Keynote Philip Knatchbull

CONNeXT Day One

UK distribution and exhibition company Curzon CEO Philip Knatchbull arrived in Ghent to deliver this year’s first keynote during CONTeXT, the Flanders Image CONNeXT industry event. In a packed auditorium, he talked about the future of arthouse cinema, challenging distribution models and building audiences while working with streaming giants Netflix and Amazon.

A familiar face on the international distribution and exhibition scene after more than a dozen years with Curzon, Knatchbull runs a company encompassing UK independent film distributor Curzon Artificial Eye, online platform Curzon Home Cinema and a 20- cinema, 50-screen-strong empire of movie theatres across the UK.

He joined film journalist/festival consultant Wendy Mitchell on the sofa for what turned into a lively, intimate and wide-ranging discussion.

“When I joined the company 13 years ago, the vision and purpose that we had was to create platforms under a common brand that talked directly to customers,” Knatchbull said. “It was eventually to be a seamless experience for any Curzon member or customer to be able to choose a film under our curation which they could see at the cinema or at home at a price point that they wanted. That was the basic vision.”

Curzon Artificial Eye

The indie film distribution arm of the business acquires around 20 films a year for distribution, buying all rights in the UK for the UK. “About 20% of the total income from Curzon cinemas comes from Curzon Artificial Eye releases. The other 80% comes from all the other distributors [in our theatres].”

Knatchbull told the audience that Curzon Cinemas makes up 40% to 50% of a film’s total box-office gross, describing it as “quite a high percentage for a relatively low number of screens”.

Day and Date

Curzon releases most of its films day and date.“We haven’t released a film on a non-day and date for over a year now,” Knatchbull said. “The reason we do day and date is because the marketplace for our sort of films is broken in the UK. The whole idea of doing day and date was to do one marketing campaign and give people the choice to see the film at home for the same price as a cinema ticket.”

The move was created in reaction to the marketplace.“We found that the big multiplex [cinema] operators were not offering us bookings until the Monday before the Friday the film opened. There is no way you can plan the film’s release or spend marketing money if you don’t know how many screens you are going to be in,” he added.

If the average film rental is about 50% in the UK, Curzon was being offered between 25% to 30% for its titles. “And even if the film worked in the big multiplex cinemas it would come off after the first weekend because another second-level studio feature needed that space because of the bigger relationship.”

He and his team decided to take back control. “Unlike in France, for instance, where it is actually illegal to go day and date, we found we could in the UK, so we did it. We are slowly building an audience, building a profile of people who really like the way we release films. Most of our customers on Curzon Home Cinema are active cinemagoers who come maybe 10, 12 times a year to the cinema. And they are the biggest users of the Curzon Home Cinema platform as well.”

Parasite

Knatchbull told the audience it had been a while since Curzon Artificial Eye had secured a title that could command enough demand from the bigger multiplex cinemas to warrant rolling out through traditional windows. That changed with the acquisition of 2019 Festival de Cannes Palme d’Or-winner Parasite from South Korean director Bong Joon Ho.

“Parasite will be a big change for us. That film we are going to respect the 16-week window and we are going to go much wider, with a much bigger P&A spend. We think that it has the potential to cross over to a much bigger audience even though it’s a foreign-language film,” he noted.

Knatchbull says his company is moving towards a model which isn’t prescriptive in any way. “Each film will be treated differently and have its own unique approach to releasing. We’ve experimented in lots of different ways with lots of different films with day and date just being the [current] mainstay. I think that’s the future of cinema theatrical releasing.”

Curzon Home Cinema

Mitchell wanted to know if the stay at home streaming platform was a financial success and if it was having an impact on its theatrical releases?

“It’s still only about 10% to 15% of a film’s box office on the Curzon Home Cinema platform,” Knatchbull explained. “We really don’t actively market as much as we could because we are still trying to work out the data in order to give the best value for money in spending on media for each film.”

