News / The Network

 

The Network - 14/09/2011

 

Digitisation, a key to improving the access, distribution and promotion of audiovisual works

 

Address by Claude-Eric POIROUX, Director General of Europa Cinemas,
to the European Parliament
(Committee on Culture and Education, 13 July 2011)

(See the text - pdf)
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" By way of introduction I would like to say how much we appreciate Piotr Borys' report. We hope his principal findings and recommendations will be rapidly adopted by the Parliament and the Commission.

I would like to stress 4 major points in my speech.

1 – The necessity of digitisation
2 – The urgency of getting equipped
3 – The inequality of cinemas faced with digital technology
4 – The benefits of digitisation for film education and European cinema in theatres

1 – The interest and necessity of digitisation

-The interest for the entire sector. After sound, special effects, post-production and the shooting itself, film projection is now going digital. In the projection booths digital technology is rapidly replacing 35mm, a format invented a century ago that was long the universal vector of film dissemination throughout the world. The need thus makes itself felt for a new common standard for servers and high-performance projectors, one that conforms with international norms agreed on by all professionals. In matters of technology and content security, things have got off to a good start with the DCI specifications.

- The interest for viewers. Cinema audiences are increasingly demanding, given the sophisticated equipment they use at home. Digital projection in the cinemas ensures that they will see an excellent image on the big screen, one that will not be subject to degradation over the life of a film. It also gives viewers access to 3D, which adds a whole new dimension to documentaries, fiction or animated films. After James Cameron, Wim Wenders or Werner Herzog, numerous European filmmakers are turning to 3D cinema. Bernardo Bertolucci recently announced in Cannes that he too is preparing a film in 3D.

- The interest for distributors and exhibitors. Exhibitors will be able to receive films on light or dematerialised formats. An end to transport, storing, mounting and demounting film reels and the deterioration of prints weighing several dozen kilos. They will be able to diversify their programming and enlarge their offer with cultural contents other than film, such as live operas or concerts. And the circulation delays can be shortened. Finally exhibitors will be able to conserve films in their digital "libraries" to re-programme them in original or dubbed versions as often as audiences wish, notably for school screenings.

2 – The urgency of getting equipped

In just a few years entire film sectors have gone digital in the US, Europe and China. Existing theatres have abandoned 35mm projectors in favour of the new technology while newly built cinemas opt directly for digital technology without using 35mm equipment at all.
Digital is now practically the norm in multiplexes all over the world. Most of Europe's mainstream cinemas have digital screens for all 3D films, and owners are now asking their distributors to supply them with digital prints for all other films as well. To avoid doubling their release costs distributors are of course keen to provide digital formats as quickly as possible, which cost between one fifth and one tenth the price of 35mm prints.
If a cinema were to limit itself to 35mm today it would risk closing down in a few months for lack of distributors, who are increasingly turning to digital technology. For all of these technical and economic reasons the entire sector is now looking to accelerate this costly transition. Latecomers are heavily punished and risk finding themselves sidelined.

3 – The inequality of cinemas faced with digital technology

The 1130 multiplexes in Europe represent 35% of total screenage. Their digitisation is very advanced. What about the other venues?
The situation is varied.
In the first-run theatres, often multi-screen cinemas established in ten or so large countries or big European markets, exhibitors may obtain from distributors a financial contribution based on the savings they incur from virtual prints, either directly or indirectly through third-party investors. This Virtual Print Fee (VPF) system is a rapidly growing solution which permits the sector to finance itself, as the savings incurred on the one hand finance investments on the other. Half of the 815 theatres of the Europa Cinemas Network are making use of this option to equip themselves progressively with digital technology. 30% of cinemas in the network are equipped to this day.
Unfortunately Europe has many little markets where the number of prints in circulation is insufficient to finance digital equipment, which costs, let me remind you, 80,000 euros per projector.

In addition many small cinemas with one or two screens, although the jewel of many a small and mid-sized European city, nevertheless have neither the private capital nor access to distributors' fees to finance digital equipment.
The danger is that these cinemas may disappear forever from a market where they play an important role, and from societies where they have much to contribute. Unless European, national or regional funds are used to complement the resources of the market.
In the Europa Cinemas network, which counts more than 2,000 screens programming a majority of European films that could mean the disappearance of several hundreds of cinemas, which today bring the diversity of European cinema nearer to the inhabitants of our continent.
That is why we stress the urgency and necessity of helping these cinemas digitise, so that they may continue their cultural and social mission.
Certain countries like France, Norway, the Netherlands and the UK have already introduced resource-sharing measures. Others provide complementary support to certain types of theatre. Unfortunately at present these measures are insufficient or unequally distributed within Europe. Many theatres are left in the lurch, although they benefit from their own long-standing history, popular recognition and legitimacy. The MEDIA Programme as well as the European Regional Development Fund - the ERDF - are already providing valuable support. For example they have helped finance a network of cinemas in the Ma³opolska region in Poland. But, I stress, such projects take time and the situation is urgent.

4 – The benefits of digitisation for film education and European cinema in theatres

Digital projection gives cinemas the chance to diversify the films they have on offer. The reduced cost of film releases, the many subtitling and dubbing possibilities and the speedy access to prints provide exporters and distributors with new prospects, notably in small markets, allowing more European films to circulate under better conditions in the cinemas of Europe. This opportunity must be seized, as it makes the film theatres more attractive and helps European films reach larger audiences. Let's remember that diversity is a key element in the image of independent cinemas.
Moreover, this historic transformation in our projection booths goes hand in hand with the speedy evolution of promotional methods. The cinemas, notably in our network, have been quick to take advantage of the possibilities offered by the digital revolution, namely communication over the Internet, blogs and the social networks. This interactive technological adventure also provides a tremendous opportunity for our theatres to play a role in the film education of young audiences. Sensitising children, adolescents and youths to the language of images that surrounds them is to give them a taste for European films, those that are discovered and honoured year after year in the biggest international festivals.
We have immensely talented filmmakers in Europe who benefit from huge popularity. And we have an exceptional array of cinemas and exhibitors. Digital technology must be used to promote both, making the film theatre what it has always been and will always be, namely a unique and prestigious location for cultural encounters, open to all films and all audiences. "

Claude-Eric Poiroux
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Pictures: Pina 3D