoperability
  • Cost and who pays
  • Who saves and who gains
  • Security and piracy
  • Why has it taken so long.?

Steve then listed some strategic considerations for the UK's specialised film sector:

  • Specialised film accounts for only approximately 6% of total box-office
  • UK market is polarised, e.g. top 100 films produce 95% of box-office; 250 produce the remaining 5%!
  • Only approximately 7% of all UK cinema screens exhibit specialised films on a regular basis
  • Provision is geographically uneven and in general restricted to major cities
  • Audience choice in most cases is thus diminished, and opportunities for developing new audiences very remote

Why is this? Reasons include:

  • Existing limited success of specialised film
  • Limited access and audience opportunity
  • Market perception of audience appetite
  • High release/marketing costs and low returns for the theatrical distributor
  • Some inflexibility in business models, e.g. programming and dating
  • All the above exist within the 35mm paradigm

How, then, can digital cinema help?

  • Potentially lowers the barriers to entry via lower 'print' costs. More cinemas can thus be supplied within the same economic framework
  • Increases the opportunities for more cinemas to book when films are at their 'hottest' - giving audiences significantly greater access
  • Lower 'per copy' costs can encourage innovation via more flexible booking and dating models (more responsive to audience needs and demand)
  • The print does not have to be returned or moved to another cinema, and there is no print quality deterioration
  • The UK Film Council's strategy has been to select the best and most appropriate (2K) technology. Public funds will be deployed to equip 250 screens in 150 cinemas with digital technology. There will be geographical equality and a diverse cinema typology. Each benefiting cinema will commit to a certain percentage of playing time for specialised films (greater than that committed in the base year of 2003). A 'pipeline' will be put in place for distributors to get their digitised content (discs) securely to cinemas.

Steve declared that the first phase of 50 installations was now due in August - December 2005, with the balance of the network installed by December 2006.

In concluding, he emphasised that the strategy is driven by audiences, not by technology per se. Digital is the means, not the end - the objectives lie in audience/market stimulation.

More information about the UK's digital screen network and audience development strategies may be found at film.britishcouncil.org/resources/funding

Mick Southworth , an experienced film distributor, now a Director of Content Film, presented a series of observations:

  • Today the market place is more crowded and more difficult for distributors than ever - too many films are released
  • Distributors are rightly ambitious and passionate for each film they are handling - but there is no merit in over-releasing. Specialised cinema is still a niche - albeit one large enough to sustain several distributors of niche product
  • A wider release on additional prints without commensurate marketing and advertising support will surely be counter-productive. Hence, greater P&A support should accompany any state-subsidised installation of digital hardware

Mick wondered, notwithstanding audience development strategies, to what extent more people making up the UK multiplex audience for mainstream fare could be persuaded to 'cross over' and sample more specialised films. There are several examples of foreign language films achieving multi-million pound box-office grosses in recent years.

John Graham , General Secretary of the European Digital Cinema Forum (EDCF), began his presentation with a statement of EDCF's objectives:

  • To enable the creation of a framework for the introduction of D-Cinema in all its forms
  • To represent the three constituencies - cinema industry associations, institutions and industrial companies
  • To serve as a single European voice in digital cinema matters
  • EDCF has an elected steering board and a secretariat. It functions through specialist modules: the Technical module is currently writing EDCF's early adopters' guide to digital cinema.

Today there are fewer than 50 DLP TM digital cinema projectors operating in Europe, and fewer than 500 worldwide. However, now that the potential barriers of technical standards and financial plans are increasingly being surmounted, the evolutionary process is gathering momentum. Major initiatives have already been announced in the UK, Ireland, Norway and elsewhere.

Visit the EDCF website, www.edcf.net or www.digitalcinema-europe.com

Further remarks

Antoine Virenque presented a special plaque to Frank Pierce. Signed by senior representatives of the French film industry, it honoured Frank's long (30 years+) and distinguished career in international distribution.

At 5.00pm, Frank Pierce thanked all the delegates, speakers and sponsors, and closed the forum.

Antoine Virenque presents a special plaque to Frank Pierce