U.K. Film Distribution Lobby Sees Challenges From Rise of Digital Technology in Homes

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President David Puttnam, whose producing credits include "The Killing Fields," says cinema operators must focus on the customer experience.

LONDON -- U.K. Film Distributors' Association (FDA) president David Puttnam urged the cinema industry to keep the customer experience top of its agenda for 2013.

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, said distributors and exhibitors will have to adjust amid digital technology changes offering consumers increasingly advanced experiences in the home.

In 2012, while the public’s appetite for out-of-home, shared cultural experiences has remained high, Puttnam noted the quality of "digital cinema" entertainment in homes has continued to improve in leaps and bounds.

More than one-third of the digital televisions bought in the U.K. this year have "super-size" (33 inch or larger) screens, and a majority of households now have at least three internet-enabled devices.

"Distributors are paying for most of the cost of digital cinema installations around the U.K., which will be practically completed by Easter 2013 although not fully paid down for several years beyond that," said Puttnam.

“It is a supreme irony that at the very moment the dawn of the all-digital age raises so many exciting possibilities for cinemas to transform themselves as modern entertainment centers, a great deal of informed media comment this year has pointed to an overall deterioration in the service and levels of technical quality offered to paying cinemagoers."

His comments came at an industry gathering in central London to present the 21st annual donation from U.K. film distributors to the National Film & Television School (NFTS) since the FDA and NFTS first inked a partnership in 1992.

The on-going sponsorship was initiated during the 10-year period when

Puttnam was himself chair of the NFTS board.

“Sad to say, the NFTS graduates now hired to work on independent British films will discover, no doubt to their astonishment and dismay, that these are the very releases that appear to be suffering most under the present digital transition regime," Puttnam said.

"The industry is quite rightly collaborating in attempts to tweak the digital funding formula by introducing a small, tightly defined degree of flexibility. I can only hope this sorely needed initiative reaches a successful conclusion early in the New Year. It’s a tough commercial environment out there, it’s highly competitive. We have to take care that it doesn’t become destructively competitive."

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