He noted that doing a TV campaign is a scattergun approach compared to a digital one.

“You’re trying to reach lots of different people but, with digital marketing, you can be like a bullet. What we are trying to do is gather our data from our customers and we can work out what our customers are interested in; what films at home and what films in the cinema,” Knatchbull said, musing that his company is “not confident in that for the home part [of the business] yet so we are not actively spending large amounts of money on the home cinema front”.

That will change in the future he predicted, given that Curzon has just been through a very long business plan strategy brainstorming with its shareholders. “We’re looking at a major change in the way we are going to be funding and marketing our movies. By the end of November all will be revealed,” he smiled.

Audience Profiles

So who is the audience for the home cinema offering?, wondered Mitchell. According to Knatchbull they are younger than the cinemagoers and more female than male. “There is not a lot of difference between the two, they love film,” he observed.

He acknowledged the school of thought that says if you respect the theatrical window and went out through bigger cinema operators, the film would garner a larger reach. “But, frankly, those big cinema operators only tend to choose those sites that are quite often in competition with Curzon Cinemas anyway and certainly not in the outfields in the regional part of the UK,” he said. “The great thing about Curzon Home Cinema is wherever you are in the UK you have your own cinema screen at home.”

To date, Curzon’s biggest box-office hits in cinemas have all been day and date. Knatchbull cited Andrew Haigh’s Charlotte Rampling starrer 45 Years, which took north of £1.5 million at the UK box office, Oscar-nominated Swedish comedy drama The Square (£1 million plus) and The Souvenir from acclaimed British filmmaker Joanna Hogg which is currently rolling into homes now (£500,000 plus so far).

But with Curzon changing the theatrical and streaming windows unilaterally, were other distributors giving their titles to Curzon for online?, askedMitchell.

“I reckon 60% or 70% of all day and date films are Curzon’s own films. And the reason for that is very simple: the other distributors are too scared to give us their films because they don’t have their own cinemas,” Knatchbull said. “Most people will not book films if they side with us. So it’s a problem.”

Local Turf Wars

Mitchell noted the landscape in the UK has become fraught with a battle between Curzon and fellow UK exhibition and distribution indie Picturehouse breaking out. As it stands, Picturehouse does not carry any Curzon Artificial Eye films in Picturehouse sites. Knatchbull remains sanguine. There are two boutique cinema operators in the UK, Curzon and Picturehouse. Picturehouse is owned by Cineworld which is owned by Regal, the world’s biggest cinema chain.

“When we agreed to exhibit [Netflix-backed] Roma (directed by Alfonso Cuaron) last year in our cinemas combined with a film we had out on release called Disobedience, Cineworld the behemoth that it is, woke up and realised Picturehouse was booking our films while both were also available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cineworld decided to withdraw all future films from their cinemas which is a shame because they expected us to react.”

Picturehouse is also a distributor/exhibitor, so expected Curzon to announce Picturehouse-distributed films would not be available on Curzon’s screens. “Cineworld has chosen to exclude themselves. It just feels like these big companies are undermining the ability of independent cinema operators and distributors to work together to create a common effect of a wider audience for independent film,” Knatchbull said. “I find it sad and shortsighted. Sad for audiences.”

As it stands, if you are a Picturehouse Cinema member in the UK you cannot see Curzon release The Souvenir unless you go to a Curzon Cinema. “It is great for us, we’ve been filling our boots as Picturehouse customers have been coming over to us. But it is just not good,” Knatchbull observed. Yet he maintains it is not all out war between the distribution teams on the ground. “The industry media picks up that there is some war between us and Picturehouse, there isn’t. We’re friends and we talk all time.”

Window Dressing

Knatchbull thinks changes to the traditional release windows is inevitable. “100% it has to come around to that. It’s just a question of what happens in the next six months to a year with the launch of these big new subscription offers from Disney Plus, Warner Bros and Apple TV.

