Why the UK’s indie distributors face “a growing challenge” | Features

Lionsgate UK kicked off the year in style when La La Land danced its way to $40m (£30m) in the territory, six Oscars and five Baftas. The musical is still the only non-studio movie among this year’s top 10 titles. Yet despite that resounding result and a record-breaking year for the company to date, Lionsgate UK CEO Zygi Kamasa is worried about the outlook for the independent business. 

“The health of the independent distribution sector is poor to average at best,” he asserts. “It’s a very competitive market in light of the Hollywood product. When you’re battling studio fare, your bullseye is getting smaller.”

UK box office reached a record $1.74bn (£1.3bn) in 2016, marking a second consecutive year of growth, but audiences continue to converge on a smaller number of films. “The growth of the box office is not reflective of the whole industry,” expands Kamasa. “It’s reflective of the growing appetite for audiences to see those huge popcorn movies. Growth is coming from the top 30 or 50 movies.”

Read more: BFI makes key changes to Film Fund (exclusive)

Polarisation has been the dominant trend in the UK distribution landscape in recent years. The top 20 movies (only two of which were non-studio releases) accounted for 48.6% of the annual box office last year, 5% more than two years ago. The gross of the top 40 movies was greater than the entire UK and Ireland box office a decade ago.

The six studio distributors and four ‘indie majors’ (eOne, Lionsgate, Studiocanal and Entertainment Film Distributors [EFD]) accounted for 95% of UK market share in 2016, with a further 10 indies fighting over 3%, and more than 100 other content suppliers battling over 2%. Meanwhile, the number of releases soared to more than 900, admissions have flatlined at around 170 million, and ticket prices and advertising costs continue to inflate.

Those trends are set to continue this year. Box office is currently tracking 6% up year-on-year and the top…

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