CineMundo magnifico: ShowEast honors Chile's José Daire Barrios
“Cinema is an experience that is more alive now than ever before.” Important and inspiring words from José Patricio Daire Barrios, the president of Cine Hoyts and CineMundo circuits in Chile, and recipient of the “International Achievement Award in Exhibition” at this year’s ShowEast.
As part of the larger Grupo Chilefilms holdings that also provide audiovisual services for movies and television, these distinct brands share one philosophy that is all about “creating a unique entertainment experience,” Daire Barrios says. “Our cinemas are projecting a quality of service that will go beyond the client’s expectations.” On a corporate level, the “goal is to build a leading company [that keeps] our staff motivated by offering them a chance for professional growth and a good working environment.”
Receiving this recognition from the global exhibition and distribution community “came as a real surprise to me,” Daire Barrios admits. “There is a whole great team behind this success and they deserve the credit in our organization much more than I do. All I can do is to thank those who have always taken pride in their job and who have helped to make our company what it is today. Also, I’d like to thank my father, who has been my source of inspiration, and who, in spite of having passed away a long time ago, has motivated us with his legacy to keep moving forward and growing.”
The biggest move ahead during the overhaul of theatrical exhibition throughout Chile began in partnership with Cinemark back in 1993, Daire Barrios details. After the “big political confusion in our country” during the 1970s “when our company was nationalized,” he and his fellow Chileans had been ready to welcome the changes in government. “We had to start rebuilding the cinema industry in Chile from scratch,” including the modernization of the country’s movie theatres. “Cinemark embodied all those concepts we needed and were looking for,” he recalls. “It was a very big company and its organizational structure was similar to ours, which would make the entire process easier. After having attended the American Film Market, we met with Lee Roy Mitchell and Tim Warner, who both gave us a warm welcome. The working chemistry was instant between us.” Two weeks later, they arrived in Chile, “planting the seed” for the joint association that began with the May 1993 launch of Cinemark Plaza Vespucio as the first multiplex in Chile and later on continued into Argentina and Peru. As Cinemark Chile operates 12 multiplexes with some 94 screens, the company itself has become “the most geographically diverse circuit in Latin America” with 161 theatres and 1,282 screens in 13 countries (www.cinemark.com).
At that time in 1993, Chile counted some 8.8 million annual visits to the movies, Daire Barrios notes. “This year we are expecting to achieve a total of 20 million,” in a country with an estimated 17.4 million inhabitants (2012 census: 16.6 million). “The number of screens has increased by 130% in the same period of time.” Going forward, “our focus is to stimulate and encourage the cinema-going habit to eventually reach numbers similar to Australia and North America.” With his colleagues in Europe, he hopes to share all the “technological solutions…that help in making our customers’ lives easier, that can improve our operations and, along with that, help promote even more our service philosophy.”
Selling his shares in the multiplex operation to Cinemark in 1998 was the result of a “different business focus,” not of divergent philosophies, Daire Barrios assures. “We’ve managed to keep the great friendship alive and continue to cooperate today.” After all, “show business runs in our veins…and we got back into the game,” he says. “There are always emotional moments in this business, opening the very first cinema in a little town or inaugurating a huge cinema complex in a big city. Show business involves a lot of human contact, and that is what makes the permanent development and growth possible. And of course, there is the emotion of looking at movie theatres packed with viewers, which is something that gives you an energy boost and makes you want to keep moving forward.”
In 2000, Daire Barrios and Chilefilms began building a new chain of multiplexes under the CineMundo brand. Within two years, CineMundo Antofagasta opened and operations were further expanded to cities to the north and south of Santiago, counting 14 locations, 74 screens and 16,500 seats today. With the purchase of Hoyts Cinemas Chile Inc. at the end of 2011 (eight theatres, 69 screens, 15,000 seats), Daire Barrios created the country’s largest circuit.
“Working with two different brand names,” he says, is “based mainly on the necessity to understand both organizations clearly and to be able to take our time in order for these two companies to achieve a successful merger, which one day will make all our dreams for this business come true. Our mid-range goal is to foster one brand only that will provide the highest-quality standards for our guests and employees.”
Cine Hoyts currently is top-of-mind in Chile, he confirms, with over 76% brand recognition. “That represents an important challenge for us, considering what we have achieved up to now and what we must carry on doing, in order to keep the brand image as strong in the future.”
Continuing to develop “the experience in our movie theatres and the quality of the service that have placed our brands in the leading position” in the first place is key to Daire Barrios’ strategy. “We were first to introduce ‘Premium Class’ auditoriums in Chile, first to launch an online sales platform and to implement a special ‘Revenue Management’ system that rewards our customers who book their visits to the cinema in advance, offering them a lower price.” He says it is the same concept that applies to airlines and hotels. Back in the cinema, Daire Barrios adds XXL large-format screens to the lists of firsts and mentions the new business opportunities and ideas offered by Cinecolor Sat. The Grupo Chilefilms subsidiary facilitates DCP production and distribution, alternative-content programming and cinema-advertising services. “All this make us quite optimistic about the future of our business,” he assures.
Satellite delivery requires digital projection, of course. Three years ago, Daire Barrios recalls, “we installed our first 3D projection system at Cine Hoyts La Reina with Christie and Dolby technology. Today we are proud owners of 140 conventional and 30 digital 3D auditoriums. This investment has been entirely financed by our company, given the fact that the State does not offer any contribution to this kind of project. The agreements that we have with our distributors, [however, help contribute] a certain percentage in VPF payments, thanks to which it is possible to carry out the conversion process.”
Putting aside the technological transition, what are some of the other pending issues today? “The main challenge for our industry is to make the governments take a serious stand on piracy and to prove that cinema is an integral part of our social model,” he replies. “It is also crucial to promote the cinema window as the most important window before all the other platforms. This said, as an industry, we must be able to demonstrate the real extent of piracy and its impact on our economy.”
Daire Barrios also wants exhibition and distribution to work together “to generate a fund in order to promote cinema as a social, educational and leisure-time activity that is unique and of top importance for the society.” He would further hope that “communication leaders” too will help promote cinema as the best form of entertainment. “It would be good if South America and especially Chile could join the premiere touring programs with famous actors coming to visit,” he suggests. “This would bring Hollywood closer to our markets.”
After all, “cinema competes with all sorts of leisure-time activities.” Daire Barrios notes, mentioning entertainment centers, restaurants, television and the Internet, of course. “The main issue in a society like ours, however, is the lack of actual leisure time. Chile is a country where people spend too many hours at work, where it is necessary to start changing the old habits and to learn to pamper ourselves a little and to find time for fun. Within this context, cinema presents itself as one of the main options, considering that it offers great fun to families in a safe and unique experience,” he opines.
Not surprisingly, Daire Barrios sees the future of cinema as very promising. “People feel the need to go out, socialize and connect with others. Our most important task is to give them that sweet spot beyond the movies that bring us new products every week. People need to have leisure time that allows them to enjoy all the wonders that cinema has to offer, and to get delighted over and over again with all the good stories that the movies tell.”