CineEurope: Industry Executives Debate How to Amplify "Big Screen Experience"

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Avengers: Endgame

Back-to-back roundtables on the trade show’s first morning touched on a range of topics on exhibitors’ minds.

Industry executives capitalized on the first day of the CineEurope trade show gathering in Barcelona to call for continued efforts to optimize and personalize the cinema-going experience in order to combat SVOD competition and declining admissions in some territories globally.

“Europe is a laboratory for what’s happening in the world,” said Julien Marcel, CEO of Boxoffice/Webedia Movies Pro during one of the morning’s two roundtable sessions.

While a report released today from the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC) touted a fourth consecutive year of admissions over 1.25 billion across Europe last year, Lucy Jones, ComScore executive director U.K. and Ireland, Italy, Middle East and Africa, noted that some territories had seen significant contraction, including Germany, which was down 15 percent, Austria down 12 percent and Russia down 8 percent.

She cited a handful of key barriers exhibitors needed to address, including demographics in the representation and appeal of films being offered as well as the balance of local and global products; accessibility to theaters as well as location and environment; how the timing of releases fits or doesn’t with different demographics; and purchasing issues including the cost versus perceived value of tickets as well as potential roadblocks on the journey to the cinema, such as during the pre-booking processes.

In a statement about its report released today, UNIC, the official organization behind CineEurope, suggested the generally upbeat figures for Europe reflect a continued investment by operators across the region in delivering the highest-quality, most immersive cinema experience possible, responding to audience demand for as broad a range of film content.

On back-to-back panels during CineEurope’s first morning, executives uniformly agreed that technological advances and experience optimization and personalization are key to driving frequency and getting consumers out of their homes and into theaters by understanding that, as Tony Chambers, senior vp studio distribution at Disney EMEA and country manager UK and Ireland, put it, “one size doesn’t fit all” for moviegoers.

“What we’ve been doing and are continuing to do is strive to make the best quality advances that we can,” said Duncan Clark, president, distribution for Universal Pictures International. He offered an anecdote of taking his teenage son to see the UPI film Yesterday in cinemas, and witnessing his “wonderment” over the big-screen experience thanks to the quality of the film’s images and sound. “That’s why the theatrical experience will sustain, because it will be such a distinct experience.” Yesterday is screening Tuesday morning at CineEurope.

Jane Hastings, CEO and managing director, Event Hospitality & Entertainment Ltd, talked about customizing experiences, for example by offering layered premium options at cinemas, similar to different classes on airplanes. There was also discussion of how to best use cinemagoers’ data to create one-on-one relationships.

Panelists also had some thoughts for producers and distributors. Marine Suttle, senior vp and chief product officer at Webedia Movies Pro, noted that the majority of filmgoers attending studio films in the U.S., France and the U.K. are young males, yet the company has found that young women and those over 50 generate higher admissions on average.

“I believe the studios are really missing out on a key part of the population because they’re not willing to take the risks to cast certain demographics that will attract these audiences,” Suttle said.

“From the filmmaker’s perspective, I would say that the distribution and exhibition companies are very conservative,” agreed film director and screenwriter Lisa Ohlin. “That’s how we as creators feel. I think anyone that has engaged in the thriving for equality of female directors and ethnic representation on screen has seen this.”

Ohlin also suggested marketing should begin much sooner in order to get audiences excited about films and build community from the start of production rather than waiting until the movie hits theaters. “Once the movie hits theaters we have two weekends, and we’re dead if we don’t make it.”

“Film still holds an allure, film is still something magical for the audience,” Ohlin said.