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The Need For Flexibility As The Digital Era Has Become
Embedded Into Society At All Levels Across The Global
Footprint Of Interconnectivity & Communication

Lord Puttnam
Lord Puttnam of Queensgate CBE, President of Film Distributors' Association (FDA), delivering the 2016 keynote address for the FDA, called for more flexibility in the film business as the industry confronts a series of momentous, even existential, challenges. Puttnam remarked on the polarisation of the cinema marketplace, and that despite more than 800 titles receiving a UK cinema release in 2015, the top five generated more than a quarter (26.1%) of the year's box-office receipts; and the top ten nearly 40% (38.8%). The film business model as a whole, spanning an ever-increasing array of digital platforms, remains in a state of flux. Extracted below are parts of his overall speech that gives thought to its impact and for the industry.

On The Changing Audience Demographics And Attitudes

Lord Puttnam said: "The millennial generation - people born between 1980 and 2000, one of the largest generations in history - are about to move into roles that carry serious responsibility. The first fully digital generation, they've come of age during a period of globalisation, economic upheaval and incredibly rapid changes in technology. "Enjoying experiences is as important to the millennials as acquiring products, if not more so. Long-form, cinematic television has changed perceptions of the sort of stories that can work brilliantly for viewers who appreciate the validation of their own super-size plasma screens. The original 12 or more-part drama commissions emanating from the likes of Amazon, Netflix and soon Vimeo, are unquestionably feature quality.

"As the millennial and subsequent generations age, they're most likely to migrate towards cloud-based or internet-delivered content services. The cinema's larger-than-life brand of escapism can continue to thrive provided that cinema-going retains a public appreciation that its monetary and emotional values compare favourably with those of any number of competing attractions in and out of the home. But cinemas that focus 95% of their screen time solely on blockbusters, effectively opting out of more specialised films, should be careful what they wish for."

Regarding The 'Rigid' Windows Of Theatrical Exclusivity

Lord Puttnam said: "The enforced rigidity of 17-week windows of theatrical exclusivity, preventing legitimate consumer access at a time when cinemas tend only to play films for less than half of that period, is utterly counter-productive and unjustified. The sorely needed 'ask' from distributors is flexibility - one size does not, and cannot, fit all. Name any other product or service which, whilst being commercially successful and knowing itself to have a limited life-span, wilfully removes itself from the marketplace! There's not a shred of evidence from countries such as the US or Australia, where a little more flexibility applies on a film by film basis, that the theatrical box-office is harmed in any way whatsoever. As DVD sales continue to decline, albeit from a healthy base, it's absolutely vital that digital platforms are allowed to develop freely."

Commenting On The European Digital Single Market

Lord Puttnam said: "The Digital Single Market (DSM) already exists and it's a fine thing. There's nothing in copyright law, or any other law, to restrict simultaneous pan-European distribution of content online or in any other form - nor should there be. Any changes to the EU copyright regime must be soundly evidence-based, with plurality and cultural diversity at the heart of that planning.

"This is an industry that's already deeply engaged in the digital environment - the idea that the film industry is opposed to the DSM is nonsense. But once again, the key is flexibility. The industry must continue to work closely with the European Commission to forge a DSM that works for all Europe's citizens, including the 7 million whose jobs depend, directly or indirectly, on the creative industries. Europe has 743 million citizens and rising - more than double the population of the US. The notion of a single European audience, seeking the same content at the same time, is also a nonsense.

"The DSM has many implications. Portability of services is one that we can and should support - subject to strong safeguards being in place to ensure that it does not become a de facto form of cross-border access. 'Portability' means providing consumers with the same legitimately acquired online access to films and TV when they travel in Europe as they'd enjoy if they were still at home.

"The UK government and all industry parties are in lock-step in their belief that cross-border portability is wholly distinct from unfettered cross-border access to unlicensed content, something which fatally undermines the film industry's business model that depends on territorial licensing."

On The Costs of Digital Transition In UK Cinemas

Lord Puttnam said: "The whole point of digitisation is that it brings increased scope for differentiation, diversity and flexibility. The rise of 'event cinema' presentations is one rather wonderful example. But there's been no such digital dividend for film distributors who've been left picking up the tab for cinema exhibitors' digital projection systems.

This story also appears in The Interactive Cannes Bumper Online Magazine 2016

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