CT often focuses on innovation, but that comes at a price. We meet Paul Robson, MD of Medialease, a finance specialist helping cinemas fund technological ambitions.
Using innovation to enhance the movie-going experience: is the goal of those on the technical side of cinema. Indeed, Cinema Technology magazine extols the virtues of new systems and products that hit the market — but less often do we discuss how cinemas can expect to pay for it.
Medialease is an asset finance company offering a range of options for those looking to provide audiences with the benefit of the latest technologies. These include medium and long-term rental, on and off-balance sheet leasing and hire purchase. It has financed technology in the broadcast, post-production and live events sectors for nearly 20 years and in recent years has also specialised in finance for cinemas. As well as providing cinemas with projectors, media servers and other kit, the company works with broadcasters, post-production houses and events companies, supplying editing, grading and audio equipment, and 4K cameras and location playout equipment for major sports broadcasters.
Founder and MD of Medialease, Paul Robson started in his first finance job in 1994, working for a captive manufacturer, which led to him working as a broker in the VFG Video Film and Grip rental house. Paul then set up Medialease in 2003, recognising the demands placed on cinema operators as they face an array of new technology but with seemingly little prospect of further industry-wide financial support now that the Virtual Print Fee has run its course. So alternative funding options are needed — and Paul’s model is based on arranging finance from a panel of approved funders.
“We’ve provided finance for many projector upgrades and digital cinema projects across the UK,” Paul explained. “Whether that’s to a chain, an independent or simply for a screening room, our technical knowledge and experience in the sector helps us to provide appropriate finance deals that fit the demands of the industry.”
Many cinemas used the VPF to upgrade to digital but no projector lasts forever. A lot of the projectors were installed using the scheme a decade ago will soon need upgrading — and Medialease can provide affordable solutions to allow cinemas to change their projectors before they reach the end of their shelf life. Monthly payments provide certainty and transparency in terms of cost. Suppliers often have special leasing offers only available through certain channels and offered through finance providers such as Medialease. Significantly, for cinema operators at whatever scale, is the realisation that access to technology is not necessarily restricted by cost but can be enabled by finance. The practical case studies outlined on the page opposite show examples of different venues achieving their goals with affordable and realistic financial support
Artrix is an arts venue in Bromsgrove, UK. It hosts theatre and dance performances, live music, live comedy and cinema screenings. A one-screen cinema forms part of the complex. When the time came to upgrade its projection equipment to 4K picture quality, Artrix approached CinemaNext, one of the larger technology installers in Europe. The projector chosen was Sony’s SRX-R510P, which is geared towards independent cinemas. It provides 4K picture quality, is easy to maintain and has great durability.
Once Artrix had chosen its projector, they approached Medialease to agree the finance to fund it. The company has worked with many cinemas to finance new equipment, so was quick to approach specialist lenders and agree a deal. The final arrangement gives Artrix certainty about its set monthly payments and made upgrading their projection equipment achievable.
The Sony projector was installed in March this year. Since then, audiences have enjoyed watching the latest releases and live screenings with clearer, higher-definition picture quality. Improvements have also allowed for an increase in cinema programming to include regular Saturday matinee family films, a Baz Luhrmann mini-season and the latest new releases and screenings of live theatre and dance events.
Royal & Derngate is a long-established venue for the arts based in Northampton, UK. Formed from the merger of two venues, the Royal Theatre opened in 1884 and the Derngate Theatre opened in 1983. A £15m redevelopment project, completed in 2006, incorporated the Royal and Derngate theatres and provided additional studio spaces and rehearsal space. Then, in 2013, the Northampton Filmhouse was opened as a one-screen digital cinema at the venue.
The Filmhouse proved to be so successful that it was decided a second screen was required to maintain and increase the diversity of the arts-based and current box office programming to accommodate greater visitor numbers.
In April 2017, the second screen at Northampton Filmhouse was opened in a similar ‘cinema in a box’ style, sitting alongside the original cinema. When equipping the second cinema with projection equipment, the Filmhouse approached Medialease for finance, who approved funding of two new Christie projectors and two new media servers. As a result, the latest kit ensures that the viewing experience at the Filmhouse is second to none and the modern kit delivers reliability.
The Palace Cinema, Malton, North Yorkshire
Jeremy Powell, the owner of The Palace Cinema in Malton, North Yorkshire, first fell in love with cinema while helping a school friend run the Winscale Film Club. Around the same time, he saw ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’. The combination of those two things fed his dream of owning his own ‘picture house’ — an ambition he would one day achieve.
After a near miss in his late 20s while pursuing an engineering career in TV and radio, Jeremy spotted The Palace Cinema in 2002 whilst working on an outside broadcast. It had all the basic requirements: a screen, a projector and some seats. But it was looking careworn. Still, Powell took a deep breath and put his money where his dream was. “I thought I could mend it,” he says. “I also thought I understood business, but now I realise I didn’t.”
His idyllic vision of second runs and classic oldies was not working. He admits to being naive about film booking and acknowledges it took a while before he realised that running a successful independent cinema is about booking films that pay, not the ones that you — the owner — think the public should want to see. But those early struggles were soon forgotten, thanks to a visit from the local licencing police officer, who turned out to be a great supporter of local businesses. He took one look around and asked: “Do you think you could fit a bar in here?” The idea stacked up and, soon after, Powell’s fortunes took an upward turn.
A free NEC 800 (formerly the IS8) digital projector arrived via the UK Film Council’s Digital Screen Network initiative, shortly followed by a conversion to twin screens. A second NEC projector — plus an upgrade from 35mm to digital — funded with asset finance from Medialease, improved matters further. “Seeking out asset finance was done out of necessity,” admits Powell, who was introduced to Medialease by Arts Alliance Media.
As Paul Robson explains. “As soon as we took the call from Jeremy, I wanted to help. On a business level, I’m a firm believer in the importance of bringing local cinemas into the digital domain, since it enables what is a micro-business to offer other creative services to local consumers and to industry. I was also keen on a personal level as I am passionate about old school cinemas surviving — not least in Malton, which is a lovely market town I’ve known all my life as my father was born and bred there.”