The U.K. still remains one of the most competitive independent markets in the world. The crowded indie distribution sector is peppered with a raft of players with hefty financial backing: eOne, Studiocanal, Momentum/Alliance, Lionsgate and Entertainment Film Distributors are all cash-rich, so if a picture fits the bill it’s not unusual to see bidding wars. While this may be the case, all are conscious of the fact that it’s a competitive market and, for the most part, prices tend not to reach crazy levels.

However, these players all have a similar agenda — they’re looking for bigger films that they can release wide. Years ago, such pics would have had a home with one of the major Hollywood distributors. Thinner production and distribution pipelines for the majors means quality and A-list pics are trickling into indies.

“I don’t think attitudes towards acquiring films have changed that dramatically,” says Lionsgate U.K. topper Zygi Kamasa. “However, we are all chasing the bigger, more commercial films.”

Indies are looking for smart, commercial pics that can click with U.K. auds at the box office.

The theatrical market in Blighty is tough. While box office has remained relatively stable compared to last year at around $1.7 billion, high P&A prices coupled with one of the lowest film rentals in the world (indies take around 28% of the box office) make platforming a film a challenge.

Additionally, the market is underscreened for the amount of product coming out on a weekly basis, meaning distribs lose their screens quickly if the film doesn’t click right away.

DVD is still relatively robust in the territory compared to other markets but TV sales are on the decline. BSkyB, which has a monopoly on the pay TV market, traditionally offers indies much smaller deals — if any — than the Hollywood majors and budget cuts across the free TV market mean coin from that sector is low.

However, Amazon-owned online film and TV subscription service Lovefilm is upping its game in the indie sector. Service has already inked exclusive deals with a raft of indies including eOne and Studiocanal, whose titles will be available through the service exclusively during its pay TV window. And with the imminent arrival of Netflix in Blighty next year, distribs are seeing some hope on the horizon — but not an answer to the challenges in the market.

“There’s not necessarily a renewed confidence in the marketplace with these VOD services,” says Momentum/Alliance topper Xavier Marchand. “It’s just replacing the fading DVD market. While it’s very good to have them, it’s not the solution to all of our problems.”

Number of screens: 3,741
Number of 3D screens: 1,472
Top indie distributors and B.O. (from Oct. 15, 2010, to Oct. 16, 2011): Momentum Pictures/Alliance Films ($119,162,993); Entertainment Film Distributors ($114,446,951); Studiocanal ($72,490,718); eOne Films ($48,436,634); Lionsgate U.K. ($39,580,116)
Top exhibition chains: Odeon, Cineworld, Vue (together, the three account for roughly 70% of the U.K. cinema circuit).
Typical minimum guarantee: Ranges from 7% to 10% of the budget of a film, but this very much depends on the film. There is really no typical MG as the indie market is so competitive.
Top 5 Indie Films (from Oct. 15, 2010, to Oct. 16, 2011): “The King’s Speech” ($70,634,808); “The Inbetweeners” ($70,251,222); “Gnomeo and Juliet” ($24,842,560); “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” ($19,378,385); “Limitless” ($12,995,917)
Typical theatrical split: Varies from picture to picture but typically indies get less than 30% of the box office while majors can do better with up to 45% for the right film.
Upcoming pickups: “The Artist” (Entertainment Film Distributors); “Headhunters” (Momentum Pictures/Alliance Films); “Rust and Bones” (Studiocanal)