Just to make two things absolutely clear:
1) Everything I write in this thread represents my own personal opinion, and should absolutely not be interpreted as any particular company's policy;
2) I myself would dearly love region coding to be abolished worldwide (in fact, having been broadly region-free for nearly a decade, it's decidedly unnerving having to check before ordering a title from abroad that it will actually work in my Blu-ray player!).
But regardless of what I'd ideally like...
It's all about perception, about separating Blu-Ray from DVD. About making the argument that you suggest is near-impossible to make. In the DVD format, Region Coding was the industry standard. You can't say this about Blu-Ray, which is maybe 50/50 at present (maybe 20/80 for studio catalog titles and second runs). And then, with HD-DVD and VHS, there was no region coding at all - and region coding on DVD was a joke in any case - so there's really no need for it at all.
Well, there was
region coding on VHS by default, in the form of PAL, SECAM and NTSC. Prior to the mid-1990s, getting round this involved either buying separate VCRs and televisions or expensive multistandard equipment, and of course importing was much less common - and by the time NTSC playback on PAL televisions became de rigueur
, VHS was on the way out anyway. As for HD-DVD, it lost the format war. There were many reasons for this, but I'd be surprised if region coding didn't enter into the equation somewhere - for every Warner Brother there's a Fox.
I've never seen a distribution contract that make such specific stipulations about what another distributor must do in another territory.
Neither have I. But that doesn't mean that such issues aren't discussed at the negotiating stage, especially if one distributor knows that a rival in a different territory is chasing the same title at the same time (as is often the case, especially if a shiny new master has just become available). Since you've hinted several times both here and elsewhere that you either are or have been an industry insider, I shouldn't need to remind you what a minuscule world it is.
On the other hand, it's common practice to include a waiver to the effect that the licensor is unable to prevent parallel imports from other territories.
This is a slightly different issue, and essentially covers the distributor's arse against accusations of collusion with importers should their DVD get sold abroad in sufficient numbers to worry local distributors. But the mere fact that such clauses end up in contracts show how concerned rightsholders are about distributors being seen to move outside their specifically contracted territory - so it actually reinforces my argument rather than yours.
A title like Red Desert is going to appeal to the sort of consumer who is most likely to own a Region A player, even if they live in the UK. I've always purchased most of my DVDs from the US and, if I were living in the UK and was in the market for a Blu-Ray player right now, R-A would be a no-brainer (well, if not for the fucking Red Desert disc...) This being the case, the BFI are actually preventing some UK customers from being able to make use of their product!
No, these customers are preventing themselves
from being able to make use of the product, by deliberately opting to be locked to a different region from the country in which they're based. And since they've decided to do this, their beef should be with distributors in the US (or wherever) for not releasing the title that they're after, since they've effectively (albeit virtually) relocated themselves to that territory. What you've essentially done is the same as buying an NTSC VCR twenty years ago and complaining that British distributors aren't catering for your needs.
Then there is the negative perception around Region Coding. Maybe it'll work in my player, but what about my friend? What if I go on holiday in another region and want to watch by Red Desert disc? What if my laptop is set to R-A? Etc. Consumers don't appreciate it, so it's arguably going to hit their UK numbers just on that level.
Finally, international competition is a fundamental free market principal. If the BFI makes a better disc than, say, Criterion, then consumers from the US should be free to purchase their product instead. Or vice versa. They may have no rights to market the product outside the UK, they may have no rights to directly sell the product outside of the UK, but they do have a right for their product to be purchased by international customers in UK stores.
Oh come on - do you seriously think that distributors like
region coding? That they deliberately restrict their market out of sheer spite, and are prepared to take a financial hit because they despise their customers so much?
I think MoC are just being savvy to realise the practical difference between DVD and Blu-Ray region coding at this moment in time - unlike the BFI, who are living in the past.
Tell you what - shall we come back to this argument in a year's time and see if MoC has managed to remain exclusively region-free on Blu-ray, while still having a free run of all the titles that they're after?
As I say, it's a buyer's market right now, especially in the arthouse sector. Do you think MoC/Eureka could have afforded LA NOTTE ten years ago? If all the distributors insist, the licensors will crumble like a runny flap-jack.
I agree that the collective-action principle that you and Nick are advocating sounds great in theory - but it's stymied by the fact that it seems to be predicated on a simple us-and-them situation whereby distributors form one discrete group (which doesn't favour region coding) and rightsholders/sales agents form another (which does).
But while Nick is (I think) pretty much a pure distributor, many companies combine both roles (either directly or in different departments within the same organisation), so it's a racing certainty that not everyone will play ball. This being the case, those who don't go along with the plan will simply snap up the titles that haven't been grabbed by the more idealistic distributors, possibly at a lower price thanks to the perceived lack of demand. Which is why even the more idealistic distributors are unlikely to go along with it either if push comes to shove - not with the kind of margins they generally have to cope with.
And that's always going to be the bottom line in this business, and so-called moral arguments, absolutist statements of free-market principles and generalised jibes about "living in the past" aren't going to make a blind bit of difference. (Regardless, as I said, of my own personal feelings).
(Quick note to the mods - can this discussion be moved elsewhere? It's well worth having, but it's rather swamping the Red Desert thread!)