Cinema-versus-streaming debate sees UK exhibitors at loggerheads
by Kaleem Aftab
- Curzon CEO Philip Knatchbull calls for an end to the theatrical window after Vue CEO Tim Richards lambasts BAFTA for awarding Best Picture to “ineligible” Roma
Curzon CEO Philip Knatchbull has called for the end of the theatrical window, as he responded to Vue CEO Tim Richards’ letter lambasting BAFTA for awarding Roma Best Film and several other prizes at this year’s awards.
Knatchbull argued, “The theatrical window may well serve ‘tent-pole’ studio films, but many smaller independent and foreign-language films need a bespoke approach. Roma and Cold War [+see also:
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film profile] have played successfully at Curzon and a number of other independent venues whilst also being available on Netflix and Curzon Home Cinema, respectively. There is room for more flexibility.”
He then said that it is cinemas, and not streaming services, that need to change. “[We] call on the entire exhibition sector to put customer choice at the forefront and end the strict limitations of the current 16-week theatrical window.”
The Curzon CEO felt the need to clarify the company’s position in the current cinema-versus-streaming debate after the firm was named in a letter sent by Vue CEO Tim Richards, threatening to pull sponsorship and support for BAFTA “unless the Academy board reconsiders its eligibility criteria”.
Richards complained that the small theatrical release of Roma, exclusively at Curzon cinemas, was not sufficient to meet the eligibility criteria for the awards. In his letter to BAFTA CEO Amanda Berry, Richards describes theatrical windows as “core differentiators that make cinema unique”.
He argued that Netflix had circumnavigated the rules with its UK release strategy: “It is clear that Netflix made, at best, a token effort to screen Roma, showing it to less than 1% of the UK market solely because it wanted an award. How could BAFTA let this happen?”
In a statement to Screen International, BAFTA responded, “The film committee is satisfied that every film in contention for this year’s Film Awards met the criteria for entry, which include a meaningful UK theatrical release.”
This follows on from the decision last year by Netflix not to play films at the Cannes Film Festival after the gathering’s artistic director, Thierry Frémaux, stated that all movies competing for the Palme d’Or would have to have a cinema release in France. This followed the outcry over Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) playing at the festival’s 70th edition. Given France’s strict window system, this would have meant that Netflix would not have been able to show their films on their own services for three years. Therefore, Netflix responded by pulling a rumoured five films from the festival.
The battle might be over Roma today, but the future promises to be even trickier for exhibitors, with many major studios announcing direct-to-consumer internet services. The worry for exhibitors such as Vue and Gaumont in France is what will happen if Disney decides to show their latest Marvel blockbuster day-and-date at home?
Back in 2013, US blockbuster filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas cautioned people about a Hollywood “implosion”, where only blockbuster movies at hiked prices would show at the cinema. This came after Spielberg admitted that his film Lincoln almost premiered on the US pay-TV network HBO. Spielberg warned, “I think that, eventually, the Lincolns will go away, and they’re going to be on television.”
At that time, little could anyone have imagined that “eventually” would mean five years, as Roma, the BAFTA Best Picture winner and current favourite for the American Academy Award, turned out to be a film that played on TV.
Both Alfonso Cuarón and the Coen brothers, who are nominated for an Oscar for their latest, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, said that it was only the SVoD platform’s willingness to show their films that enabled them to be financially viable.
It truly seems that we have arrived at a point where there is one market for “tent-pole” films and another for “independent and non-English language films”, and that the old model is broken, when exhibitors are seriously trying to argue that Roma, the BAFTA Best Picture winner – and likely multiple Oscar winner – is not cinema.
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