FNE at Europa Cinemas: Conference Highlights Problems of Digitalization of Cinemas

Written by Anna Franklin

PARIS: The 15th Europa Cinemas Network Conference held in Paris from 18 to 21 November brought together over 700 cinema operators, distributors and other professionals working with independent film theatres and European films.

One of the most hotly debated topics was the digitalization of European cinemas and whether this would increase or decrease the opportunities for the distribution of European films and for independent cinema operators. With independent cinema operators already facing severe problems because of austerity measures and cuts to subsidies implemented by governments across Europe digitalization looks set to leave some cinemas out in the cold.

Despite austerity measures most European governments have pumped millions of Euros into schemes to pay for the 70 000 euros per screen price tag for converting cinemas to the new 2K or higher digital standard. Independent cinema operators and European producers hope the new technology will result in more opportunities for independent and European films. But according to research carried out by the UK Film Council so far the digitalization has cut costs for multiplexes distributing blockbusters but has actually increased costs for the distribution of small releases of art house titles in the UK.

The main point that conference attendees agreed on was that digitalization was now a reality that would sweep across Europe whether or not cinemas were ready to embrace the new technologies. Claude-Eric Poiroux, General Director of the Europa Cinemas Network, speaking to FNE said: "In five years, maybe less, digitalization will be the norm. Independent cinemas which are not digitalized will find themselves without prints to screen. Independent cinema operators must be vocal in lobbying their governments for funding to convert to digital. We must make the ministries of culture aware that these cinemas will be lost if their governments do not support their digitalization."

Europa Cinemas Network is working to make governments aware of the crisis and give a voice to independent film theatre owners. But unfortunately with many countries like Hungary where cinema operators are struggling just to survive the possibility to invest in digitalization is remote. In 2010 Hungary subsidized the digitalization of four art house cinemas to 2K while most multiplexes in Hungary already have at least one digitalized screen. The government has said it will commit about 400 000 Euros in its 2011 budget to the further digitalization of art house cinemas and the Association of Hungarian Art House Cinemas has written an open letter to the government calling on them to support digitalization of independent cinemas in Hungary.

But digitalization does not always bring the positive benefits operators expect. In the Czech Republic where 100 cinemas have now been digitalized but without any legislation in place to protect the distribution of European or independent cinema the situation has actually gotten worse. Most cinema operators have used the upgraded equipment to screen blockbusters sooner and generate higher profits. This especially applies to 3D titles. As no Czech films and most European films are not produced in 3D cinema operators are even less likely to screen these titles than before digitalization.