Changes in marketplace create uncertainty

United Kingdom

LONDON — The U.K.’s indie distribution scene is in a state of corporate flux, although the underlying marketplace still seems robust.

Some key players are reportedly in the process of changing hands (Momentum and Tartan); some are just starting to emerge with new focus under new ownership (Lionsgate UK, Optimum, the Works and Artificial Eye); others have reshuffled their management (Pathe, Icon), which may or may not presage a fresh direction; and even perennial market leader Entertainment, a beacon of corporate stability, appears to be going through a quiet spell ahead of its big releases later in the year.

At the niche end of the market, meanwhile, there’s a surprising proliferation of new microplayers, attracted by the strength of DVD and the potential for digital distribution.

“The market seems pretty strong, although there are always the same old issues — theatrical is tight, DVD prices are dropping and TV is controlled by the studios,” says Optimum topper Will Clarke, whose company is now owned by StudioCanal. “From an acquisitions point of view, I’ve known it to be more competitive, because there seems to be a bit of this corporate uncertainty about.”

One of the biggest question marks hangs over Momentum, whose Canadian parent Alliance Atlantis is in the midst of a drawn-out sale process. Yet with the U.K. arm under temporary management following the suspension of managing director Xavier Marchand in January, it has been the No. 1 indie at the box office in 2007 so far, thanks to “Miss Potter,” “Arthur and the Invisibles,” “Hannibal Rising” and “The Illusionist” — although how many of those movies actually end up in profit is a matter for the accountants.

BOX OFFICE OVERVIEW

Top Film 2006*
“Casino Royale”: $110.3 million
Total B.O.: $1.7 billion
Total number of releases: 505

*from 2006 releases in U.K. and Ireland

Recent Pickups
“The Hunt for Osama Bin Laden” (Optimum Releasing)
“Two Days in Paris” (the Works
“Kenny” (Odeon Sky Filmworks)
“Brideshead Revisited” (2Entertain)
“St. Trinian’s” (Entertainment Film Distributors)

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