Forward, France: Martine Odillard keeps Pathé Gaumont fresh and innovative

Cinemas Features

“Growth is always at the forefront of the mind of a chief executive!” That’s certainly the case with Martine Odillard, chairman of France-based chain Pathé Gaumont and one of Celluloid Junkie’s “Top 50 Women in Global Cinema.” (For more information on the 2018 honorees, see the special section in our May issue.) With 773 screens across 69 cinemas in France—1,091 screens in 111 cinemas worldwide— Pathé Gaumont is the largest exhibitor in the most famously movie-hungry market in the world. But it has no intention of resting on its laurels.

Odillard’s background includes executive tenures in human resources and communications for Pathé and French conglomerate Chargeurs; she was named the CEO of the latter company in 2014. “My HR and communication experience developed my capacity to listen to and understand people, which in turn helps me to put people first,” she explains. “Team spirit is very important to me, and good communication leads to better results.” In 2015, “after [business leader] Jérôme Seydoux ceded his stake in Chargeurs, he offered me my current position at Les Cinémas Pathé Gaumont. I was delighted that he felt I was the right person to meet the strategic challenges faced by [the chain].”

And meet them she has. The French exhibition market, like that in America, is “fairly mature,” Odillard notes. There aren’t many new theatres being built. The way to capture the dedication of moviegoers, then, is to wholeheartedly embrace modernization, turning a trip to the movies into a capital-E Event.

“Our upscaling and modernization strategy rests on four pillars,” Odillard explains. First is “an active policy of construction, reconstruction and renovation,” followed by “constant innovation” and the application of new technology. Third in Pathé Gaumont’s four-point modernization plan is “new, customized services,” followed by “an optimized viewer experience, both in our cinemas and online.”

“There’s a real desire on the part of moviegoers to experience films in an immersive environment, where they can enjoy unrivaled sound and picture quality,” says Odillard. In that vein, France got its first 4DX theatre—at the Pathé La Villette—in March of last year; Odillard notes that the feedback from moviegoers has been “excellent,” prompting the company to further invest in the technology, to the tune of a planned 22 new 4DX theatres across Europe by the end of 2018, 18 of them in France. By the end of 2020, the goal is a round 50 European 4DX theatres.

By the end of April of this year, Pathé Gaumont also boasted 12 IMAX theatres in France, six in the Netherlands, two in Switzerland and one in Belgium. “This year, we’ll also be testing the first Screen X theatres in France: one in Pathé La Villette, and one in Pathé Beaugrenelle, coupled with a 4DX theatre. We’re continuing to open Dolby Cinema theatres. Finally, we’re opening two new IMAX Laser theatres this year,” one in the Pathé Plan de Campagne theatre near Marseille, the other in Toulouse’s Gaumont Labège location.

If you can’t tell, when it comes to innovative new technology, Pathé Gaumont likes to leap into the fray rather than hang back. In addition to tech, the chain also invests in comfortable theatres and an improved “lobby and reception experience: We’ve equipped our staff with tablets, so they can be mobile and keep up with customers. On top of that, we’ve created a ‘Service Academy’ to provide ongoing training to our teams.”

The top-tier experience Pathé Gaumont provides continues to expand into other markets. Africa, in particular, “is rich in opportunities for developing and operating modern movie theatres,” Odillard argues. Pathé Gaumont will open its first multiplex in Tunisia at the end of the year, with another to come in 2019, both in partnership with French-Tunisian producer Wassim Beji. Other projects are lined up in the Ivory Coast and Senegal.

Her chain’s growth, says Odillard, isn’t stopping anytime soon. Over the last two years, “we’ve invested in new technology, renovated our cinemas, shifted our client database to the new CRM Salesforce platform, launched a partnership with Starbucks... We’re number one in France, the Netherlands and Switzerland—and we plan to keep it that way!”