David Puttnam Predicts Hollywood Studios Will be Forced to Rethink Distribution Pricing Models

U.K. Film Distributors' Association president says rethink is needed in the digital distribution age.

LONDON -- U.K. Film Distributors' Association (FDA) president David Puttnam predicts the Hollywood studios will be forced to rethink distribution pricing models in the digital distribution age.

Puttnam, a former Columbia Pictures chief and movie producer with Chariots of Fire and The Killing Fields on his resume who sits in the House of Lords as a voting lawmaker, told The Hollywood Reporter he expects changes to be shaped by growing competition for consumer reach and the ever-increasing pressure from regulatory bodies.

He said that as the storage of movies moves away from the age-old master print kept in a vault somewhere in the desert outside L.A. to a virtual information cloud from which consumers and exhibitors alike will be able to pay to download any studio output on their wish list, the sophisticated Hollywood distribution machine will have to work out a whole new way of pricing.

Puttnam said competition between the studio-backed distribution machines will ensure the evolution but he also warned that regulators will certainly be involved.

The former producer said any cost-savings made by distributors through such digital distribution methods -- be it to a theater in London's west end, an ipad or a cell phone -- will be targeted by regulators looking to ensure the filmmakers and most likely consumers benefit also.

He also told a gathered audience of movie industry reps he wants the distribution of movie releases to be placed at the heart of planning for a new U.K. film policy.

He said his attitude partly came from a personal place. Puttnam is receiving royalty checks and balances from his movies distributed by the majors but is still wondering where the cash might come from with the smaller movies he made with patchwork financing. "I felt it acutely in terms of in my own pocket. As a copyright holder I need to be sure there is somewhere out there working hard on my behalf to protect my interests," Puttnam said.

Puttnam remains convinced that however the release of movies is remodeled across myriad platforms, the cinema launch pad remains distinct and special, for audiences and filmmakers alike.

“The cinema is where directors and actors aspire to have their work seen; in fact it’s where they make it to be seen, and there’s no sign of that changing one bit,” Puttnam said.

Figures published Thursday by the FDA bear that out.

Talking at the launch of the FDA yearbook of facts and figures, Puttnam noted distributors spent £300 million ($486 million) to launch 573 feature films in 2010, a record number in a single year.

The yearbook highlights some juicy stats for industry bean counters including that more than a fifth of U.K. box office receipts -- which topped £1 billion ($1.6 billion) last year -- went to 3D formatted films.

The format accounted for £237.9 million ($385 million) in 2010 from 28 releases. Considering there were just 13 3D movie releases the previous year, that tally will almost certainly rise again this year, with a further uptick in the number of films already scheduled to unspool in that format.

Distribution by the FDA's 22 company strong membership -- which includes all the studio's overseas releasing arms -- account for 97 percent of cinemagoing here.