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Lord (David) Puttnam, President of Film Distributors’ Association (FDA), has declared that respect for copyright still needs to be argued for, and that in a well-run world, the copyright system would be cherished, not merely respected or tolerated.
Puttnam’s remarks came as he delivered a keynote speech to a large audience from across the UK film industry in central London.
The event, also attended by Creative Industries Minister, Ed Vaizey MP, coincided with the publication of the FDA Yearbook 2014 covering the previous year’s cinemagoing in the UK.
Puttnam’s over-arching theme was digital media convergence and the crucial questions it raises for the ever increasing forms of film viewing.
Lord Puttnam traced his remarks back to the launch, 30 years ago, of the Apple Mac computer, which first made data processing power widely available; and the arrival, just 10 years ago, of Facebook, which now has over a billion users worldwide.
According to Puttnam, the resulting ‘democratisation of opinion’ continues to affect social attitudes and has heightened expectations of individual choice.
While connected audiences now demand flexible access to the content of their choice, the appetite for great films – linear storytelling narratives of every kind – remains very strong: “The British public’s relationship with the movies is an enduring love affair,” Lord Puttnam observed. “But in today’s non-stop digital world, change happens fast – rather faster than many people seem prepared to acknowledge.”
Although UK cinema admissions have stayed broadly level over the past decade (165 million cinema visits in 2013; 167 million in 2003), the ways in which people access films at home and ‘on the go’ are changing dramatically, with most viewing on ever larger and better quality screens at home.
Lord Puttnam noted that TV continues to harness theatrical assets… creatively as well as technologically and that TV screens feel like they are where the action is. He also noted the trend to an ageing population in the UK and worldwide: “We are heading into a much older world where one in six people will soon be aged 65 and over.”
He welcomed the broader range of films appealing to older cinemagoers – among an all-time high of 700 films released in UK cinemas in 2013 – but emphasised that the young teenage generation of cinemagoers must still be nurtured. He also welcomed the benefits of digital cinema – as practically every UK cinema screen has now arranged to convert from 35mm reels to state-of-the-art digital presentation – thanks largely to funding provided by film distributors.
“If the broad purpose of business is to deliver commercial and creative value, then the digital world empowers the film business to work even better,” he declared. Digital has allowed more ‘event cinema’ presentations (plays, operas, concerts) to be scheduled, accounting for nearly 2 per cent of 2013’s cinema box-office receipts.
In total in 2013, UK film distributors invested £350 million to release films in cinemas and promote them to audiences.
Puttnam remains convinced that the cinema will continue to thrive on its own merits as a uniquely immersive, shared experience, competing against other ‘going out’ attractions.
But, in today’s converged digital media environment, he said that “the rigid, one-size-fits-all framework of the exclusive theatrical release window has become out of step with the way in which consumers expect or wish to lead their lives,” and that greater flexibility over release dates on a film by film basis is sorely required.
That being the case, Puttnam hoped that the British Film Institute, the UK’s lead agency for film, would help to loosen “the stultifying grip of the rigid-window status quo”, as recommended in Lord Smith’s latest film policy review progress report, published in January 2014.
He described film as “the thread that links together all the creative industries – music, design, fashion, advertising and publishing”.
Thinking across the media sector, he said it was “troubling that, in 2014, respect for copyright still needs to be argued for. In a well-run world, our copyright system would be cherished, not merely respected or tolerated. The very act of safeguarding copyright, and ensuring continued expansive choice for audiences, is one that also supports free expression.”