Oscar campaigners may have greeted the end of Cinea’s encrypted screeners with an indifferent shrug, but for BAFTA, it’s a much bigger deal.
Cinea’s anti-piracy technology never caught on in Hollywood, hastening its demise despite it becoming a significant factor in the U.K., where many distribs rapidly adopted it as a neat (though expensive) solution to the peculiar challenge of marrying the awards season release schedule with the BAFTA voting timetable.
A number of leading BAFTA contenders won’t arrive in U.K. theaters until after the BAFTA voting deadlines in early January. Yet distribs need to circulate screeners before Christmas to stand a chance of getting enough votes, raising fears of piracy. Last year, 23 films went out as Cinea-encrypted screeners.
Without Cinea’s services, distribs must find an alternative antipiracy solution. Everybody is talking about watermarking, so that each screener is traceable to an individual voter. The manufacturing cost is comparable to that of Cinea encryption; the greater expense comes in delivery.
However, watermarking only makes sense if each DVD is carefully placed in the right labeled envelope and personally signed for by the BAFTA member it is intended for — with all the logistical nightmares that involves. Most distribs seem resigned to taking on the challenge and cost of watermarking, but only for selected titles.
The big question is whether Entertainment Film Distributors, the major distributor of indie pics, will follow suit. Before Cinea came along, the company pursued a stubborn no-screener policy, which brought it into conflict with U.S. producers who felt their films were missing out on BAFTAs. Cinea resolved that problem, but Entertainment hasn’t yet revealed its plans for this year.