What is going to happen when Disney says to the big cinema operators you can have the next Avengers movie but it has to be on a four-week window before it goes onto Disney Plus? It is a question Knatchbull suspects is coming. “I do see a situation where windows shrink for the smaller independent movies. And because Netflix and Amazon are producing great television and great movies that cater for a certain sort of film, those films are not working in the cinema anymore. People are not going to the cinema to see those sorts of films.”

Knatchbull observed the dichotomy between the more specialised arthouse films and the big franchise movies, leaving the films in the middle to fail. “So why not offer those films with a shorter window into theatres maybe with a shorter viewing time, shorter booking?”

Awareness Creation

Curzon set up in 2010 doing day and date which began with a partnership with Sky in the UK. The indie and the satellite TV giant bought eight films together, 50:50. Sky put the titles on Sky Box Office as a pay-per-view offering and in turn Curzon made them available on Curzon Home Cinema and in its cinemas.

Knatchbull explained that Sky, being a big company, was able to cut a trailer that basically said on Sky Box Office but also in cinemas. “Then we cut a trailer saying it was on Sky Box Office. Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven was the first film we did.”

It created awareness of Curzon’s titles “that otherwise we couldn’t create because we didn’t have the marketing budget. So we saw an increase in admissions into our cinemas as a result of that partnership and that made us a lot more confident to continue going forward.”

But is there a fear of audience cannibalisation going forward?, Mitchell wondered.

Knatchbull thought not. “The cannibalisation of cinemagoing for our sort of films will not happen. We’re finding it is the opposite.”

For the indie, arthouse films where it is more difficult to get noticed amongst all the noise of other films and leisure activities, people are coming more to the cinema as a result of that wider marketing campaign as a result of day and date, according to Knatchbull.“ Because of that we are confident to keep building cinemas. We’re building two cinemas a year.”

On the other hand, he suggested the world is over screened “with too many big boxes of 15, 20 cinema screens that really feel like you’d want to go to except to see the film in question.” If that film in question actually has a shorter window then a lot of people are going to choose to wait and see it at home, Knatchbull suggests. “So I do think there is going to be a sea change in global cinema admissions, I think they will drop over time as the windows shrink.”

Future Cinema Growth

“But I think you’ll find the emergence of much stronger and healthier exhibition circuits,” he said. “Call them boutique cinema operators who are providing a much more enticing offer than the current multiplexes offer.”

He pointed to the prospect of more space for downtime: for drinks, for good food, for music, for a bit of other activities around cinema that aren’t just related to film – live music, live opera, live theatre. “I think these cinemas will become really interesting, attractive destination venues. If you can connect that back to a VOD service like ours with a brand and a platform, you’re creating a soulful, joyful experience for people to engage with Curzon. And plenty of other companies are going to do the same.”

Knatchbull predicted a massive drop in global admissions (even with the big Marvel films). “People have very catholic and developing tastes and if you look at The Joker right now, it has just won Venice – which is extraordinary – you can see the direction of travel. I don’t know whether the studios will want those $200-million movies to have that protection of a theatrical movie window, but all the other movies will contract.”

He added that the old economic model of the silo of old-fashioned cinemas which are all hugely indebted to the banks is in severe danger. “I think what you are seeing coming through are these highly entrepreneurial leisure-oriented boutique cinema operators which are exciting for the future.”

Wine, Opera and Good Food?

“Is there a danger people will come to these places and not see a film? It’s a good question,” Knatchbull agreed. Curzon opened a cinema in 2018 in the centre of Oxford with five screens, two 3,000-square foot places for food and drink and a destination bar [for a drink] there. “We’re trying to persuade people to come along and just sit in the bar who aren’t cinemagoers. We think over time they will start to feel a part of what we’re doing and will be interested in what we’re showing them, what’s playing in our cinemas.”

