Two-speed rollout: Digital transition in Europe proceeds on dual tracks
Digital-cinema conversion across Europe is entering its final phase. As the last d-cinema train is leaving the station, it is crucial that no exhibitor is left behind. At the same time, those that are already on their journey have to ensure that they remain in the driver’s seat when it comes to decisions about future technological innovations in cinema.
The International Union of Cinemas—in short, UNIC—has set up a Technology Expert Group, bringing together leading executives from major exhibitors and selected associations across Europe to deal with this two-track challenge.
Helping people on the d-cinema train…
On average, UNIC member territories are today around 85% digital. One of the key challenges we face is to bridge the gap between those who are close to reaching the 100% mark and those that still struggle to digitize a significant share of their screens due to unprecedented economic difficulties and a lack of financing, such as Spain, Portugal, Greece and several territories in Eastern Europe.
We are very aware that Europe cannot afford to lose any of its cinemas, for they constitute unique cultural and creative meeting places and provide employment and economic benefits across the Union. UNIC therefore has reached out to policy-makers in its member territories and in Brussels as well as to our partners in distribution to warn of a shortage of financing and the danger of ending film distribution in specific territories too early. We have also shared information on alternative financing options with many cinemas and with several national cinema associations.
…and ensuring that the train reaches its destination.
While completing digital conversion in Europe is on the top of UNIC’s agenda, it is essential that we also examine and influence how those that have already digitized will benefit from their significant investments in the future. Digital-cinema equipment will have to be upgraded in a few years’ time and the question of how this will be financed still has to be answered, for example. Furthermore, recent experiences in relation to Higher Frame Rates and Immersive Sound underline the necessity for cinema exhibitors to be involved when it comes to deciding how technological innovations are marketed to our audiences or how the compatibility of different innovative formats can be ensured. Both of these experiences indicate the clear need for cinemas to remain in the driver’s seat when it comes to deciding when and how our industry innovates in a fully digitized and seamlessly connected cinema exhibition environment.
There are also many practical day-to-day issues that cinema exhibitors face. These require close cooperation between exhibition and all other digital-cinema stakeholders, from distribution to manufacturers and third-party intermediaries. It is for example unacceptable that there is still a shortage of hard drives in a number of UNIC territories, including for national releases of major films. The widespread “risk zero” attitude of some regarding KDM delivery also prevents much-needed test screenings. As a result, cinema exhibitors operate under extraordinary pressure to ensure that films are shown on time and under the best circumstances.
With regards to cinema equipment, specifications on light levels for cinema projectors have caused much confusion in the past. Next to supporting the SMPTE’s work on developing a methodology for measuring brightness, UNIC’s Technology Group—together with the European Digital Cinema Forum (EDCF)—therefore recently called upon projector manufacturers to further detail testing conditions under which their specifications have been achieved.
In short, we need to finalize the digital transition to the benefit of all and we need to ensure that this is done right. On many of the above issues UNIC is working in close collaboration with the EDCF, its U.S. colleagues from NATO and the Inter-Society Digital Cinema Forum. For there is a strong need of enhancing our collaborative efforts if we want to ensure that that cinematographic works are exhibited in the best possible conditions and—as intended by the filmmaker—in the cinema.
UNIC speaks on behalf of the majority of cinema operators in Europe and represents more than 36,000 screens. Visit www.unic-cinemas.org