Films on the Big Screen According to the BFI the ‘industry investment and popular films have been responsible for the recent success of the UK exhibition sector.’ Cinemas offer a communal space, enjoyed by a wide cross-section of local residents, particularly in deprived and rural communities. Local cinemas also provide an oppurtunity for the public to play a more active role in their communities. The British Federation of Film Societies estimates that there are 550 community cinemas in the UK.
The Digital Funding Partnership has ensured that smaller operators have been able to convert to digital. At this rate of conversion it is estimated that by the end of 2012, as many as 90% of the UK screens will be digital. The Cinema Exhibitors’ Association data forecasts that by mid-2013 the entire UK commercial cinema estate will convert. This conversion has helped to drive the rapid digitisation of the independent distribution sector at a pace far greater than in many other countries.
Increasingly sophisticated technology allows cinemas to build events around screenings and gives audiences an even richer experience. Audiences are demanding access to films in different ways and exhibitors are still coming to terms with the challenges posed by the digital revolution and the associated changes to consumer habits. The cinema experience continues to be of great significances in the life of film and audiences attach a special value to the collective experience.
Audiences have moved their attention to online so the need to maintain and strengthen the big screen experience is increasing. Encouraging new business models is fundamental to the future health of the industry. Industrial logic still dictates that a successful box office run will lead to the maximisation of revenue streams in other media.
Digital exhibition in the UK has grown rapidly in the last four years. In 2010, nearly 40% of the UK’s screens were digital. Also 80% of cinema releases in the UK were in digital format. The proportion of films releases digitally was more than twice that of France.
Conclusion 24% of all respondents identified that the most important issue relating to the exhibition sector ‘is the need to increase access a wide range of British and specialised films across the whole of the UK.’ A programme to provide support to local societies in village and community halls was recommended.
Virtual Print Fee This has enabled the industry to finance digitisation across a large part of the UK’s cinema estate. The panel recognises that the VPF will have a continuing and detrimental impact on independent distributors and smaller exhibition venues. It is already having a negative impact on their capacity to make available British and specialised films to audiences across the UK. The introduction of the VPF system has increased costs for many independent British films in particular, as print bookings can attract a virtual print fee. This is often higher than the cost of producing a 35mm print.
• The release of a UK or specialised film on 50-100 prints, where over 40% of the total bookings are follow-on bookings (where the print is transferred to a new cinema) can add 25-35% to costs of providing prints, as each additional booking will attract a VPF payment.• Theatrical release costs for independent British and specialised films in the UK have always been higher than the likely theatrical income.• In a market where the willingness of broadcasters to buy rights to finished films has declined and falling income from the DVD market has not yet been replaced by significant revenues from online exploitation, increased theatrical costs will inevitably reduce the number of British and specialised films on which distributors are willing to take the required risks.• This could leave exhibitors will a narrower choice of films to offer audiences. One independent distributor noted that ‘we now have to keep 50% of our prints in London, depriving regional audiences of an opportunity to see the film and ourselves of much needed revenue.
The Five Most ImportantRecommendations. 1. The Panel recommends the BFI and other key public organisations engaged with film across the UK explicitly recognise that a key goal of public policy for film should be to connect the widest possible range of audiences throughout the UK with the broadest and richest range of British films and films from around the world. This will help to increase the overall demand for and engagement with film in the UK and benefit both audiences and every part of the UK film sector. 11. The Panel recommends that Government continues to facilitate the partnership work of content creators, ISPs and others to tackle websites which permit or promote copyright infringement. 17. The Panel recommends that BFI funding for film should be broadly balanced between filmmaking and distribution activities (development, production, P&A) and activities related to film culture (audience development, film education and training, film export, lifelong learning, archive and heritage, activity in the Nations and Regions, economic cultural and policy research); and further recommends that within the two broad categories as much flexibility should be available to the BFI as possible to respond to the needs of audiences, the film industry, and film culture. 23. In order to encourage producers and distributors to work together from the initial stages of financing of a film, the Panel recommends the BFI creates Joint Venture Lottery funding to be accessed by partnerships between producers and distributors. 36. The Panel recommends that Government continue to support and prioritise a successful inward investment strategy through an effectively funded British Film Commission, and recognises the importance of such a strategy in bringing structural benefits to the independent UK industry.