When Curzon opened in Oxford, it was in the centre of a brand new shopping mall and was initially a mainstream programmed cinema by necessity. Knatchbull noted that over the last year and a half the cinema is “slowly and surely changing the programming and getting more interaction with people who are interested in the different sort of films that we show them.

“I think this is the way to go. We are competing so much now with other leisure activities and cinemas have to be a place where people want to dwell and not just go and see a movie and leave. That’s the answer.”

Knatchbull cited the Curzon Victoria as his personal favourite in the Curzon cinema empire because it sets out his company stall for where he wants to take cinema in the future. “It doesn’t even feel like a cinema when you walk in, it feels more like a boutique hotel. It has five small screens, two bars, a mezzanine area and it only has 238 seats, but it probably has the highest occupancy of any cinema in the UK across the five screens. Tiny auditoriums, big screens, great sound, great seats.”

Netflix As the Enemy?

Curzon partnered with Netflix on Roma and gave it a theatrical rollout. Knatchbull said Netflix don’t want to be seen to have an exclusive deal with Curzon in the UK and in some way stop others from participating. He pointed out that Netflix is learning as it goes along and it is not a theatrical film company. “It is basically a technology company and I think bringing them along and showing them the power of the theatrical space is better than just fighting them all the time. Realistically, with technology, things are going to change with customers more and more in control. To hold back the tide of change is just not realistic.”

Given Curzon is a day and date operator and distributor it “made sense for Netflix to come and talk to us and we have worked very closely with them.

“We work very closely with Amazon as well. We are not trying to tell Netflix how to operate their business and we don’t really want people telling us how to operate our business.” [With Netflix, Curzon does not distribute their films to other UK cinemas. Knatchbull’s company has carved out a direct relationship with Netflix for The Irishman and nine other titles this year.]

Curzon is also partnering with Amazon to release The Report, directed by Scott Z Burns starring Adam Driver and Annette Bening in November 2019 via a three-week theatrical window. “We’re releasing that for Amazon, doing all the work for them and doing an awards campaign. In effect, how we are as a distributor is also changing to how we are as an exhibitor,” Knatchbull noted.

Did Roma Make Curzon Money?

“It was the only film that made any money out of the cinemas. We’re not allowed to talk box office but the reason it did well is because of the marketing of it. What Netflix is learning is that if you are going to put films into cinemas you actually have to advertise and let people know,” Knatchbull said. “There is this idea that it was a cynical thing, that they [Netflix] were just trying to put the films in theatres for the talent, get an Oscar. But I think this year you are seeing a different approach: you’re seeing a window (didn’t happen before, three weeks, it is short); you’re seeing a marketing approach; and you’re seeing them, through partnering with sales company, Film Nation, having different distributors to get their films out wider. So Netflix is changing and coming on board ever so slightly with the cinema thing.”

Netflix Rental Split

As Knatchbull understands it, Netflix is trying a traditional distribution arrangement with the other distributors but with Curzon “it is a completely untraditional arrangement” which he cannot talk about. “But it is a one-way street, they pay us money and we play the films.”

Acquisitions/Algorithms

Knatchbull told the CONTeXT audience that Curzon is getting much more data that is informing decisions at an earlier point but it is still operating the old record label approach: the A&R man going out and looking at the talent and feeling if it’s something important that the team will get passionate about. And then we put it through a P&L and we look at the income streams, the costs etc. It’s still very much: can we make money at the bottom line? We try and forget the fact it’s an arthouse film,” he smiled.

Business Decisions

“First and foremost, I am a businessman. I am an entrepreneur and what I believe is that there is an under-exploited opportunity to grow the independent film space. So if I can make my company profitable, it is more likely I am going to try inward investment from other shareholders so that I can scale and transport what I am doing in the UK further afield. For me it’s always about the bottom line. It is difficult when you do feel passionately about a director you want to continually follow, but if that director doesn’t make you money on their second or third film, then by the fourth film I’m going to say no.”

