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Report Highlights Benefits of Day-and-date Releases

European cinema-owners are resistant to day-and-date releasing. Yet a new report suggests simultaneous VOD distribution may make certain films more accessible to the public. Huw Jones reports.

Ken Loach films are often a big draw for European cinemagoers. But when the veteran British director released his latest documentary, The Spirit of ’45, in September 2013, audiences in Italy and Spain didn’t even have to leave their sofas to catch it.

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Ken Loach’s documentary The Spirit of ’45 was one of 9 films selected for a European Commission experiment into ‘day-and-date’ releasing.

Loach’s paean to the post-war British welfare state was one of nine European titles selected for an European Commission-funded experiment into ‘day-and-date’ releasing, a distribution strategy whereby films are shown on Video-on-Demand (VOD) the same day as they are launched in cinemas. A report on the findings of the experiment, authored by Thomas Paris from Paris-based Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), is currently being digested by European policymakers.

Day-and-date releases have been around since James Erskine and Danny McCullough’s spy thriller EMR in 2005. In the US over 300 films have been simultaneously released in theatres and on VOD and DVD over the past decade.

London-based Curzon World, one of the distributors selected to take part in the day-and-date experiment, has pioneered simultaneous releases in the UK through its partnership with Sky Box Office and its own VOD platform, Curzon Home Cinema. CEO Philip Knatchbull has even suggested that with the rise of VOD the traditional release schedule – by which films are first shown in cinemas before appearing on DVD and VOD a few months later – should disappear altogether.

However, across the rest of Europe day-and-date releasing has largely been resisted. France and Germany operate strict rules governing the film release window. Cinema-owners fear early VOD releases will cannibalize their audience revenue. When the European Commission announced its experiment into day-and-date releases in 2012, the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC), the Confederation of Art Cinemas (CICAE) and the Europa Cinemas network issued a joint-statement claiming the study was  ‘unbalanced’, adding it ‘may even have the potential to harm the film and cinema industry in the medium term.’

Published at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, the European Commission’s study shows that day-and-date releases can make certain films more accessible, particularly in areas where audiences have limited or no access to specialist art house theatres. It is estimated that simultaneous VOD distribution can increase a film’s potential audience by 20% on average.

The report also challenges the claim that day-and-date releases  have a detrimental impact of cinema audiences. In Spain and Italy, for example, 50% of VOD transactions for The Spirit of ’45  came from areas where the film was not available in theatres.

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The growth of free VPN proxy services like Hola make it easier for VOD users to unblock foreign media content.

Some exhibitors dispute these findings. Nico Simon, president of Europa Cinemas, told Screen Daily that the figures for VOD transactions “are not significant to draw any conclusions and some may not be accurate”. He also expressed frustration that “the whole exhibition sector was not consulted or involved.”

Yet while the report’s statistical data needs to be approached with caution given the small sample of films involved, it makes some important points about the wider benefits of day-and-date releasing. For distributors, these include extra revenue generated by VOD, savings in print costs, and possible synergies in terms of marketing and promoting costs. Reduced piracy is also seen as a likely outcome.

The European Commission recent strategy for European cinema seems to take on board these insights. It recommends more flexibility and experimentation for distribution modes and release windows. A second wave of experiments, receiving a further €2m of public support, is also underway. Meanwhile, France has agreed to shorten its VOD window from 36 weeks to 24 weeks following the launch of Netflix.

That may cause further consternation from European cinema-owners. But with VOD users becoming more savvy at accessing media content from anywhere in the world through free VPN proxy services like Hola, attempts to maintain the traditional release schedule seem unlikely to succeed.

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