Battle for screens brutal as exhibs seek instant results

United Kingdom

With most of the U.K. cinema biz in the hands of venture capitalists, and distribs releasing more and more movies, the Monday morning battle for screens is getting bloodier.

The moneymen who now own the vast majority of the U.K.’s multiplexes and arthouses are ruthlessly focused on their bottom line and their market share. So, when the weekend box office results are in, any movies that show a hint of weakness are swept away in favor of fresher fare.

“The level of brutality has risen again,” says Icon U.K. topper Alex Hamilton. “Exhibitors would say distributors are releasing too many films. But with every single exhibitor owned by venture capitalists, they are under such pressure to deliver cash flow, week in, week out. There’s no longer any sense of building an audience.”

“Every Monday morning it is pretty tough,” agrees Tartan managing director Laura De Casto. “The norm is now 10 to 12 films being released every week. There are a lot more distributors, and a lot more films which haven’t attracted a distributor being released anyway by their producers. That means that screen space is less, review space in the newspapers is less.”

The screen crunch is particularly acute in central London, where the shortage of specialized cinemas is compounded by the proliferation of niche film festivals.

But De Casto notes that some indie pics manage to stick around. Tartan’s “Little Fish,” starring Cate Blanchett, hung on for seven weeks at a West End venue this summer.

Some distribs argue that the tougher attitude of the exhibs actually helps them, because it prevents the majors from using their market power to hog screens with second-rate fare.

Odeon, the U.K.’s largest loop, now refuses to book any film for more than a week at a time. “I’m all right with that, because it levels the playing field,” says Momentum’s Sam Nichols.

Hopes that the rollout of the U.K. Film Council’s Digital Screen Network would ease the problems for specialized pics have yet to be fulfilled, however. Distribs all say that with less than half of the digital circuit installed, it’s too soon to see any impact.

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