Scale and Curation

Knatchbull pointed to the fact that Vue Cinemas in the UK has 600 screens while Curzon commands 50. “I think they have one booker now. Everything is done for them with algorithms in terms of what shows are playing on what screens at what time with which films. We have six programmers in our exhibition side,” Knatchbull said. “It shows how we think the curation and the brand and the communication of what we are doing and how we talk to our customers is vitally important. We don’t just see our customers as a commodity, which I think a lot of the bigger multiplex operators still do.”

UK Marketplace for Foreign-Language Films Remains Challenging

Said Knatchbull: “People are finding it really, really hard. I think last year Curzon had eight of the top 10 foreign-language films and that shouldn’t be the case. You’re seeing the disappearance of a lot of smaller distributors.”

But there is hope. “I think maybe it’s a short-term thing. What seems to be re-emerging are one-or two-man operations with no office, no overheads, providing digital marketing assets. They acquire a film at a low cost and get it out. When things are difficult that creates opportunities in the marketplace.”

Costly Business

“We’re having to look at our overheads. I employ too many people. It’s a fine balance between throwing the baby out with the bathwater and protecting what you have and trying to run a tight ship,” Knatchbull mused. “I think the problem for foreign-language films is that in the UK we were very dependent on the DVD market and the DVD market has obviously radically reduced.

“Whereas the streaming companies, particularly Amazon and Netflix but also Sky, were buying foreign-language movies, unfortunately the data coming through the algorithms is showing that people are not watching the foreign-language films on those platforms and therefore it’s harder for people like us to sell our films on to pay-TV or to SVOD.”

But there is a solution around the corner, he suggested. “You can’t just throw foreign-language moves in among 30,000 other films and expect people to find them. You have to nurture them. You have to programmatically put together a strand people can understand on a consistent basis. I am spending a lot of time talking to Netflix and Amazon about how we might be able to help to do that,” he said.

“It isn’t just about the theatrical marketplace, it is about the ability for us to get the income from the pay-TV companies to help take the risk of marketing foreign-language movies. If you don’t market, people don’t come.”

MUBI

Distributor and subscription-based streaming OTT service MUBI operates in a similar curated space. Knatchbull loves the rival.

“Founder Efe [Cakarel] and I started around the same time and we’ve had this amazing journey together. We’re always arguing and he’s got a completely different business model. But we’re close to co-buying a film or co-releasing a film together because I think it would be a strong statement,” Knatchbull said.

Recent Acquisitions

Curzon secured Roy Andersson’s Endlessness, the follow-up to A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, which Knatchbull described as “very core arthouse but we’ll do very well with it”.

He said the operation is still looking at “one or two other films” from this year’s festival circuit but he and his team are being “very cautious” with the MGs it is putting up at the moment. “We’re saying to sales agents, sorry, we can’t make that price.”

BBC Deal First

“We just picked up a low budget British film at the London Film Festival called Make Up from an emerging female British filmmaker [Claire Oakley]. We’re doing that very differently. For the first time, we’ve done a deal with the BBC where we are going to release the film in our cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema and then, eight weeks later (not conforming with the 16 weeks), it is going to go on the BBC iPlayer.”

Knatchbull said the BBC deal is “more and more trying to move us in a direction so we can partner with the likes of [UK broadcaster Channel 4’s movie arm] Film4 which have many digital platforms under the Channel 4 brand. A similar model could be used with a lower budget film like we’ve just done with BBC Films on Make Up.”

Curzon also snapped up rights to Portrait of a Lady on Fire and The Whistlers and remain on course to be actively acquiring 20 movies a year.

Distribution and Broadcasters

UK broadcasters are going to have to relook at the waterfall of events as film is made available, Knatchbull suggested. “Why does it make sense for the BBC or Film4 to wait two years before a film that they have financed is available on their own channel? It’s a bit like the old Soviet Republic. The BBC and different compartments need to talk to each other, to give effect to the changes that need to take place.”

