Championing Catalonia: Tarrazón Brothers ace exhibition accolade
CineEurope will present the 2012 “International Exhibitors of the Year Award” to Jaime Tarrazón Rodón, chief executive officer of ACEC Cines SA, and Camilo Tarrazón Rodón, president of Gremi d’Empresaris de Cinema de Catalunya, the Catalan Theatre Owners Association. “For both of us, it is an honor to receive this award from our peers in the industry,” the brothers jointly stated, “especially during the first edition of CineEurope that takes place in Barcelona, our hometown. The list of people we would like to thank is too long, but we would like to mention Bob Sunshine and its team and all our partners in ACEC without whom we would not be here today.”
Jaime and Camilo are third-generation cinema operators from the Catalonia region of Spain that is home to some three million people. “We’ve been involved in this business ever since we were born and we will do our best to make our children continue with it,” Jaime Tarrazón declares. “Our late father…was a great source of inspiration for us and the person who taught us to love the cinema business. And he did so not by being nostalgic about the past, but by instilling a passion that keeps us always looking forward to the future of this industry. There is no better experience to see a movie than in a state-of-the-art cinema, in a comfortable seat and with freshly made popcorn and soda.”
Historically speaking, that was not always possible, however. Business practices in the old days were even less cause for nostalgia. The theatrical market in Spain was plagued by antiquated release patterns that denied theatres outside of major cities timely access to current Hollywood movies. “A movie that is released in the Barcelona province with 50 prints today had maybe four available back in 1985,” Tarrazón recalls, explaining how their father Jaime Tarrazón Badia set out to change policy and tried to have “major” releases on a wider basis. “Although that was already a common practice in many territories outside the U.S. during that time, Spain was far from doing it.” Waiting until prints became available, he says, “was forcing many theatres to close and the market was shrinking further with the arrival of legitimate home videos and the threat of their illegal copies.”
Tarrazón’s father united some 50 other regional exhibitors and founded ACEC, the aptly named Area Catalana d’Exhibiciò Cinematografica. In an attention-getting September 1984 interview with Variety, Tarrazón Badia and his colleagues set the record straight that some $5.5 million had been lost during the prior year due to staggered releases. “We must take the pictures to where the audiences are,” they told the reporter at that time, “and not expect people to travel all the way to downtown Barcelona.” This practice dated back to a time when Barcelona would indeed generate 70% of the business and 30% was done in the provinces. Given the population shift, with the surrounding areas dramatically outweighing the city, those percentages had almost been reversed, the Catalonian exhibitors outlined for Hollywood executives, hoping they’d take notice.
It was another nine months, though, before “the breakthrough happened” on July 1, 1985. Jaime Tarrazón, Jr. gives the exact date for the Warner Bros. release of Police Academy 2 and sent us a scan of the historic newspaper ad. “It was an instant success” that led to countrywide changes, he confirms. “The introduction of ‘major’ releases in Spain was tested with ACEC alone, but it was quickly replicated around Spain in territories with similar characteristics. The success of that move and the subsequent development of brand-new multiplexes—at the same time as all those downtown theatres were converted into multi-screens—was helping our country to reach a European leadership in cinema-going growth.” Not to mention bringing ACEC much esteem within the industry and continued success. “In the early 1990s, we started opening state-of-the art multiplexes in shopping malls that were being built in out-of-town areas,” Tarrazón reports. “That was the next big move that helped the Spanish market grow until reaching a peak in 2001-2004 with over 140 million tickets sold every year.”
“ACEC was not only part of that growth,” he continues, “but a leading force.” Tarrazón mentions getting their new auditoriums ready with sufficient soundproofing while digital sound was still in development. He adds that ACEC debuted digital 3D theatres during Easter 2009, “before Avatar made 3D a must-have in December.” And by 2008, “we introduced vibrating seats in some auditoriums.”
While those came from Euroseating, Tarrazón provides some more vendor history. “Our family has been a client of Figueras for many years. Our father built one of his first cinemas, Cine Navarra in L’Hospitalet, with only one building in between next to the first factory of Figueras where they manufactured wooden chairs.” Just as “one of their most successful products—the ‘integral form’ of the 1980s—was first tested in our Cine Verbena,” ACEC also had the very first Cretors popcorn machine in Spain. “Cine Picarol in downtown Badalona no longer exists, but we still have the machine! We had asked Fernando Gallardo to bring that machine into the country. He later became the Cretors agent for Spain and built more than 200 concession stands with his company Tekind.”
The latest business bond was forged at the end of April with Barco and Arts Alliance Media (AAM) that “will allow us to be fully digitalized within a year,” Tarrazón anticipates (www.artsalliancemedia.com/75_screens_from_acec_cines.html). “In Spain there are no government incentives for exhibition. So every investment has to be privately backed.” Doing so now, as part of the Barco leasing package, and having done so in the past, ACEC has grown to a country market share of 6.9% today. The circuit covers 29 locations in 24 cities in Catalonia and beyond, with 251 screens and some 36,000 seats. The latest attendance count of six million generated a box office of €38 million (US$49 million).
With Francisco García as head film buyer, ACEC Cines SA is “still 100%-owned by those same families of theatre owners that joined forces together 27 years ago,” Tarrazón proudly states. “ACEC’s spirit, like that of the Catalan entrepreneurship, is looking to innovate and bringing together all the local resources to succeed in leading the market. That all those individual theatre owners came together back in 1985 for a common purpose and that they are still under ACEC’s roof today is considered a unique success story in the Spanish industry.” Like himself and his brother Camilo, “in most cases, they are on their third generation already.” He mentions the Camprecios, Cortadellas, Gratacós, Grau, Lluis, Padró, Ramis, Sallent, Tarrazón and Vilà families. Josep Camprecios and Enric Gratacós share CEO responsibilities with Jaime Tarrazón, he adds.
In addition to presiding over the Gremi d’Empresaris, which integrates Cinesa, ACEC, Grupo Balaña, Yelmo, Ocine and several independent exhibitors operating across Catalonia, Camilo Tarrazón is a member of FECE, the Spanish Theatre Owners Association (Federación de Cines de España) and was elected to become its country representative at UNIC. Under Camilo’s guidance, exhibitors and distributors worked out a manageable solution with the Generalitat for the mandated dubbing of foreign films into Catalan. Jaime calls the result of dedicating one screen each in the region’s top 50 multiplexes “another example of working out an agreement instead of being confrontational.”
Given his standing in the industry, it seems appropriate to ask Camilo Tarrazón what lies ahead for theatrical exhibition in Spain. “It is well-known that Spain has suffered a significant decline in attendance due to several problems that are only too familiar to our industry in general.” He names “overbuilding, rampant piracy and, most recently, the European financial crisis and the very high unemployment rate in our country. While we have lost one-third of the tickets sold,” ACEC and its fellow exhibitors “still believe in the future of our industry,” Tarrazón assures. “Sacrifices are to be made and we will be fighting against the odds. We have done it back in 1985, or when home video and DVDs landed on the Spanish market. Movie theatres are the best place to enjoy movies. We have to make that experience so unique that the crowds continue to stream in. Taking advantage of modern technologies and adapting to the situation surrounding us,” he concludes, “will allow us not only to survive but to prevail. That is what makes ACEC so unique. No one else has succeeded in doing something like this in Spain, and there are a lot of companies that have tried to imitate… The fact that we do not belong to a big multinational corporation has other Spanish theatre owners believe that they can do what we do. But ACEC is truly an outstanding example of the two basic characteristics of the Catalan entrepreneurial spirit: innovation and joining forces to succeed in higher goals.”