Distribs topper see digitalization as mixed blessing

LONDON — Producer and former Columbia Pictures topper David Puttnam, who is prexy of the U.K. Film Distributors’ Assn., has called on exhibs to ensure they do not sacrifice a “quality experience” for their customers in favor of cutting costs as the digitalization of U.K. cinemas nears completion.

“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,” said Puttnam, speaking at an industry event to mark 21 years of the FDA’s support of the National Film and Television School.

“The arrival of digital was inevitably going to mean a phasing out of celluloid projectionists,” he said. “Yet the loss of this particular area of professional expertise, and the commitment to a ‘quality experience’ that frequently accompanied it, cannot be simply airbrushed out as either inevitable or unimportant.”

He added that the standards projectionists used to uphold are now lacking. “(That) is beginning to show — and, I would argue, it’s even beginning to hurt us.”

He argued that despite the continued draw of cinema in the U.K. (2012 box office was up 2.5% on 2011 as at Dec. 9, at £1.1 billion [$1.7 billion]) the rise of digital cinema quality entertainment for the home means exhibs must ensure a premium experience to avoid alienating customers.

Puttnam, who produced “Chariots of Fire” and “The Mission,” served as chair of the NFTS board when the FDA partnership with the NFTS began in 1992.

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