U.K. Film Distributors' Association Head Calls for More Flexible Theatrical Windows

David Puttnam - H 2012
Getty Images

David Puttnam, whose group represents the U.K. distribution arms of Hollywood studios, says changes are necessary to keep the sector healthy.

LONDON -- Film Distributors' Association (FDA) president David Puttnam issued a clarion call for "more flexibility over periods of theatrical exclusivity" to keep the distribution sector on a healthy path.

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

Before any of his constituent members could panic -- all the Hollywood studios overseas releasing arms are FDA badge holders -- Puttnam clarified his stance.

"I do not mean a wholesale blanket collapse -- nobody's suggesting that," Puttnam said at the FDA's annual keynote address in central London.

"The theatrical launch pad continues to serve the industry and its audiences extremely well. But nor do I mean the occasional marginal experiment."

STORY: David Puttnam Outlines Priorities for Developing U.K. Film Audiences

Puttnam noted that the time has come to "allow sufficient modern-day flexibility for rights-holders to fashion the most appropriate individual release strategies" because in the modern age of multi-platform consumption of movies, "no single uniform plan can possibly suit every film."

He argued that U.K. release strategies should consider options other than giving cinemas the typical three months to be the only place you see a film.

Puttnam noted that evidence from the U.S. points to the fact that there is no evidence that flexible windows cause any discernible fall in cinema-going.

STORY: David Puttnam Says Links to Illegal Download Sites Should Be Deleted

"In fact such evidence as does exist indicates the reverse to be true: Audiences in the U.S., where a little more flexibility prevails, remain the world's biggest spenders on film, at around $80 per head," Puttnam noted. "And in 2012, U.S. exhibitors collected their own record high box office of $10.8 billion in ticket sales alone."

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 in many cases the public "may not even notice a particular window -- why should they?"

Putttnam said with the explosion of digital media delivery and the resulting changes for other entertainment, such as music and television, should give movie distributors and the home entertainment sector pause for thought.

With the BBC starting to premiere its output on the iPlayer, the corporation's internet VOD service, before its shown on its flagship channels, and Netflix landing in the U.K. breaking the "long-standing paradigm" by making all 13 episodes of House of Cards available to subscribers at the same time, content provision and consumption is changing the landscape.

Earlier in his keynote, Puttnam noted that 2012 set "towering all-time records in the U.K., both for the top-grossing film, Skyfall, and for overall box office receipts, which exceeded £1.1 billion ($1.7 billion)."

But while that was a cause for celebration, Puttnam also said it hid an uglier truth: at British movie theaters admissions have flat-lined over the last decade at around 170 million.

Said Puttnam: "Self-evidently, the sustainability of cinema must be based on the ways in which the movies seek out and locate their audiences."

Distribution by the FDA's 27 company-strong membership -- which includes all the studio's overseas releasing arms -- accounts for 97 percent of cinema-going here.