Curzon Cinemas targets expansion around the world

Billy Bambrough
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Under threat: Curzon Soho faces demolition due to the Crossrail 2 route

Curzon Cinemas, a chain that began in London in 1934 and has since opened 10 more cinemas across the country, is now targeting international growth through its digital offering.

Philip Mordecai, director of home cinema at Curzon, is aiming to grow the digital side of the business and sees it eventually competing with the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime in Europe, with US expansion also on the cards.

The business, which secured a £3m round of financing in 2013 and earlier this year teamed up with European property investment company Avignon Capital to fund six new physical sites, is now, Philip claims, generating enough revenue to fuel its future expansion.

Curzon’s home cinema service lets customers watch the latest films online, and has been compared to renting movies via Apple’s iTunes.

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Mordecai says the digital side of the business will eventually be considerably bigger than the physical one. The success of Netflix across Europe certainly proves the case for consumer demand for a digital service.

Streaming services are among the most popular kind of subscription in the UK, with 27 per cent of consumers paying a fixed cost for the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime or Sky Go, according to a recent YouGov poll.

Mordecai thinks there is a gap there for Curzon’s arthouse, independent film that it’s become known for.

Though Mordecai wouldn’t be drawn on the specifics of the expansion plans, it’s expected that a few European countries will feature with the possibility of a US launch further down the line.

“There has been great growth over the last few years on the digital side and we expect that to continue. The three different sides of the business compliment each other,” says Mordecai. Curzon’s business model is made up of three separate parts that all contribute to each other: The digital home cinema company, the cinema side, and the distribution business, Curzon Artificial Eye.

Curzon screens movies in its 11 cinemas, as well as digitally, and buys the rights to distribute films around the country. Curzon’s most successful film of 2015 was the Oscar-winning Still Alice, and it also distributed animated indie flick Anomalisa, out earlier this year and which has been favourably reviewed.

Buying film rights gives Curzon the ability to distribute the movie to cinemas but also into people’s homes at the same time, similar to the controversial company Screening Room founded by Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame which will allow the latest blockbusters to bypass cinemas entirely and broadcast directly into people’s homes. Mordecai has called Screening Room “fantastic” and “well overdue”.

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Curzon is dedicated to showing and distributing independent, arthouse films although it still caters to the mass market. It recently screened the latest Star Wars movie and is currently showing the Independence Day sequel, alongside the new Kevin Spacey flick, Elvis and Nixon.

Mordecai is confident there is a growing market for people who want a better experience from their cinema outings – which is still expected to be a big part of the business – and are willing to pay extra for it.

“We want people to come to our cinemas because they’re great places, not because they have to,” said Mordecai.

As the number of cinemas in the UK continues its terminal decline, dropping every year since 2006, Curzon is bucking the trend. It’s growing its brick and mortar business with plans to open three new cinemas this year, as well as another three in 2017. In 2015, Curzon opened cinemas in Sheffield and Canterbury.

The Curzon Soho, which it refurbished recently, is facing a battle for survival having found itself in the proposed Crossrail 2 rail route. And while officials claim another cinema could be built, it’s thought it would take until 2030.

The cash injection that Curzon picked up three years ago was used to overhaul the whole businesses – everything from e-commerce, branding, point-of-sale, technology, and training has been re-done from the ground up. The refresh means the digital side of the business works smoothly with the traditional side.

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