Dramatic changes for European cinema business

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The worldwide motion picture industry has experienced a major transformation over the past 12 months—perhaps the largest ever in the history of the business. International box office hit an all-time high in 2009, and the first quarter of 2010 has seen a box-office gain of nearly 40 percent, almost certainly guaranteeing a record performance in 2010. The driving force is the firming up of the studio Virtual Print Fee deals and, of course, 3D.

3D has been a major audience driver in 2010, and between now and the end of the year, some 18 more films will be released in this format. Digital technology enhances today’s moviegoing experience, and filmgoers are flocking to these big-scale pictures.

Technology is also changing the way films are marketed and distributed. Marketers are looking to viral marketing and social media to reach their audiences. It’s a whole new ballgame and marketing opportunities are available in all shapes and sizes.

2009 was a record-breaking year for the European exhibition industry. Box office saw a major 12 percent rise from the 2008 total. Behind the scenes, the rate of conversions of screens to digital projection showed a dramatic upturn fueled by an attractive calendar of 3D releases and patron enthusiasm for the new experience. The popularity of 3D also impacted overall market share.

Recent reports detail the rapid increase in digital screens and especially those equipped with 3D. At the end of last year, there were about 4,500 digital installations in the European market—and nearly 75 percent were 3D-enabled. This represents a threefold increase in installations since 2008 and a fivefold increase in 3D.

In the first half of 2010, all indications are that the growth has accelerated, with an estimated 8,000 European digital screens, most equipped with 3D. The only apparent restraint on growth in screens currently is the hardware pipeline limiting the supply of projectors and screens. Until the supply of 3D screens is adequate to handle several launches of 3D films simultaneously, there will be problems in the market; potential business will be lost as exhibitors are forced to pull movies from their screens to accommodate other films entering the market.

The other hotly contested issue regarding 3D currently is the conversion of 2D to 3D. The public is keenly aware of the quality factor when a film is shot in 3D. The industry must be very careful when converting a 2D film to 3D not to compromise the quality of the technology. Patrons experienced the best 3D ever with Avatar and might be willing to accept a little less than state-of-the-art, but they are not willing to acquiesce when a film is marketed as 3D but converted poorly. Some exhibitors report receiving complaints from their customers when the 3D being played is not up to the quality they have been accustomed to seeing.

The July edition of Film Journal International includes feature articles on the rise of box office and admissions in Europe and the growth in digital technology and 3D on the continent. European exhibition is experiencing dramatic changes, and we are pleased to share the latest information.

CEI and UNIC Unite
As members of the film industry converge on Amsterdam for the 19th edition of Cinema Expo International, they will also witness a great transformation. For the first time, Cinema Expo will be the official convention of UNIC, the International Union of Cinemas. This association represents more than 28,000 screens across Europe and serves as the watchdog for theatrical exhibition in the European market.

Following their convention in Brussels last year, the UNIC board members felt that a partnership with Cinema Expo to establish one high-quality event was in the best interest of the European motion picture industry. Signs of the partnership will be readily seen in Amsterdam as leaders of the organization will have a much higher profile than anytime in the past. The management of CEI has worked closely with UNIC members to put together a strong educational program that will touch upon piracy, digital cinema, 3D, alternative programming and how the European Union is supporting the movie industry throughout the continent.

Film is still the lifeblood of Cinema Expo, and management has reported to this editor that participation from the movie studios is quite exceptional, with seven films to be screened, two in 3D, and five product presentations from the Hollywood companies. With box office soaring in 2009, a record crowd is expected at CEI, with one of the largest trade fairs in recent history.