“Without regulation on media windows, buying quality films in foreign markets doesn’t make sense”
Industry Report: Distribution, Exhibition and Streaming
Alessandro Giacobbe • Managing Director, Academy Two
The independent cinema operator and distributor has written a letter to Italy's Minister of Culture to prevent the disappearance of movie theatres which promote quality films
Alessandro Giacobbe has dedicated his life to quality films, first as a cinephile and now as the director of a longstanding film group in central Geneva, Sivori, which is one of the oldest in Italy, and as an independent distributer since 2012 by way of Academy Two, who were responsible from bringing Parasite and Quo vadis, Aida? [+see also:
interview: Jasmila Žbanić
film profile] to Italy’s shores, to name just two works.
The crisis which cinemas are experiencing as a result of the pandemic and the subsequent deregulation of exclusivity windows for cinema films (read our news) led Giacobbe to write an open letter to Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini, who is supposedly working on new provisions to reduce these windows from 90 days to 45. Cineuropa interviewed Giacobbe as both a cinema operator and a distributor.
Cineuropa: Your letter asks the government to make a “brave decision” in order to prevent the disappearance of cinemas promoting quality films and the decline of independent companies who bring movies decorated with awards from the biggest international festivals to Italy.
Alessandro Giacobbe: The minister’s outlook is: “there’s a sector which various players are involved in; come to an agreement and we’ll go along with it and formalise the result of your negotiations”. The problem is that players in the chain are divided by far more than socio-cultural needs. What we actually need is regulation of the entire system governing audiovisual products’ release in cinemas in order to return to the pre-pandemic model, which was more or less accepted by everyone, where a window of 105 days was in force through some sort of gentlemen’s agreement. Once cinemas closed on account of the Covid crisis, this rule was deregulated, leading to cut-throat savage media chronology windows which we assumed would stop once cinemas had reopened.
What was the box office situation before the pandemic?
The results of the last pre-pandemic period were exceptional. In 2019, a 15% rise in audiences was recorded, with almost 93 million tickets sold. It was a result we hadn’t seen for years, both for commercial products and quality films. So we were emerging from a period in which platforms had made an appearance on the market, albeit more focused on series than on films, but our theatrical market was working really well nonetheless. The curveball of the pandemic and the resulting deregulation knocked cinemas off their feet.
There’s been a clear shift in audience habits towards SVOD.
The health crisis forced the public to change their habits, to not go to cinemas, primarily because cinemas were closed, or you had to wear a mask, but also because they could watch films on platforms. This contributed towards people getting out of the habit of frequenting cinemas. The heath issue has been resolved and cinemas have reopened. But we still need to get audiences back to thinking that films can’t be seen in cinemas and on TV around about the same time. Cinema exclusivity needs to be reinstated. There’s a huge difference between 105 days and the 30 or 45 days we’re seeing today. American distribution firms are now promoting the launch of products on both mediums around about the same time: “in cinemas from 15 June and on platforms from 15 July”. Which makes audiences ask themselves: why should I go to the cinema if I can watch it at home with a subscription?
Mainstream distribution firms claim there’s no proof that audiences are deciding not to go to cinemas on account of the short window between a film’s cinema release and its subsequent platform release, or that such behaviour might change if we lengthen the cinema exclusivity window. On average, lots of films make 98% of their total earnings in the first four weeks of their release date.
This isn’t the case for quality cinema, which is the type most often ignored by platforms, and which only appeals to RAI or Sky for their themed channels. And 9-12 months go by before this point. But if this mechanism takes root in the collective imaginary, arthouse cinema is at risk of disappearing altogether. TV channels are geared towards commercial products and, if cinemas are no longer working, it doesn’t make sense to buy quality films in foreign markets and bring them to Italy. Independent distribution houses like ours would have to make investments without any hope of a return. We used to count on cinemas to recuperate at least 80% of investments; today it’s more like 10 or 20%.
Has Academy Two changed its selection criteria over the past few months vis-à-vis the titles it buys in markets?
We’d like to try to maintain our editorial line and the philosophy we’ve always had. If we were to focus on commercial products, we wouldn’t be able to compete with groups who have a different set of tools to us. François Ozon’s new film, a comedy with a far stronger commercial flavour than his previous works, was sold at a price which made it inaccessible for us. Following the mainstream isn’t our objective.
What’s your view on the arrival of new player MUBI in independent film distribution?
We’re going to work in unison with them to organise a release for Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria [+see also:
film profile] [which competed in Cannes in 2021] as a special event. Undoubtedly, MUBI is a different kind of player: they’re more focused on cinemas and they allow for lengthier exploitation windows. But they can’t cover the entire quality film market and they can’t change the fate of cinemas all on their own.
(Translated from Italian)
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