21 October, 2009

Dutch collective digitalization plan widely supported

In the Netherlands, a serious lobby for a national digitalization plan to help the industry towards a fast digital transition has finally started. The digitalization process in the Netherlands has experienced a slow start.

Dutch exhibitors are reluctant to make the transition because of the lack of a viable business model to get a return on their investment. But now the tide seems to have changed mainly because the Dutch exhibitors’ organization (N.V.B.) has made digitalization of the Dutch cinema industry one of its priorities.In the last couple of years there has been practically no involvement of the N.V.B. in the digitalization process. The opinion of the organization was that digitalization was a business decision that every cinema owner would have to make on his own.

Since January 2009 however, the attitude of the N.V.B. has changed. Supporting and informing exhibitors in the challenges that lie ahead has become one of the pillars of the organization, driven by the belief that without adequate action a significant number of Dutch exhibitors would have trouble recouping the investment costs. Under this financial pressure a large number of cinemas, consisting mainly of smaller theaters and art cinemas, might disappear.

Inspired by the successful Digital Roadshows held in the UK earlier this year by the C.E.A. and the UK Film Council, the N.V.B. is organizing its own Digital Seminars to inform exhibitors objectively about the impact digitalization has on their cinema business. These seminars, held in October 2009, will clarify and illustrate different options for financing digital equipment.

But the involvement of the N.V.B. goes beyond spreading information about digital cinema. The N.V.B. has translated the German FFA model for the Dutch market. This model entails a collective transition for all Dutch cinemas with the financial contribution of exhibitors and distributors, combined with commercial and public funding. The Dutch version interacts with a pilot of the Dutch Media Hub.

The ambition of the Dutch Media Hub program is to establish a strong media content hub in the Netherlands that can compete with London and Paris. A national digitized cinema network can help establish this ambition.The plans proposed by the N.V.B are widely supported by the Dutch Film industry.

Distributors, film producers and the Dutch Film Institute all agree that a fast national transition will benefit the Dutch film industry. Branch partners N.V.F. (film distributors) and N.V.S. (film producers) together with the N.V.B. have started talks with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of Economic Affairs to find ground for public funding to back up this plan. If these talks succeed, Dutch cinemas will be able to make a coordinated transition to digital projection, securing the diverse offer of films and the future of all (including smaller) cinemas.

15 January, 2009

Italian and European Films on Digital in the United Kingdom

In 2008 digital distribution contributed to the dissemination on the UK market of a number of films that were already stars of the cinema season in their home countries. In Italy, for example, a full-length feature arrived, Caos Calmo, by Antonello Grimaldi, with Nanni Moretti and Valeria Golino, as well as award-reaping films, such as Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo and Gomorra by Matteo Garrone, based on the best-seller with the same title by Roberto Savino, which was awarded the trophy for Best Film of the Year at the European Film Awards, on 6 December 2008 in Copenhagen.
Il Divo, in particular, thanks to the digital format, was also on the programme in small centres like Hawkhurst in Kent. Here the Kino Digital Cinema presented it at the beginning of November, so that simultaneously with the presentation of Caos Calmo at the BFI London Film Festival, Sorrentino’s film was screened in the original language with English subtitles. The distribution of Grimaldi’s film in digital format by New Wave Film began in British cinemas on 24 October 2008.
As well as these Italian successes, during the month of November alone, other films were distributed in the UK in digital format, such as The Baader-Meinhof Complex, a blockbuster in Germany in 2008 (Momentum Pictures), Le silence de Lorna, by the Dardenne brothers (New Wave Film), the big film at the latest Cannes Festival, and Waltz with Bashir (Artificial Eye), an Israeli film but with German and French producers also.
In December came the turn of Lemon Tree (Unanimous Pictures), another Israeli, German, French co-production, Julia (Chelsea Films) and classics such the Italian Ladri di Biciclette, which Park Circus distributed throughout England during the Christmas holidays. Just some evidence of the great variety of digital content made available in the UK, a result of the strategy put in place by the UK Film Council through the Digital Screen Network.

The “DigiTraining Plus 2009” course will host a presentation of the DSN by Peter Buckingham, Head of Distribution and Exhibition for the UK Film Council.

Marcello Mazzucotelli

29 August, 2008

Digital Cinema and the Future of Independent Circuits: the US Solution

Of the little under six thousand screens that were equipped with digital projectors using DLP Cinema or, in very few cases, Sony 4K technology by the end of 2007, the vast majority is to be found in North America. From representing around 30% of the world’s offer of digital cinema, this area has grown in only two years to represent almost 80%.

Despite considerable growth rates and although it is the world’s second largest market, Europe is still some way behind, particularly when we consider that the total number of screens in the Old Continent amounts to over three quarters of America’s whilst, where digital is concerned, the ratio falls to one fifth.

To explain North America’s leap forward, reference is always made to the publication of the DCI specs in 2005 and the adoption of a business model that aims to finance the transition, the so-called VPF, particularly suitable for a market characterized by the limited number of players. Not only do the 6 studios account for around 90% of distribution in the United States, but the main exhibition companies control numbers of screens that are inconceivable for Europe: Regal, for example, which is the number one exhibitor, counts as many as 6,763 theatres out of the country’s total of approximately 39,000.

In a decidedly more fragmented context, such as that of Europe, where alongside the studios that control an average 70% of the market there are hundreds of distribution companies and a range of exhibition companies, the VPF model not only meets with practical difficulties of application but can certainly not be considered the universal solution. From several sides – exhibitors with less negotiating power but also public institutions – voices of concern are being raised as to the “victims” that would fall to VPF. “Federating” or “integrating” the screens considered less attractive by the studios has, for example, become the objective of an initiative such as the Norwegian one by Film & Kino, described in issue no. 38.

However, it is significant that the specific demands of the small to medium-sized exhibition companies have come to light in the United States, too. Here, NATO, the exhibitors’ association, has created CBG, a buyers’ group to which 600 US and Canadian companies belong, for a total of eight thousand screens, which aims to make the transition to digital possible even in chains which would not be able to benefit from the VPF model on their own. Acting as “integrator” after a selection process which also saw participation by Technicolor, Kodak and Digeserv, will be Access IT, which will not only install the equipment – corresponding to DCI specs – but will also provide the necessary training and assistance to guarantee a smooth transition from 35mm to digital. Wayne Anderson, Managing Director of CBG declares: “Our mission is historic: ensure that independent cinemas survive and thrive in the digital age.”

Elisabetta Brunella