Events: CineEurope: go for popcorn, stay for coffee…

It’s a strange CineEurope when the show’s biggest hit isn’t new technology or a Marvel film but fresh coffee, Patrick von Sychowski reports 


 Although in June the attendance was slightly up, it felt quieter and more subdued at CineEurope this year, not least given the absence of Sony and Lionsgate. Fox’s takeover by Disney was made physical with the parent of Marvel et al also taking over the coffee meeting cube in the CCIB’s foyer. After a year of mixed fortunes (record highs in UK but lows in Germany), exhibitors were confident of a good 2019, though with no major expectations for the show.

Sunday, the new Monday

The week kicked off informally on the Sunday with the half-day ICTA seminars and award ceremony. IHS Markit’s Charlotte Jones provided the slides and numbers demonstrating that ‘European cinema remains stable, recent screen growth outlook is positive’ and in particular the ‘number of UK sites reflects positive momentum’ for the industry. This point of regional strength was echoed by Comscore’s Arturo Guillen on the panel, “The healthier the local product, the healthier the [cinema] market.” UNIC’s Guillaume Branders explored futuristic technologies like AI and VR, though few had strong immediate implications for cinemas. “Big data” was examined by Cinema Intelligence’s Claudio Tenescu (260Gb of annual data, no less!), while CEO Debbie Stanford did a star turn on the panel session with Novo’s diversity of content (Hollywood, Bollywood, Arabic and Malayalam films). “I don’t run cinemas,” she noted, “I run event and entertainment hubs.” 

ICTA’s awards to Cineplex’s Ellis Jacob and Stockholm’s Bio Capitol were particularly warmly applauded, after which many hurried from the Hilton to the beach pavillion where UNIC’s board of directors spent the afternoon cooking up a paella storm.

The main event…

With prompt 9am starts every day for panels, CineEurope laid claim to a large geographic footprint, with a keynote on emerging markets from Comscore’s Guillen and ‘A Focus on South Africa’ by Avalon Group’s CEO Aboobaker ‘AB’ Moosa, followed by Serbia. There was a large number of non-European exhibitors at the show, and not just because of the meeting of the Global Cinema Federation.

A major theme was the talk of the ‘second digital revolution’ on the executive roundtable of the major exhibitors (Vue, Event, Cinepolis) and key studios (Disney and Universal). “Exhibitors and distributors have a co-responsibility in promoting films,” noted Disney’s Tony Chambers, “once studios have delivered a quality product and marketing campaign.” And all that in a changing media landscape — “Six to seven years ago media spend for digital was just 5%-6%,” observed Universal’s Duncan Clark, “today it is 40%, in some cases 60% and for some markets for certain titles it’s been pure digital marketing to target customers.” Cinepolis CEO Alejandro Ramirez warned that the silver bullet isn’t subscription offers.

Continuing to engage with Cine-Europe, the European Commission sponsored panels on untapped audiences as well as access issues, but also hosted several small, innovative companies on its trade show stand that might not otherwise have been able to come to Barcelona to meet potential clients (see pages 72-75). 

UNIC’s CEO Laura Houlgatte took over opening ceremony duties from (the re-elected) president Phil Clapp, with a strong message that “Cinemas are not only here to stay — we’re here to grow and to bring audiences together all over the world to share an unmatched big screen experience.”

Coke’s new caffeine kicks

No company brings as much to CineEurope as Coca-Cola, but this year the delegates had an extra reason to be thankful, in the form of a different brown beverage on the Costa Coffee stand. Coke’s European channel director Oliver Delaney, in his second year at CineEurope, suavely hosted two great seminars, while the red and white booth continued to grow as everyone’s favourite hangout (thanks to behind-the-scenes efforts of Blue Stocking Partnership’s Prill and Sarah), as well as being the closing night (afternoon) sponsor. 

The first Coke seminar asked the audience whether they were ready for the digital revolution. The panelists certainly were, with Uber Eats present in over 520 cities, covering 220,000 restaurants and hitting an average
30-minute delivery in just three years. With Hoyts Australia, UberEats is already delivering cinema snacks to the home, though sadly not yet by drone. A multi-country survey by Coke examined attitudes to three new ways of ordering food: pre-order online, digital kiosks and order to seat. 

The second day’s sustainability seminar delivered positive messages, but only once UNIC’s Laura Houlgatte pointed out that the EU is phasing out disposable plastic faster than previously expected. “Sustainability is not something that just sits in a corner of our company,” noted Coca-Cola’s sustainability director Teresa Noor-lander. Costa’s head of sustainability Oliver Rosevear revealed how simple measures can reduce the use of straw, cups and napkins while saving money. 