He can see a situation where the faster you can get a BBC Films or Channel 4 title onto their own platform, then the more value they will see for the investment they are making. “If we as a theatrical distributor can participate in that then we are all going to be happy. We are creating the downstream value via the upstream marketing through cinemas. We should be participating in that benefit a little bit further down the line. All these models are changing.”

At War With Himself

Knatchbull, with customary understatement, described his business life as complicated. “One moment I’m talking with [CAE chief] Louisa Dent in Cannes about negotiating to buy The Girl, the next moment I might be choosing the seat colour for the next cinema in the Curzon Hoxton. Then we’re talking about not having a bit of technology that fits together the VOD platform with the Vista box-office system, then the next moment I’ve got a board meeting where I am trying to sell what we’re doing to shareholders,” he said. “It feels schizophrenic my job but it’s exciting and interesting. Very occasionally I have to act as the arbiter between the fighting parts of the business. Distribution wants as much exhibition of its films as it can get and exhibition has its own targets to hit and is under pressure from me to maximise admissions, so sometimes distribution doesn’t get what it wants. That is just normal in the course of any business with different departments.”

International Expansion?

Knatchbull told the Ghent audience that international expansion was firmly on the agenda. Curzon is coming to the end of “a very long look at our strategic options and our business plan, and I hope to be able to talk much more about that in the middle or the end of November. It’s fully my intention to scale out and transport what I’ve done in the UK. Being in Ghent, it is so good just to be able to sit and talk to other people who run cinemas and film distribution businesses, to hear their difficulties and opportunities.”

Knatchbull believes there is a need for consolidation in the independent film scene, not just between distribution and exhibition and VOD, but also for companies working more closely together across borders. “For us, that can be on a merger and acquisitions basis or a joint venture basis. Collectively if we work together then we have a better chance of competing with the behemoths of these huge companies coming down the line.”

Behemoths and Fear

Asked if the giant streaming companies and US studios operating or entering the market spark fear in him, Knatchbull didn’t hesitate noting that Disney “has no interest in what he is doing.

“I think it is an opportunity as they are going to take their eye off the ball completely. They already have as far as I am concerned which has allowed me under the radar to look at how we can create a bigger independent film marketplace,” he said. “I think smaller companies can always be adaptable and flexible and I think talent, particularly writing and directing and producing talent, always like to be nurtured by people who are listening to them and actually care passionately about what they are doing.”

Knatchbull cited that as being another reason he doesn’t want to kill the way that he buys movies by just buying through an algorithm. “The bigger companies will find that more and more difficult to maintain. The work Curzon does with a number of directors from Michael Haneke to Lars Von Trier to Ruben Östlund is often because they want Curzon to be participating in their future filmmaking. “But at the moment we really can’t because we are limited to the UK. If there was a broader spectrum of distribution then it would make more sense to get involved earlier on in the production of these films.”

Dabbling in Production

The hotel Knatchbull stayed in during CONTeXT was opposite Sphinx Cinema, “a fantastic arthouse cinema,” and was playing four films that Curzon distributes in the UK. Films including Only You, a title Curzon helped bring to the screen. “We don’t produce very much. I think we’ve produced three or four movies. We’re just testing.”

While production is a logical step, he wants to get the infrastructure in place first. “By that I mean a network of distribution and exhibition that reduces the risk of putting production finance in. That’s a part of what I’ve been working on and hopefully will be able to talk about in November.”

Financing Curzon and Its Ambition

Curzon is backed by a group of private investors, led by a single publicity-shy shareholder who “made a lot of money in the pharmaceutical business, legally I should say,” laughed Knatchbull .“ Over time he’s put more and more money in backing me and my team’s vision for the business. But we might be seeing a point at which we need bigger help in order to fully realise the dream.”

Brexit Impact

Curzon remains one of the biggest net benefactors in the UK from Creative Europe. In 2018, Curzon collected between €1.5 million to €2 million from across Europa Cinemas, Media Selective, Media Automatic and recently secured a $700,000 grant for Curzon Home Cinema.

