Screen Australia CEO Ruth Harley has made the case for Australia to move eventually to a new, flexible film distribution model, similar to the US and the UK.
Addressing Melbourne International Film Festival 37° South, Dr Harley said, “We may observe and explore new day-and-date release approaches being trialled in other markets via Curzon in the UK and IFB and Magnolia in the US.
“The US models are vertically integrated platforms with cinema circuits, distribution arms and VoD platforms, DVD labels and television.”
Dr Harley quoted the case of an investor in two Australian films, Animal Kingdom and The Hunter, who told her he made three times as much on his revenue share on The Hunter than he did for Animal Kingdom.
That’s because Daniel Nettheim's Tasmanian-set thriller had a day- and-date release with VoD in the US while David Michod’s crime saga had a conventional theatrical release. That suggests VoD is a far more meaningful source of revenue because The Hunter made just $US177,000 in US cinemas while Animal Kingdom took $1.04 million, according to Box Office Mojo.
“Our audiences are already demanding immediacy and convenience in the form of DIY day-and-date,” she said. “PwC’s recent Media and Entertainment Outlook report revealed that Australia has the highest level of piracy – particularly in music – in the world.
“PwC’s Sydney Executive Director Megan Brownlow stated plainly in presenting the findings that piracy happens when business models are not agile enough. Piracy may well drive the closing up of day-and-date release windows. We need to actively consider new business models and to find new pathways to audiences.”
Dr Harley did not advocate an early adoption of the day-and-date model, noting that Australia does not yet have a VoD service with the critical mass of a Netflix or Hulu.
But her outlook will resonate with Australian distributors who increasingly believe the traditional four-months gap between theatrical launch and VoD/DVD release is outmoded. Distributors have been discussing more flexible releasing patterns with the major exhibition circuits which thus far have been unwilling to countenance a reduction in the four months window.
It makes no sense commercially, distributors say, to force consumers to wait that long to access films on DVD/VoD, particularly titles that have a short run in cinemas. At least one distributor is mulling the idea of departing from convention with one title later this year.
Much of Dr Harley’s speech was a rehash of previously announced statistics and research. She sought to place Australian films’ 4.3% box-office share last year in context, noting that was generated by 27 films, representing 7.8% of the 422 released in 2012. Most Australian films are released on fewer than 20 screens compared to the 400+ wide release of most Hollywood studio content.
Screen Australia has been supporting new pathways to audience, investing $2.4 million into specialist distribution that has benefitted 129 Australian films over the last five years through alternative distributors.
Dr Harley, who steps down in November, said the agency is interested in exploring the opportunity for screenings at capital city Australian festivals, perhaps in partnership, to create new distribution opportunities for art-house Australian films.
“A few niche titles each year may not be suited for commercial distribution but would have great appeal for festival audiences and could work well in some form of festival circuit,” she said.