It’s been a bad few weeks for cinemas in the UK with Empire Cinemas putting a number of their companies into administration – closing six of its 14 cinemas (Bishops Stortford, Catterick Garrison, Sunderland, Swindon, Walthamstow, Wigan) and a further theatre in Sutton Coldfield which was already closed will not now reopen.
Prior to this, the Odeon chain had also closed five cinemas (Oxford, Blackpool, Weston-super-mare, Ayrshire, and Banbury). General industry wisdom is that the pre-pandemic figures are not going to be repeated any time soon and that blockbuster releases in particular are not the consistent and predictable investments that they once were.
If you throw into that mix some future wobbles that are caused by the industrial disruption in the US (a SAG/AFTRA actors strike scheduled for tomorrow (if last-minute attempts at mediation fail) following hot on the heels of the Writers Guild of America industrial dispute about residuals and the impact of AI. The prognosis for the WGA dispute ending any time soon is fairly grim, according to Deadline.
The Head of Bectu commented on this earlier today:
@Bectu really haven’t expressed concern at the strikes, on the contrary we’ve said that we stand fully behind the WGA and SAG- AFTRA and have urged the AMPTP to negotiate meaningfully to bring the dispute to an end with a fair contract. 🤦🏻♀️ https://t.co/EhZIYR4IdR
— Philippa Childs (@philippachilds) July 12, 2023
Inward investment may be climbing dramatically, but the amount that goes into British independent film is at low crisis levels (down 31% in 2022 on the already-low 2021 figures) and this doesn’t bode well for the commercial sustainability of UK productions (for more on this issue, see here).
So, we are very beholden to blockbuster content for the success of our industry at a time that blockbuster content isn’t the safe bet that it was, and when it may be about to enter a prolonged period of disruption.
So the streaming companies will pick up the slack, right? Well, yes…. and no. According to Ampere Analysis, ‘Growth in content investment will slump in 2023‘ (though the text below the headline is a more sober view that commercial broadcasters will spend 3% less on content in 2023 and streaming content spending will grow just 8% after media companies grew their streaming content investments by 25% in 2022).
And finally, The European Audiovisual Observatory has just published an excellent – free – guide to how distribution ‘windows’ work. Whenever a film is produced and distributed, pre-contracts are drawn up that guarantee (for example) that it won’t be seen on a TV screen until a fixed period after it has been released in cinemas. Something that every film buff needs to have on their (virtual) shelf.