In fact, coffee was the unexpected star of the show, with long lines forming at the trade show stand for Costa Coffee, now that it is part of the Coca-Cola Company. With branded coffee having already proved a hit for UK exhibitors, continental colleagues are now also discovering the financial uptick of offering coffee before, with or even after the popcorn. Over 3,000 cups of various hot beverages were served from the Costa stand (with recycling provided next to it) in two and a half days and a further 800+ at the self-serve Costa Coffee machine. And don’t blame Coca-Cola that this year popcorn was served pre-packed in both bags AND buckets outside the auditorium. Sustainability anyone? Equally, don’t be surprised if next year there is Costa coffee there too. 

Industry moves

Despite many press releases few genuinely surprising announcements came out of CineEurope this year. Cineworld put in a big order for laser projectors, but decided to spread
the love between Cinionic/Barco and Christie. Cinionic also went all-laser with Cineplex for Austria, while Christie became a re-seller for AAM. QSC and Harkness affirmed their continuing commitment to their apps and technology platforms. Dolby Cinema is expanding in the UK with Odeon, who also announced its 20th Luxe cinema. Meanwhile Samsung kept a low profile, though the first Onyx LED screen in the British Isles appeared in Dundrum, with Movies@Cinemas beating Vue and co, with the installation help of the UK and Ireland integrator Omnex. Powster launched Instant Tickets with Everyman, while Vista was everywhere and its new party venue proved a hit.

GDC Technology had a major signing ceremony for its GoGo Cinema concept with Malaysia’s Golden Screen Cinemas. Indeed, the presence of the Southeast Asian exhibitor was a further sign of the global reach of CineEurope. Next door to GDC, people could try their VR bongo skills at Ymagis’ Illucity Corner. Meanwhile, Korea’s CJ 4DPlex sneak started the show with a demonstration of its ScreenX and 4DX technologies at a Barcelona cinema that included a glowing testimonial from Cineworld. 

Who was quietly doing the most business? In all likelihood it was the many seat manufacturers that were demonstrating innovations such as built-in wireless charging for their premium recliners. And finally… the popcorn machine from China looked the spitting image of the Cretors machine at the opposite end of the trade show floor.

Studio Slates

Which studio came to show their slate at CineEurope and who didn’t was as much of a topic of conversation as
the trailers, clips and films that were shown. Notable in their absence were both 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures, the former now nestling in between Pixar and Marvel in Disney’s slate-of-slates, while the latter was taking a year out both here and at CinemaCon to see if promoting films this way is publicity and advertising money well spent. Also absent were eOne and Lionsgate (apart from Rhian Johnson’s Agatha Christie-ish “Knives Out” footage), as well as the odd smaller European operator previously seen on stage — though SF Studios’ CEO did join the European Commission-sponsored panel that examined untapped audiences.

The biggest show in town was Disney, of course, and the studio did not disappoint with the surprise appearance of Tom Hanks in person! In Barcelona! No video clip “Sorry I couldn’t be there,” of Hanksy, but the real thing, there to promote “Toy Story 4” (screened on the Thursday). The audience applauded him like a movie star that has earned their cinemas hundreds of millions over the decades. Fox was acknowledged with clips for “Ford vs. Ferrari” and “Ad Astra”, as were Fox Searchlight and Blue Sky, before the multi-year slates of Disney Animation (“Frozen II”) and Live Action (“Mulan”), Pixar (two original films) but no new clips from “Stars Wars: The Last Skywalker”, before an ensemble of singers and dancers took to the stage to remind everyone that “Lion King” is set to be the summer’s biggest hit. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Disney is still untangling the Fox distribution responsibilities in most of its European territories. No small task!

The Universal slate ended with a cheeky dig at Disney’s habit of positioning all its titles in a timeline between now and forever — but then reminded exhibitors in the audience that “one studio alone will not save your cinemas,” and that what was needed was a broad and diverse slate of films. And that is exactly what Universal brought to the party at Barcelona, ranging from the high-octane action of “Hobbs & Shaw” (a.k.a. “Fast & Furious 8½”) to the refined English snobbery of “Downton Abbey”. Director Paul Feig did not attend this year, but sent greetings from London where he was busily editing “Last Christmas”. Universal also showcased plenty of animation to give Disney a run for its family money, with “Abonimable”, “Trolls: World Tour” and “Minions: The Rise Of Gru.” No “Bond 25” footage (having introduced the cast and locations, the presenters said, “now you know as much as us,”) but more thesps in catsuit pre-CGI singing “Cats” tunes. Universal also provided two of four films screened: the well-received “Yesterday” and the sweet, if foul-mouthed, “Good Boys”. 

