Common ground: European exhibition issues extend beyond borders

Columns

As our international cinema exhibition colleagues in the USA and Latin America converge at ShowEast, UNIC—the European trade body representing exhibitors in 33 European countries—and its members face a range of challenges and opportunities that will surely also be discussed at the show in Hollywood, Florida.

In the first six months of the year across several European territories, a substantial number of films did not manage to attract large numbers of customers to our cinemas—both local content and releases from our major distribution partners in the U.S. And then there was World Cup soccer, of course, which also played a role in keeping consumers in the home. Germany saw a drop in box-office revenues of 9.2 percent in H1, and the U.K. experienced a decrease in admissions of 8.4 percent during the same period. Spain and Italy seemed to see some light at the end of a very difficult period of consolidation due to ongoing economic turbulence, yet both countries still have a long way to go on their road to recovery.

One of the few countries that performed well due to successful local films and a bold but contested audience development initiative is France, which recorded a 11.4 percent increase in admissions in H1. It remains to be seen if French audience figures also translate into box-office revenues at the end of the year.

Following a slightly more positive (and rainy) August, cinema professionals across Europe now hope for some Nordic weather depressions in the coming months and count on an attractive slate of films to hit the big screen in 2015.

While our cinema technology partners continue to innovate the moviegoing experience, benefitting from a now fully digitized theatrical landscape, maintaining optimal film-viewing circumstances still remains a challenge for some. Many of the operational issues around content delivery will of course only be of a transitional nature. UNIC's Technology Group—which collaborates closely with NATO's Technology Committee—is working closely with our partners in distribution and specific manufacturers and integrators to resolve these issues. Other challenges around large-scale future innovations, related market fragmentation, competition and investments require the sector and our partners to take a longer-term perspective. UNIC's Technology Group, together with members of our Partner Programme, will meet in November in Brussels to discuss these strategic implications in-depth.

At the same time, it is evident that exhibitors in several European countries are increasingly focusing their attention on various issues related to audience development. Audience trends in some mature European markets are stagnating and there is a clear need to develop innovative methods and new partnerships to attract younger audiences to the cinema. While Spain and France initiated large-scale promotion schemes to address these issues, UNIC's Marketing Group brings together senior marketing executives from our operator members to exchange best practices and new ideas regarding innovations in dynamic pricing, social media, mobile communications and customer relationship management. We hope that by sharing best practices, exhibitors across the various territories that we represent will continue to reach out to new audiences in new ways.

Finally, revisiting UNIC's role as the political voice of exhibition in the European Union, our currently most pressing challenges are related to recent political changes in Brussels. Following European elections in May 2014, around 40 percent of Members of the European Parliament are new to their job. The European Commission—Europe's executive body—is currently being restructured. It has already become clear that many political portfolios that are important to the motion picture industry—including copyright and audiovisual policy—will in the future be included in a new department called "Digital Economy and Society." The challenge is to ensure that films and creative content are not just considered as fodder for the pipes and traffic that European telecom operators and intermediaries like Google and Facebook require to increase their revenues. UNIC is therefore working hard together with its partners from across the film value chain to increase the profile of our sectors amongst recently appointed policy-makers.

U.S. and Latin American exhibitors may experience slightly different but nevertheless similar political, economic and technological challenges in their home regions. This is not surprising, given the growing interdependence of the motion picture industry across the world. It is therefore essential that exhibitors share experiences and collaborate on a number of issues that are important to all of us. ShowEast—by providing a bridge between the Latin American and the North American exhibition communities—offers a great opportunity to achieve this.