Industry Report: Distribution and exhibition
Multiplexes in Belgium
by Elisabetta Brunella
- At the end of 2006, 302 of Belgium’s 514 screens were located in multiplexes. Together with the United Kingdom and Spain, this relatively small market (10.5 million inhabitants, around 23.8 million tickets sold in 2006), has one of Europe’s highest percentages of screens in cinemas with at least 8 theatres. Moreover, as well as having been one of the forerunners, in the Old Continent, to adopt this type of cinema, launched in the United States, it has also created its own particular version, or what is commonly known as the “megaplex” (16 screens and upwards).
Since the inauguration of the first Kinepolis in Brussels, almost twenty years have gone by and still, though at a rather slow pace, new complexes continue to be opened. Belgium thus represents an interesting terrain for the observation of new trends in the offer of cinema.
It is not only the market leader, Kinepolis (46.6% of the Country’s box office in 2005), to invest in the market, but other companies, too, of varying sizes. These include the Imagix chain, whose “jewels” are the Mons complex (14 screens) and the one in Tournai (10 screens).
One of the most innovative trends consists in using the cinemas for business-to-business activities, as congress centres.
In Mons, for example, as well as the theatres, an area of 450 sq. mt. can be used for services such as restaurant services or the display of products, demanded by those who organise corporate events. Another trend – a particular feature of Imagix – is the “environment-friendly” aspect, oriented towards reducing the production of CO2 and saving energy, for example by using leds that allow a 300-seat auditorium to be lit by 100 Watts. Automation of box-office procedure and incentives for forms of ticket purchasing that can do without box-offices altogether are other objectives pursued in the new generation of cinemas. As well as reducing staff costs for the exhibitor, the aim is to combine this with advantages for customers. The latter can buy tickets by credit card or bank card from computers at home or in the office (the lunch break is a “peak time” for this type of purchase), obtaining a discount. The arrangement of the foyer can become more welcoming, no longer appearing as the sales “barrier” but as an open space characterised by touch-screens.
If, then, as in Bruges, at the latest Kinepolis addition to the market, paper posters are eliminated and only flat screens showing playbills, trailers and seating plans of the theatres appear on the walls, whilst batteries of play-stations are available in the corridors, the “hi-tech” effect is guaranteed.
A foyer where spectators can wander around also becomes an opportunity for shopping. In Tournai the classic pop-corn counter has turned into a sort of “minimal” and highly-coloured supermarket, where customers serve themselves and then pay at the cash desk. The Bruges Kinepolis has instead opted for a combination of “freely arranged” stands and display points.
In both cases, but especially at the Imagix, as well as a vast range of classical “cinema food”, there are also healthier products, from yoghurt to fruit salads, from cereal bars to organic fruit juices. But if Tournai is already thinking of enhancing its offer with products suited to spectators with special food requirements (diabetics or celiac sufferers, for example), in Bruges the real sales results appear to show that customers demand healthy foods in polls but then buy mostly “forbidden” foods, considering the cinema-going experience a sort of “free zone” outside the dictates of a healthy diet.
For those who prefer real food to nibbling during the film, the Bruges Kinepolis offers a pasta-pizza area, right next to the bookshop, which also sells dvds and music cds, or else a theme restaurant.
Plenty of space, furnishings that foster conviviality, and natural light are other guidelines that return in the interior design of the most modern complexes. In Bruges, areas fitted with modern divans, more reminiscent of home than of a public place, are available to spectators opposite a wide glass window leading onto the entrances of the various auditoriums; in Tournai the effect of wide-open spaces is accentuated by the decision to make the projection booth “transparent”. Thus, whilst shopping at the minimarket or moving towards their own auditorium, spectators can see the projectors at work up on a balcony.
Avant-garde technology is another “must”. Again with a view to saving on running costs, Kinepolis has invested in the Quick Sensor system, based on seats fitted with sensors that “register” whether or not they are occupied by spectators, transmitting this information to the box-offices. This makes it possible to reduce the number of ushers checking entry considerably. To those who are tempted to object that this risks depersonalising the relationship between the cinema and the spectator, Kinepolis reply that, instead, the feeling of being freer from checks proves to be appreciated by clients. An element that is common to both Imagix and Kinepolis complexes, but also to the family business that runs the ultra-modern Cityscoop of Roeselare (7 screens in a town on 55,000 inhabitants), is the choice of digital projection. This is to bring the spectator the constant, unaltered images intended by the authors of the films – as promised in the spectacular trailer with which Kinepolis opens each digital screening – but also to encourage the business clientele to prefer a cinema to the classical congress centre.
From these choices emerges an image of cinemas that, whilst continuing to keep their films as the core of their offer, also wish to do much more. Apparently a winning strategy, if it is true that “all the rest” weighs approximately 40% of the Kinepolis revenue.
Article first published on www.mediasalles.it