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Talking Pictures TV: Bringing the Past Back to Life in the U.K.

LYON, France – Since its launch in 2015, Talking Pictures TV has become the fastest-growing independent channel in the U.K. with a growing library of British film and TV titles that span five decades, according to founder Noel Cronin.

Noel Cronin attended the Lumière Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) in Lyon, France, where he took part in a roundtable discussion on distribution of heritage cinema.

His 24-hour channel offers feature films and TV series from the 1930s to the 1980s, reaching some 850,000 viewers a day and 2.6 million a week. Talking Pictures TV is available in the U.K. on the Sky digital satellite platform, Freeview and other satellite outlets.

Talking Pictures TV grew out of Cronin’s DVD distribution company, Renown Pictures.

“We acquired several old libraries – mostly B-features, but good ones,” Cronin explains. “We started to release them on DVD and they sold quite well. … We felt there was a gap in the market for nostalgia, classics, call it whatever you want, and there was.”

Talking Pictures TV was a natural outgrowth of the DVD business, Cronin adds. “Once you’ve released them on DVD, what do you do with them then? Having worked in distribution for many years, I just felt there was a niche there for the older person.”

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The channel regularly acquires content from the likes of Fremantle, including Thames Television titles like “Hazell,” “Public Eye” and “Widows,” and from most of the Hollywood majors.

“We pride ourselves on the refreshing of our titles,” Cronin says. “I think it’s one of our successes. You’ll only see a film about three times a year.”

Among the titles currently airing on the channel are Desmond Davis’ 1964 drama “Girl with Green Eyes,” starring Rita Tushingham and Peter Finch; Zoltan Korda’s 1951 “Cry the Beloved Country,” with Canada Lee and Sidney Poitier; Werner Herzog’s 1979 “Nosferatu the Vampyre”; and John Schlesinger’s 1962 film “A Kind of Loving,” starring Alan Bates and June Ritchie.

Series like “Gideon’s Way,” from ITV, and “Scotland Yard” always do very well with viewers, Cronin adds. “‘Gideon’s Way’ is so good. It’s good acting and well written.”

Also popular are the 1953 feature film “Colonel March Investigates,” starring Boris Karloff, which combined the first three episodes of the British TV series “Colonel March of Scotland Yard,” and the “The Invisible Man” TV series that aired on ITV from 1958 to 1959.

The company does a lot of restorations of its own titles, Cronin adds. “Anything that we can do to preserve their quality and their life.” Cronin has often sought specific titles for the channel only to discover that they’re gone, no longer in existence.

In view of Talking Pictures TV’s more mature audience, the company subtitles all of its content for viewers who are hearing impaired.

The channel has also had positive effects on many older viewers, including some in senior care centers who have withdrawn into themselves, Cronin says.

“One of the most interesting things we found is that we get a lot of mail from rest homes, care homes, and the stories are always the same. The people that sat there, didn’t talk, didn’t move, didn’t do anything – they put the channel on and they start talking to each other, and the staff say it’s fantastic. They’re happy again. It jolts the memories. Maybe it was a car or a hair style – I think a time when they were happy.”

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