“Obviously all of this is at risk [from the UK’s exit from the European Union]. And as an entrepreneur I don’t want to be reliant on public subsidy money, but I see it as a co-risk investment with my shareholders in trying to make Curzon Home Cinema work,” Knatchbull explained. “The same with programming risky movies in our cinemas. It is very important for our culture that this continues and I think we’re offering something that fewer and fewer people are. If the philistines in the UK political system mess it up then there is nothing that I can do. I am frankly embarrassed by our country’s politicians and I think a huge swathe of the country is as well.”

The good news is the government department of Culture Media and Sport has pledged to underwrite the grant Curzon is currently getting in case the UK pulls out of Europe and can’t recommit to Creative Europe.

“I personally believe that whatever happens, if we Brexit or if we don’t Brexit, they [the UK government] will want to continue paying into Creative Europe. Switzerland does it. Norway does it. We might have to tweak our laws which may be difficult but it makes perfect sense. A lot of British films get fantastic distribution through Europe because of the grants, so it is in the interests of government to do something.”

Knatchbull also said the sadness for him is that“more and more instead of looking to our natural neighbours in Europe, more and more we are looking to the English-speaking US market,” because it seems less problematic in terms of day-to-day business. “I don’t really want to look to America but I am starting to.”

Knatchbull remained on stage to answer a slew of questions at the end of the session covering the size of Curzon’s cinema estate (biggest venue is the Curzon Chelsea with 700 seats; smallest is one of the five screens at the Curzon Bloomsbury which has 22 seats); playing with supervod (Curzon Home Cinema offered French film Impossible Love a week before it went out in cinemas at a premium price in 2018, charging streamers £20 (rather than £10); and operating a screen devoted to documentaries (for six months it didn’t work at all and no-one came. Now every single show practically sells out).

He also said he was “definitely on the prowl to see what opportunities there are in Belgium for international expansion”.

High-End Television on Cinema Screens

Showing high-end television such as Game of Thrones or The Wire in cinemas is part of the future. [Curzon recently enjoyed success with British comedy Fleabag, a theatre piece turned BBC cult hit series which then returned to the stage. Originally a live transmission recorded by the National Theatre, Curzon has been showing recorded versions like a traditional film in its cinemas].

“I see it as a whole possibility of television converging back into cinema and vice versa. We do a lot with the National Theatre and the Met Opera in New York,” Knatchbull said. “We release films occasionally as live: We did Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomania as a live satellite link-up to cinemas around the country as an event.

“Believe it or not when the TV companies, even Netflix and Amazon, are making their TV, they don’t buy out the theatrical rights if they think it’s just for TV. And so doing it after the event is very expensive. I’m spending quite a lot of time trying to persuade TV companies to think about theatrical releases for TV films,” he said.

Accented Charge

Knatchbull also said he would consider acquiring high-end and foreign-language TV for Curzon On Demand but that Curzon is competing with some very powerful players in the UK. “It’s very competitive in the UK. You’d have to have a very big war chest to do so,” he said.

Exciting Future

Knatchbull remains excited about the potential for what virtual reality may bring. “We opened a virtual reality screen in one of our new cinemas and no-one came. That was mainly because the content wasn’t available, but I am a big believer in that. With VR, you are very much on your own whereas cinema is a communal tribal thing. VR and how it develops is still interesting. We talk all the time about immersive and experiential content andI think that’s where we are going in the next 20 to 30 years.”

Stay Strong

The lively and informative conversation ended with the Curzon CEO telling the audience to ignore unpopularity and people trying to kill you in this business.

“You’ve got to have a thick skin and, if you’re passionate about what you do and you think you can make a difference, funnily enough none of that really matters.”

***

Keynote delivered by Philip Knatchbull, October 7, 2019

By Stuart Kemp