by Content Café, 20 July 2021 — July 20, 2021
Each month we hear from industry insiders in Australia and abroad to get their take on content piracy. Is content protection improving? How do we stop piracy? How does Australia compare to the rest of the world? These are some of the questions we'll be exploring with leaders across the content industry.
Welcome Phil, please introduce yourself.
I am Chief Executive of the UK Cinema Association, the trade body which represents the interests of the overwhelming majority of UK cinema operators, ranging from the largest multiplex circuits to a ‘long tail’ of smaller single site operators. Unlike the situation in Australia, we do not have a separate body representing independent cinemas, so our role – and challenge – is to work to support all of those members when it comes to lobbying, advising on regulation and legislation and handling a wide range of operational challenges.
Clearly the primary (and on most occasions sole) focus of the Association over the last year and more has been in ensuring UK cinemas are supported in dealing with issues arising from COVID-19.
But in ‘normal’ times we also work with a range of industry partners, in theatrical distribution but also home entertainment and retail on matters of shared concern, including of course piracy.
Does piracy affect your business or that of your stakeholders? How?
We know that in many respects, cinemas are the ‘front line’ of piracy, with the vast majority of illegal film content found online or in hard copy starting off life as a film recorded in a cinema theatre. So film theft has a direct impact on our members – the last estimate we had suggested that it resulted in around £220 million of box office per year, or around a fifth of total UK box office.
We have worked hard with colleagues at the Film Content Protection Agency – an organisation funded by our Film Distributors’ Association – to raise awareness of the threat of piracy amongst our members and ensure that everyone working in a cinema is aware of what to look out for and what to do if they suspect someone is trying to record a film at their venue.
What do you think is the most significant impact of piracy on the creative industry?
Piracy of course has an impact beyond box office, and clearly reduced revenues for other elements of the film ‘value chain’, including home entertainment. The inter-connected nature of the film ecology, and the complexities of the financing models which underpin it, make it an inevitability that losses as a result of piracy will have an impact on the number and nature of film productions.
Less money means less productions (and of course fewer job opportunities for those working in the sector), but it also means that more marginal or ‘higher risk’ productions are less likely to be greenlit.
What is the biggest challenge in the fight against piracy?
I think there remains a perception that piracy is in some way a victimless crime and so something to be tolerated or an activity which is less serious than other types of fraud. The industry has made some progress in challenging that misconception, in particular through campaigns which highlight the very real impact of film theft on those working behind the camera.
The more we can educate the public to the realities of our industry the better, though I suspect we will always be at a disadvantage given the extent to which much of the media coverage focuses on big box office numbers or the seemingly glamorous lifestyles of those who appear on the screen.
How do you think Australia is measuring up in tackling piracy?
The experience of the last decade and more is that film theft is very much a global challenge – a film captured in a cinema anywhere in the World will soon be accessible online to all comers. So every territory has its part to play.
I genuinely think that Australia is taking the lead in a number of areas in the fight against piracy, not least in its efforts to establish a ‘joined up’ response to the challenges through the work of the Creative Content Australia whose public messaging work is very similar to that of our own Industry Trust for IP Awareness, with similarly positive results in terms of changing the type of public attitudes mentioned above.
Do you have any personal experiences or anecdotes about piracy?
Outside of my professional life, my experience is probably one shared with many others working in the industry, namely finding friends and occasionally family who consume pirated content without any thought as to the rights or wrongs of doing so, or any questioning of the legality of their actions.
It’s something which is probably most striking when talking to friends who work in other aspects of the creative industries, who would probably (rightly) be outraged if someone stole their ideas or IP and made money from it, but see nothing wrong with illegal downloading of films or music.
Engaging in discussion on these matters is inevitably awkward, but we all have a role to play in getting the message ‘out there’ I think.
What are you watching and recommending to friends at the moment?
Various periods of lockdown have given me an opportunity to catch up on a whole host of TV series and films which I’d missed first time round. Two very different but equally brilliant examples are the French comedy drama Call My Agent, set in a talent agency, which is at the same time very French and also hugely relatable, and the US comedy series Schitt’s Creek, which is hilarious but profound.
More recently, the BBC prison drama Time was brilliant impactful, though not maybe for the squeamish.
What excites you about the future of your industry sector?
I think the sense of excitement and relief that has accompanied the emergence of the UK (and in many respects the global) film industry as it emerged from the challenges of COVID can only give you a huge sense of optimism as to the future of the industry.
While there is a lot of road still to be travelled, early signs are all extremely positive, with every sign that if anything the long period when people weren’t allowed to visit the cinema has made them even more appreciative of all that the big screen experience has to offer.
Phil has been the CEO of the (then) Cinema Exhibitors’ Association since 2007.
During his time at the Association, Phil spearheaded the establishment of the Digital Funding Partnership, which ensured the survival of small and medium-sized UK cinema operators in a new technological era, as well as more recently leading on the establishment of the ground-breaking MEERKAT MOVIES promotion.
In May 2013, Phil was elected President of the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC) the European grouping of cinema trade associations and key operators.
Before joining the Association, worked at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, leading on policy for the creative industries – including film, music and computer games – having joined the civil service in 1994 from a background in scientific research.
Before you go check out last month’s interviews with Ron Curry, CEO, IGEA (Interactive Games & Entertainment Association) & Diane Hamer, Head Of Business & Legal Affairs, Content And Brand Protection BBC Studios.