Internationally United: European trade body advocates for cinema business

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UNIC Perspectives

With CineEurope approaching fast, we thought it timely to offer Film Journal International readers a short update regarding the recent work of the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC), the European cinema trade group, as well as to examine key trends across the territories we represent.

In 2014, average box-office revenue and cinema admissions increased slightly across the 36 UNIC territories despite the competing attractions of the football World Cup during the key summer months. This was primarily a result of growth in a few key markets, driven by the success of mostly local films. While total box-office revenue in UNIC territories increased by 0.6 percent and admissions by 1.7 percent, as has often been the case, individual results varied significantly from one country to another.

For example, French cinema exhibitors–riding on a wave of successful local films–reached beyond the 200 million visitor mark and increased admissions by 7.7 percent. On the other hand, several other countries, including as examples Denmark (box office 6.6 percent; admissions 10.6 percent) and Italy (box office 7.1 percent; admissions 6.1 percent), experienced more challenging market conditions.

In 2015, as we all know, international cinema exhibition has gotten off to a great start. Global hits such as Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Mad Max: Fury Road have led to record results in several countries. With many strong international titles still to come, it remains to be seen whether the market share of European films across the European Union–an impressive 33 percent in 2014–can be maintained.

During CineEurope, European cinema exhibitors will have the opportunity to see and consider the upcoming slate of major studio as well as independent distributor titles arriving in their territories over the coming months. We are proud this year to have further expanded our reach to include film and trailer presentations by European heavyweights including Studiocanal, EuropaCorp and uniFrance. Our hope remains to attract further independent distributors for subsequent editions of the show.

The event will also, of course, provide an opportunity for everyone to explore key trends in cinemagoing and recent and upcoming innovations in cinema technology.

Seminars and more small-scale “Focus” sessions will look at digital marketing innovations, engaging the youth audience, developments in screen advertising and so-called “Big Data.” These amply demonstrate the industry’s focus on further improving the cinemagoing experience.

The International Cinema Technology Association (ICTA) will also be running a session exploring how most recent technical innovations–including laser illumination, motion seating and digital distribution–add further value to cinema operation and, of course, to the audience experience.

If all of that sounds exciting and maybe occasionally glamorous, it should not be forgotten that UNIC has an additional–and no less important–role. When in Brussels, the UNIC executive team, its board of directors and president Phil Clapp spend a good deal of their remaining time representing the interests of European cinema operators when dealing with EU policy-makers, as well as supporting our members in promoting their national interests across UNIC territories.

As well as raising the profile of the cultural, economic and social contribution that cinema makes to society (and, of course, to the wider film ecology) we also look to support industry colleagues in tackling key issues such as film theft, where–in our view–much more needs to be done to promote responsible and fair media consumption amongst consumers online.

Cinema operators will continue to work with partners in film distribution and across the wider industry to tackle illegal recording in cinemas as well as promoting awareness campaigns amongst consumers. However, there is also a real need for EU policy-makers to ensure that ongoing “industrial-scale” copyright infringements–including activities of major credit card companies and so-called cyber-lockers–are tackled. The European Commission should furthermore ensure that all Internet intermediaries contribute to fighting piracy–and that rules around copyright enforcement are implemented more effectively across EU Member States.

Another major strand of our advocacy work shared with others in the industry centers on educating European policy-makers around the business models of financing, producing, distributing and exhibiting films. Some in the European Commission and in the European Parliament clearly believe that European film productions in particular would thrive if the creative industries were required to release their works “day-and-date” on all platforms and across all EU Member States. This vision of what the European Commission calls the “Digital Single Market” is we believe a potentially dangerous one for cultural diversity and for the European cinema sector in particular.

If filmmakers and their business partners are not able efficiently to distribute and promote films in various countries and release platforms through agreeing on exclusive pre-sales arrangements with local stakeholders–including broadcasters, local distribution companies and, of course, cinema operators–a major part of the pre-financing for those films would be lost. Independent film companies who do not handle worldwide distribution would in particular lose out and major global Internet platforms–including Amazon, iTunes and Google Play–would gain further market power. This surely cannot be what the Commission wants to see.

Ultimately, by mandating cross-border access to films on any VOD site in Europe at any time, the film value chain in many countries could be massively damaged. Cinema operators would not generate revenues sufficient to be able to invest in and maintain state-of-the art theatres and the key launch pad and revenue generator for the vast majority of films–the exclusive cinema release–would be endangered.

To prevent this dangerous notion becoming a reality, UNIC has in recent months, and together with key industry partners, embarked on a major advocacy and communications campaign. This has involved film screenings for Brussels policy-makers, where we have taken the opportunity to highlight how our sector creates value. We have also hosted numerous meetings with EU officials and leading cinema company CEOs and association heads, and have of course also submitted our positions as part of ongoing official industry consultation processes of the European Commission. While much still remains to be done to convince EU policy-makers of our arguments, the first signs from the Commission show that our work has had some impact.

 

What’s above only covers a fraction of the work that we do in Brussels. Should you want to find out more about anything above, or our activity on a range of political issues that can have a direct impact on the performance of your cinema or indeed the wider industry, please do not hesitate to contact us–or take a look at our website, www.unic-cinemas.org.