Renowned film-maker Lord Puttnam has called for a European digital single market that retains scope for territorial licensing to boost cultural diversity and consumer choice and warned against an inflexible approach to release windows. Puttnam, President of Film Distributors’ Association (FDA), made his comments during a keynote address at an FDA event for the UK film industry in London.
Puttnam discussed the implications for the film industry of a digital single market, the implementation of which is a priority for the European Commission. Having pointed out that there may be more common ground and shared interest between the Commission and the film industry than has sometimes been portrayed, Puttnam suggested that the entire spectrum of cinema that lies between the Hollywood blockbuster and the subsidised local title relies on territorial licensing.
“Film production and distribution are two sides of the same business model, which has an established track record of delivering choice and cultural diversity to audiences across Europe and the wider world. Surely a healthy, vibrant single market can continue to accommodate a plurality of release patterns? This is not discrimination; it’s just common sense. Surely cultural diversity for Europe’s citizens must rate for serious consideration alongside the theoretical ideal of simultaneous accessibility,” he argued.
According to Puttnam, there is nothing in copyright law to prevent the simultaneous pan-European, or global, release of films and he welcomed the fact that the film industry is already reinventing itself for the 21st century. He suggested that UK independent film distributors consider exploring further strategic alliances with fellow independents in other European markets so that some films might be brought to European audiences in more ‘networked’ ways.
With the UK now one of the world’s biggest e-commerce markets, Puttnam also encouraged rights-holders to refine their databases and develop their own direct-to-consumer sales and marketing platforms, as well as urging more cinema operators to consider taking positions in the downstream revenue of films after their initial theatrical release.
“To any politician or consumer who harbours the belief that film distributors are holding stuff back, and not making films available to the timescales they’d wish, let me clarify the situation. Film distributors’ crucial ‘ask’ is flexibility, not necessarily a shorter window per se. And importantly there’s no evidence to suggest that any such flexibility cannibalises the interest of theatrical audiences. So I’d urge those politicians or consumers to question not the distributors, but cinema operators as to why their inflexible approach to windows persists. The current impasse feels like a ‘lose – lose’ situation, one in which a lack of imagination is stunting innovation and revenues,” he concluded.