UNIC View: Busy, busy, busy on the behalf of Europe’s exhibition community

The past year saw many European territories put in a stellar box office perfomance. UNIC CEO Laura Houlgatte reflects on a year of successes and looks forward to more of the same in 2020!


IT’S GREAT TO SAY that 2019 represented another year of success for cinemas across Europe, with admissions for the region expected to reach above 1.25bn visits for the fifth consecutive year.  At time of writing in early 2020 final admissions and box office figures remain to be seen, but it’s apparent that a number of countries across the region put in stellar performances. Bolstered by US productions and popular local content, part of this success is undoubtedly down to the broad slate of films that reached European audiences throughout the year.

France, consistently one of UNIC’s top-performing member territories, welcomed an incredible 213m cinema-goers to theatres in 2019 — the second highest level of admissions since 1966 and a 6% increase on 2018. Spanish exhibitors attracted over 105m cinema-goers in 2019, a record-breaking figure — an increase of 37% compared to 2013, the first full-year during which VAT on tickets was increased from 8 to 21%. Celebrations are in order for Italy too, which, partly thanks to a strategic shift when it came to summer releases, reached close to 100m admissions, representing double-digit growth from 2018.

Positive admissions could be seen in other European territories such as the Netherlands (+6.5%), the Czech Republic (+12%), Latvia (+8%) and Russia (+10%), which for the second time in three years is the number one European territory in terms of admissions with over 219m visitors. Special mention must also go to German colleagues for their efforts building admissions and box office growth after a difficult 2018, which are expected to result in double-digit increases. And, on the back of a record year, the UK put in a stellar performance too.


Celebrating cinema’s diversity
More broadly in terms of trends within the sector, industry consolidation in both distribution and exhibition all over the world is continuing, (with Fox/Disney combined amassing an astonishing $11.1bn at the global box office in 2019) and the expansion of European operators into new regions.

Europe can be proud of its tier of successful independent cinemas, highlighting how operators cater for a multitude of audience preferences. The expansion of several independents is a clear response to a continual demand for diversity, Be sure to keep an eye on the Europa Cinemas Innovation Award, which highlights such sites, with operators from Slovenia, France and Bulgaria recognised in 2019 for creativity in film programming, young audience schemes and entrepreneurship. It’s crucial we celebrate such initiatives in order to secure future prosperity, along with the wider value of cinema-going for audiences across Europe and beyond. After all, cinemas are the ultimate space to showcase quality films.

One of UNIC’s main priorities is to spread the word about the economic, social and cultural contribution of cinemas. We issued a number of statements last year on the importance of full theatrical release and exclusive windows — which benefit everyone throughout the film value-chain.
With the launch of Disney+ and Apple TV+ last year, many will be watching to see how the various players in the streaming landscape, interact with each other and the theatrical sector. This remains a key interest for UNIC but we firmly believe streamers and cinemas can complement each other.

Closer to home, a key event in the past 12 months came in the form of the launch of the third UNIC Women’s Cinema Leadership Programme, a flagship initiative aimed at achieving gender balance in exhibition. Thanks in no small part to the dedication of our inspiring mentors and mentees during the three editions so far, the scheme is thriving and we’re delighted to see the launch of initiatives such as Women in Exhibition.


A focus on retail, marketing and tech
Our expert working groups went from strength to strength in 2019 and we welcomed a new addition, the UNIC Circular Economy Retail Group. Created with partners from Coca-Cola, it gathers professionals across the industry committed to creating a sustainability roadmap for exhibition in Europe. The UNIC Marketing Group was re-launched in 2019 and we are planning more meetings in 2020. In addition, the UNIC Technology Group continued to bring together respected professionals to explore developments in the ever-changing field of technology. Towards the end of the year, we teamed up with UNIC member Rolv Gjestland for his fascinating take on “How to design a cinema auditorium”, launched at our Cinema Days and available for free on the UNIC website.

Speaking of which, the 2019 UNIC Cinema Days was the most successful to date, with discussions ranging from the relationship between cinemas and tech giants, to what constitutes “premium”, accessibility, untapped audiences and much more. We look forward to building on this success in 2020 with a dynamic programme of seminars and workshops covering the full spectrum of cinema-going in Europe today.

But 2019 wasn’t just a big year on the industry side. The lion’s share of UNIC’s work and purpose is focused on advocacy within the EU institutions to promote and defend the interests of cinema exhibition. It was a year of change, with European Parliament elections in May and a new European Commission executive coming into office in December. Some 60% of the European Parliament’s members (MEPs) were elected for the first time and the new Commission leadership has unveiled a broad range of fresh priorities. These changes will bring both opportunities and challenges, as we continue to reach out to our established contacts and new potential allies at EU and national level to ensure the future of European cinema-going.

UNIC is also looking forward to a productive year as a founding member of the Global Cinema Federation (GCF), which groups the world’s leading cinema operators and the two key multi-national trade bodies (UNIC and NATO) to represent the sector’s global interests. In 2019, the GCF was present at many industry events, with a keynote address and panel at ShowEast and the Federation’s annual meetings at CinemaCon and CineEurope. We expect the GCF to continue to grow, both in terms of size and influence.

Without giving too much away, at CineEurope this year, you can look forward to an enticing mix of previews, launches and discussions on trends, developments and other topics for exhibitors and professionals worldwide. Don’t miss the chance to discover everything that’s set to make the big screen experience irresistible — put CineEurope 2020 in your diary!