Kroes calls for greater flexibility on movie windows

The current system of release windows for movies is often too rigid and can prevent the emergence of new business models, according to European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes.

In a blog posting coinciding with the Berlin Film Festival, Kroes said that current rules and practices in the film sector, including release windows, “restrict flexibility” and make it harder for digital distribution models to develop.

“For me, while such ‘exclusive’ periods may be important to finance some films, or get the most out of them, rigid and uniform rules can make it harder for the sector to capture digital benefits,” said Kroes. “This lack of flexibility troubles me. Because, in fact, different outlets for films – cinemas, TV, DVD, online – all have their strengths, and each can respond to different consumer needs.”

Kroes said she believed some films would better be served by being made available online earlier, with the lower distribution costs of online distribution being particularly suitable low-budget and niche films. She said there was evidence from the US that the release of titles on video-on-demand before their theatrical release could create buzz and increase the overall return to a movie’s producers.

“The US has seen big progress by releasing films earlier on VOD – earlier than on DVD or even before cinema release – to meet changed consumer expectations.  And maybe there’s a new way to finance production here: like through TV sequencing, or even by direct investment from online movie sites,” said Kroes.

Kroes said she did not “want to impose anything on the industry” in terms of a change in the windowing system, and that she saw cinemas as “important parts of ourcommunities and cultural lives” but said she believed “many in the industry” were “just as frustrated as I am by the existing lack of flexibility, the opportunities we are missing, and the damage to the goals of cinema overall”. She said she believed the best way to “benefit everyone in the chain” was to promote “the flexibility to use new, exciting digital channels to the full”.

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