It was with new-found confidence post-”Aquaman” that Warner Bros rolled out its slate of DC films, with some behind-the-scenes shots and interviews of “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” (out in 2020) and an extended look at the new “Joker” film. Sadly there was no Helen Mirren on stage to repeat her ‘“F**k Netflix”, but WB is clearly still looking to cater to older audiences with films like “The Good Liar”, as well as Very Serious Drama films from Ed Norton and Ben Affleck. Warners then doubled down on horror, with “Doctor Sleep” (a sequel to “The Shining”), “Annabelle Comes Home” was the Monday night screening and not least director Andy Muschietti previewed two scenes from “It: Part 2” using Facetime.

With large, diverse studio slates aiming to be the biggest after Disney, it was once again Paramount’s turn to convince attendees it had turned a corner and would churn out hits. It mainly came down to two films: Ang Lee’s HFR sci-fi action “Gemini Man” and stunning aerial footage from “Top Gun: Maverick”. CEO Jim Gianopolous, also in town to hand out an award
to his colleagues at the closing ceremony, came on stage to declare it was a “time of growth and renaissance” at Paramount. By next year, it can’t be ‘next year’ any longer.

STX bravely wants to continue
to provide mid-budget commercial films for cinemas, but its slate was underwhelming, with “21 Bridges”, “Greenland”, “Hustlers” and “My Spy” not creating much of a stir. “Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” and “The Secret Garden” from StudioCanal were both charming, while UniFrance gave a masterclass in how a trailer can condense the plot of an entire film, thus avoiding the need to see a grim French father-son football drama. 

Trying to fill the gap left by Fox and Sony (and “Once upon a Time in Hollywood” was rumoured to have been nixed for a preview by QT himself), it was the first time that a slate was presented by the Event Cinema Association (ECA). Vue’s Tim Richards shared early tales of event cinema challenges, and then Grainne Peat kept the show on the road with more labels and trailers than even Disney’s Master Slate could muster. 

The big fear for next year isn’t that Sony won’t be coming back, but that another studio might choose to stay away too, because even more French films and event cinema won’t paper over such a large crack.


Seminars, sangria and sun

With just eight slate presentations (compared to 12 two years ago) there was more time for seminars — and companies on the trade show said traffic was more steady. There seem to be more seminars than ever with the venue next to the trade show floor seeing a good audience for most, despite occasional sound issues.


“Technology is driving cinema, it drives streaming, [but also] drives infringement,” observed Liz Bales, CEO of BASE at the start of “Film Theft – Where are we?” panel. Movio’s Sarah Lewthaite seem to be the only one to stick to her data guns, when at the ‘Industry Roundtable: From Customer Insight To Admissions Growth’ the moderator Marine Suttle seemed to throw the panel a curve ball by asking whether it wasn’t really ultimately about gut feeling. (Data says ‘No’ — and helps make better informed decisions.) The panel on mini-theatres and on-demand cinema (chaired by yours truly) heard from people like Theresa English who revealed how a 10-screen multiplex by TK Architects had just 300 seats, despite featuring two PLFs. UNIC launched the third edition of its successful Women’s Cinema Leadership mentoring scheme. Behind the scenes Celluloid Junkie’s Helen Budge was busy interviewing women cinema leaders about their experience for the video series by CTC, which also threw an impromptu In The Sangria Bar podcast With Mike Bradbury (now available on SoundCloud). “There’s no industry like the cinema industry,” said Celluloid Junkie’s 2019 Top Woman in Cinema Mariam El Bacha, “Nothing more entertaining but you have to work hard and be resilient.”


The closing ceremony saw awards bestowed on everyone from big and established Paramount veterans to small next generation Estonian cinema managers. For the fourth year in a row Disney picked up the award for the biggest hit in Europe for its “Avengers” monster hit. “Avengers: Infinity War”, that is — “Avengers: Endgame” will no doubt give Disney a fifth win next year, unless it is upstaged by “Lion King” or “Star Wars IX”. As much as Disney saved European cinemas in the first six months of 2019, even one great studio cannot save the whole industry. As everyone toasted the success of 2019, thoughts were already turning to 2020 and beyond.