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Laura Houlgatte • CEO, International Union of Cinemas

“The cinema industry is constantly transforming its relationship with audiences”

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- At CineEurope 2018 in Barcelona, we chatted to Laura Houlgatte, the CEO of UNIC, about new trends, tools and technologies

Laura Houlgatte  • CEO, International Union of Cinemas
(© UNIC)

At CineEurope 2018 (see the news), the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC) launched the second edition of its Women’s Cinema Leadership Programme. Cineuropa talked to Laura Houlgatte, the CEO of UNIC, about innovation in the sector, cinema-going in 2017 and the expansion of the Global Cinema Federation.

Cineuropa: What are the most remarkable numbers in terms of cinema attendance in Europe?
Laura Houlgatte: In 2017, cinemas across UNIC territories welcomed more than 1.34 billion cinema visits (up 2.5% from 2016) and took €8.6 billion at the box office (up 1.8% from 2016). Russian cinema operators had a fantastic year and represented the biggest UNIC territory in terms of admissions (212 million), a new record. These figures were closely followed by France (209 million admissions) and the UK (171 million admissions), which both also had record years, whilst special mention must go to Spain, which finished 2017 just short of the symbolic mark of 100 million admissions. 

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Do you still see potential for growth?
Of course! We only need to look at the increasing admissions in certain territories over the last decade to see that there is still room for the sector to grow. More broadly, the ways in which the sector continues to innovate and transform its relationship with modern audiences opens up further possibilities for growth.

What kind of experience do cinema operators already have with smart technologies in order to attract younger target audiences?
Cinema operators across Europe actively engage with young audiences throughout their cinema-going journey, making good use of the wide range of digital solutions currently available. Moreover, thanks to the incredible development of data analytics tools in recent years, cinema marketing has become increasingly fine-grained and personalised, catering to the various needs of younger demographics. Operators also experiment with technology such as integrated apps, social media platforms, online chatbots, collaborative screenings, theme nights, gaming competitions, dynamic pricing, loyalty schemes and VR arcades, to name but a few. Thanks in part to this, the cinema industry is constantly transforming its relationship with audiences, adapting to constant social and technological change. 

What are the results of the UNIC Women’s Cinema Leadership Programme like?
The programme has been a great success so far, particularly when we see how valuable the process has been for mentors and mentees alike! We have just launched the second edition of the programme at CineEurope, involving new mentors and mentees, with the long-term goal of the mentees of today becoming the mentors of tomorrow. 

What kind of impact is HDR having? 
Some industry experts compare the emergence of high dynamic range to the introduction of colour in cinema. It expands artistic possibilities for filmmakers and significantly enhances the audience experience, with greater contrast and sharper images. But HDR is just one technology in a vast array of innovations and creative solutions that are currently available in cinemas, as exhibitors continue to embrace change to the benefit of audiences across Europe.

Is the LED screen the future?
It is hard to predict what the future will bring to cinema technology, as can be highlighted by the significant number of groundbreaking developments in recent years. LED screens are particularly interesting, as they could redefine our conception of the cinema-going experience and the way exhibitors operate their cinemas. But the technology is still in the very early stages of development, and it remains to be seen whether it will be embraced by creatives. As continuous innovation and change remain a central element of the cinema business, evaluating audience trends and ensuring that investments in upgrades lead to tangible returns will be key challenges for cinema operators globally.

Is the agreement on the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) a triumph for the cinema industry?
It is indeed! We are very pleased with the recent agreement on the AVMSD, particularly Article 13.2, concerning the contributions of all audiovisual media services, which will go a long way to ensuring a level playing field across the industry. The closely connected nature of the European cinema landscape means that various stakeholders from across the value chain depend on collaboration and risk-sharing. Cinemas, for instance, contribute to the film ecosystem through rental rates, income tax, VAT, local entertainment tax and film levies. Given these significant investments, and as a matter of principle, we support the claim that, in countries where such direct film levies exist, all beneficiaries of local films should also contribute to the sustainability of the cinema system. Article 13.2 opens up the possibility for much fairer competition between all stakeholders.

What are the next steps in UNIC’s action plan?
Ahead of the upcoming changeover period at both the European Parliament and Commission, we are looking to continue to build on our outreach efforts to ensure that policy-makers don't lose sight of the value of cinemas. Furthermore, alongside the world’s leading cinema operators and our colleagues at NATO, we will be working to extend the reach and profile of the Global Cinema Federation. And towards the end of the year, we’ll also hold our annual UNIC Cinema Days in Brussels.

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