LONDON — Three years after he was charged with setting up Universal’s standalone international theatrical and marketing operations, David Kosse now finds himself the boss of all things international at the studio.
The subtle, if significant, change in job title from prexy of Universal Pictures Intl. to simply international prexy means that Kosse will be charged with strategically overseeing all aspects of a pic’s release across theatrical, home entertainment, TV and digital platforms.
The promotion comes at a time when studio execs are coming to terms with declining DVD revenues and uncertainty over how new technology — particularly the Internet — will affect their revenue streams.
Kosse’s new post re-affirms both the studio’s commitment to him as well as underlines the increasing importance that international box office can have on a company’s balance sheets. In 2008, Universal Pictures Intl. earned $1.714 billion, an increase of 67% from the previous year. That figure would have been impossible if U execs had maintained their overseas joint venture with Paramount, called UIP, rather than go their own way as they decided to do in January 2007.
“We were just leaving money on the table,” says Kosse about the UIP days. “Paramount and Universal made just under $4 billion in total internationally last year. That could never have happened while we were still in our joint venture. There was always more of a balance agenda while we were together rather than maximizing a film’s potential in the major markets.”
The former Polygram exec — Kosse began his career there in 1993 and set up the company’s U.S. division — has witnessed firsthand the boom in international box office in recent years. In 2008, for example, Europe on its own cumulatively matched and surpassed the U.S. total box office in dollar terms.
“Box office statistics aren’t the whole story though,” Kosse says. “The domestic market for home entertainment is still significantly better than in most international markets so it’s difficult to put an overall value on things. What we have seen over the last 10 years is the beginning of the orientation amongst the studios for how big international can be.”
Kosse has already displayed a keen understanding of how individual international markets need to be dealt with differently, exhibited by the recent release strategy for “Bruno.” The Sacha Baron Cohen laffer found itself stuck with a restrictive “18” rating from U.K. censor the BBFC. Unwilling to make the cuts demanded — which focused largely on the gay Austrian presenter’s imagined, if suggestively explicit, exchange with a member of pop duo Milli Vanilli — Kosse released the pic in its full version.
After it grossed $8.1 million from 457 locations and scored the biggest Friday ever for an 18-rated film in the U.K., as well as the best opening weekend ever for an 18-rated comedy, Kosse took the unprecedented step of announcing the studio would also be releasing a watered-down “15” rated cut in U.K. cinemas July 24 that would allow more teenagers to see the comedy.
As for what the future holds, Kosse believes the only way forward is for studios, including his own, to continue to embrace the international market. He has a close relationship with Focus Features Intl. co-topper Christian Grass, who oversees much of Universal’s local- language productions.
“We’ve really woken up to the importance of local productions and the studio has already had some significant achievements there,” says Kosse. “If you believe in the movie business, then you have to be in local productions. In the bigger picture, I think we’re going to see bigger films and fewer films but also the continued pursuit of films that can cross cultures and play in the global market.”