CineEurope celebrates another year of growth for European cinema

European Update

This column arriving at the end of another successful CineEurope, it makes perfectly good sense to focus on the news that the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC) shared with convention guests this June in Barcelona, Spain. Arguably the biggest news in all its 26 years of gathering cinema executives from across Europe was the establishment of a new Global Cinema Federation addressing the concerns of exhibitors around the world. You can read more about this initiative here.

In his convention address, Phil Clapp, president of UNIC, welcomed “colleagues from some of the largest cinema operating companies in the world.” Many of them were visiting CineEurope for the first time, he said, “drawn by the opportunity to learn more about the shared trends and developments that shape our global industry.”

On the home turf, “2016 was another year of growth for European cinema,” he noted. “Beating a twelve-year record, admissions across UNIC territories were over 1.28 billion, an increase of 2.8%.” Although currency fluctuations made the trend for box office “perhaps less clear-cut,” Clapp admitted, the €8.4 billion total reached [US$9.4 billion] “again included some startling successes,” such as the Czech Republic, Poland and Russia. Also noted by the annual report, per-capita admissions of all 770 million inhabitants across the 36 UNIC territories averaged 1.6 visits in 2016, representing a slight 0.1 point year-on-year increase. France (3.3) and Ireland (3.3) again saw the highest cinema-going rates for the region, while averages continued to increase in Spain (2.2), Czech Republic (1.5) and Poland (1.4). The market share of national films decreased slightly to 26.7%, according to the European Audiovisual Observatory, with 13 UNIC countries showing a local film leading box office in 2016.

This continuing strong performance is supported by massive investment in every aspect of the cinema-going experience. At the same time, Clapp credits “colleagues in film production and distribution” for ensuring that “European cinemas have an ever-broader choice of content for all audiences.” Nonetheless, he needed to point out how “some still seek to present the modern cinema sector as a ‘traditional’ or backward-looking industry. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Backing up his claim that finding new ways of engaging audiences is “our very lifeblood,” he addressed the report on “Innovation and the Big Screen” that was commissioned by UNIC (see our March 2017 column). New ideas come from every corner of Europe, Clapp explained, and equally important, “there is ample evidence that the best innovation—and the best-performing businesses—arise when the widest possible range of voices is heard.” In response to one “particular challenge for our sector,” UNIC announced a “groundbreaking” mentoring scheme during CineEurope. For Clapp, “More widespread representation of women at senior levels is not just a matter of fairness, it is also the key to business growth and better governance.”

The profile of those making decisions on the future of exhibition “differs in a number of ways from that of our audiences,” Clapp told attendees. “A snapshot of audiences across a number of UNIC territories shows an at least equal split of male and female cinema-goers, but more commonly a slight majority of females. Yet spend any time at this convention—or at most industry events—and you will see that senior executives in our sector are overwhelmingly male.” Reasons for this “are many, and often historic. But we can have no excuses. If we are to be as efficient, as diverse and—yes—as innovative as our audiences demand, then we need to pull [from] the widest possible range of talent.”

Encompassing nine companies across eight countries during the pilot phase, the UNIC Women’s Cinema Leadership Scheme is designed to do just that. “We don’t pretend it will be all of the answer,” Clapp acknowledged. “But we hope it will be a beginning.”

The initiative will pair six senior female executives with an “up and coming” female professional currently employed by a European cinema company. Besides one-on-one monthly mentoring—from key players at Swiss Cinema Association, Paramount Pictures (Spain), Finnkino (Finland), Cinema & Leisure at Coca-Cola (based in Belgium), VUE Entertainment International (United Kingdom) and VOX Cinemas (United Arab Emirates)—Diana Stratan, the program coordinator, also foresees job-shadowing exercises for those participating, as well as networking opportunities and workshops.

During his remarks, Clapp also thanked parting executive Jan Runge for leading UNIC “with great skill, intellect and energy” over the past six years. “As a result, we have not only seen off a number of potential challenges to the future success of our industry. We have helped put cinema back where it belongs: at the center of European film policy.” Taking over Runge’s post of chief executive, Laura Houlgatte Abbott can build on her foundation of UNIC EU affairs executive. Said Clapp, “Her contribution to UNIC over the last couple of years has been exceptional, and I and other members of the board were unanimous in our view that she was the best person to take our work forward.”

And speaking of that very board, during their general assembly at CineEurope, members of the International Union of Cinemas also elected a new group to serve the organization. Clapp, chief executive of the U.K. Cinema Association, was reappointed as president of UNIC, and a number of other key board positions were announced: Jean-Pierre Decrette (VP of the Fédération Nationale des Cinémas Français) as senior VP; Edna Epelbaum (president of the Association Cinématographique Suisse), Mario Mazzetti (CEO of Italy’s Associazione Nazionale Esercenti Cinema), Kim Pedersen (CEO of Danske Biografer in Denmark) and Matthias Leonardy (managing director of HDF Kino in Germany) as vice presidents; and Jaime Tarrazón (delegate of Federación de Cines de España) as the organization’s treasurer.

Clapp defined his goal—and that of his fellow board members—as ensuring that the organization “continues to provide a strong and influential voice for the European cinema sector. That role has never been more vital,” he added. “While the sector as a whole is experiencing a period of great success, there will always be challenges which are best dealt with on an industry-wide basis. I look forward to continuing to work with other board members as well as the team at the UNIC office in helping to take our sector to even greater heights.”