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Phil Clapp • President, UNIC

“We need to make cinema more of an event”


- UNIC president Phil Clapp spoke to Cineuropa about the impact of digital distribution models

Phil Clapp  • President, UNIC

Phil Clapp, president of the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC), spoke to Cineuropa to highlight the problems and possibilities that exhibitors are faced with in the age of digital distribution.

Cineuropa: Does it give you fresh hope that the EU presented a position paper with a new digital strategy?
Phil Clapp: The positive thing about the communication is the invitation to have a dialogue and discuss matters. This is one of the reasons why we have strengthened UNIC in the way that we have. It is also useful that the communication again confirmed the importance of the cinema sector as a key part of the value chain. It is less positive, however, that there still seems to be a fixation amongst some in the European Commission on day-and-date releases as the answer to a whole range of problems. If we look at the results of the very limited pilots, they show that there is no real market for non-domestic European films in the way the Commission would like there to be. Secondly, the numbers we are talking about – even combined cinema and VoD results – are tiny. These are not numbers that are going to make any kind of impact. 

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So how can UNIC make an impact?
We want to begin a fresh dialogue with the Commission on how the exhibition sector in all its facets can help them to achieve some of the goals they want to achieve. We are in an entirely new era with regard to technology and flexibility. Two of the things that seem to be something the Commission rarely questions are that there are too many films that are not made for the big screen, and whether there is an insufficient number of high-quality movies. Rather than looking at VoD in isolation, we should have a discussion about the entire chain: production, distribution and exhibition. The question in everyone’s interest would be: how can we actually reach a broader audience for a broad range of films? 

The strongest argument for VoD is to capture the attention of young audiences. Which kinds of solutions does UNIC suggest?
The younger audience has constituted a significant part of our market. There is no question that this is under pressure because there are fewer young people in many European territories. They have less money to spend but more choices in terms of leisure opportunities, whether they are film-related or not. We have to work harder to reach that audience and make cinema more of an event for them. We need to give them more influence over the types of films that are shown. There is interest in social media as part of the dialogue with your local cinema, in terms of what you might programme. Basically, we need to find ways to make the young audience feel special as part of the experience. There is also increasing interest – not yet in Europe in any big way, but I think it will come – in how we can link the theatrical experience with the home-entertainment experience. In Canada and the US, they are trying a super ticket, a special cinema ticket with which, for a small additional premium, cinemagoers get the digital download of the film when it is out. I think it is essential to add some extra value. 

Does digital programming require a new kind of thinking to incorporate this flexibility?
Clearly, cinema will always be the primary place where we see films. It is not in the cinema operators’ interest to change that, but there is a broad range of other content that can be added in, such as cultural content, television shows and so on. All of these things potentially – if they are done well – serve to increase the public’s appetite for cinema and film. 

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