The Attention Economy: Lessons from the 19th Europa Cinemas Network Conference

By Judah, Tara | Metro Magazine, Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

The Attention Economy: Lessons from the 19th Europa Cinemas Network Conference


Judah, Tara, Metro Magazine


'For ten years, we lost a lot of time talking about digital cinema and VPF [virtual print fee],' announced Europa Cinemas president Nico Simon in his closing address to a room of 500 exhibitors.

The 19th Europa Cinemas Network Conference took place over only three days in November last year, but it covered a lot of ground. With delegates from all over Europe, plus special guests from further afield, including Singapore and the US, the conference workshops and panel discussions set out to identify new strategies in audience development. A secondary aim was to open up the conversation around VOD and how it might be useful for cinemas looking to extend their offerings. Despite the daunting technological obstacles of exploring online exhibition, what separated this particular conference from most other exhibitor events is that the discussion wasn't waylaid by serious though unhelpful topics relating to exhibitor-audience and exhibitor-distributor impasse: piracy, digitisation and VPF.

The conference's discussions were also different from those taking place in the industry more widely, and not just because they weren't discussing machinery. It truly opened up conversation: 2015 was the first year that Europa Cinemas offered admission to all exhibitors, not just those already part of the Europa Cinemas network. For smaller, independent cinema operators, as well as film-festival organisers and freelance programmers, this was a major coup. One of the most difficult obstacles for the littler fish in the film-industry ocean is that they don't often get the opportunity to hear directly from and network with the industry's most influential commentators and curators. But, for three days, this was possible, with representatives from the likes of International Film Festival Rotterdam, the UK's Picturehouse Cinemas, Singapore's Celluloid Junkie and the US's Art House Convergence in attendance.

Though the majority of the presentations concerned European cinemas, the agenda was universal. Whereas exhibitors may once have found themselves in competition not just with one another, but also with home entertainment and terrestrial television, they now face a more troubling opponent: multi-platform visual entertainment. Add to this the free availability of entertainment at consumers' fingertips and you have the new marketplace that goes with it--what conference host Michael Gubbins (a partner at SampoMedia and former editor of Screen International) calls the 'attention economy'.

Even as recently as one year ago, we were all talking about event cinema--providing additional content, such as director Q&As to film screenings, in order to extend the cinema experience and continue to engage audiences. But, now, the challenge has become: how can we move beyond the big screen to create cinema demand elsewhere? Over the conference's three days, the strongest solutions proposed were that cinemas need to build and expand their brands, and that they must create new physical and online communities.

In the Australian marketplace, adopting these solutions over the next two years will be key. Instead of getting bogged down by distributor-led models--which have led to the distracting issues of piracy, digitisation and VPF in the past--it's time that the exhibitors, the only industry players who actually speak directly to and understand audiences, start shaping things. For a chain such as Palace Cinemas, which controls a very large portion of Australia's smaller venues and art houses, brand awareness is already well established. This is half the battle conquered. As such, expanding their remit to include community screenings and VOD programming would involve minimal risk. …

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