Events: ECM Istanbul: An emerging success for all

The first ever ECM conference, held last November in Istanbul, explored cinema’s growth in emerging markets. CT reports on a successful event.


 For the keen observers in the cinema industry, the markets in Turkey, Africa, the Balkans, Central Asia and the Middle East are at an exciting early stage in their development. They offer good opportunities for investors, studios, distributors, exhibitors and specialist supply chains that more established territories don’t — and the chance to deploy technologies with the benefit of experience gleaned elsewhere.

Drawing together some of the key players in these regions to explore these factors was the driver behind the inaugural Emerging Cinema Markets (ECM) Conference 2018, held in Istanbul in late November and organised by DCS Events. Delegates flew in from all points of the compass, including Australia, several African countries, Kazakhstan, India, the US and more locally from Europe and the Middle East and, of course, Turkey itself for an event designed to put the right people in the same room.

The perfect stage

When writing about a conference, it’s pretty unusual to kick off with specific praise for the stage, but on this occasion it was genuinely noteworthy. The whole backdrop of the main hotel ballroom being used for the conference was a large LED screen, several metres wide and rising all the way to the ceiling. This LED screen provided the perfect excuse for a number of presenters to go to town, playing with the additional display space and being able to illustrate ideas and data in a more imaginative way. And there was a lot of data and graphs. In fact, by the end of the first day, there was a risk of data overload from the vast amount presented. Clearly many see real opportunities to establish new screens in the territories under discussion.

Quite apart from the large volume of visual data presented, there were also numerous images screened of cinemas of all sizes and styles from around the world, illustrating the seemingly endless possibilities that are achievable when the imagination is allowed to run free. The idea of a cinema as more than just a place to watch a movie was a recurring theme: they are cultureplexes, destinations and a part of the wider community. 

Africa’s growth potential

One slide presented by Lucy Jones, executive director at ComScore, showed the opportunities available in markets such as Southern Africa. Africa contributes <1% of world box office currently but has 16% of the world’s population. Specifically, the population of the UK and South Africa are approximately equivalent at around 60m, yet while the UK has 170m annual admissions from 4,300 screens and an annual visit ratio of 2.6 per head, South Africa has just 20m admissions through 800 or so screens and annual visits of 0.3 per head. Of course there are a number of hurdles to growth, as was discussed in a range of panel sessions, but the numbers alone illustrate the potential.

Trends, opportunities

One of the major themes for the
two-day conference was “trends and opportunities”: all of the different sessions provided attendees with information specific to the various geographic areas of the emerging cinema markets, each unique in one way or another. Constant in all the presentations and panel sessions, however, were these three mantras: “Know your audience”, “Local content” and ‘Location”. There were plenty of bad examples raised to highlight where these key tenets had not been followed and the cinemas in question had not proved to be the runaway success its operators had hoped for.

Great to meet you…

Both of the main conference days started with breakfast discussion sessions which allowed for a more relaxed way to explore both the Turkish and African markets in more detail. With a round-table discussion featuring experts with a great deal of operating knowledge in these areas, alongside integrators and suppliers or manufacturers, the sessions provided in-depth insight and, of course, excellent networking opportunities.

Though breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, the ECM conference allowed for plenty of networking at other times too, especially on a first-day coach tour organised by CT contributor Patrick von Sychowski which saw delegates visiting several cinemas in the major shopping centres in Istanbul. For many of the delegates this would have been a prime opportunity to see the city outside of the inevitable taxi trips between the airport and hotels. This relaxed, unstructured networking created a number of new relationships that developed through the rest of the week — it was a great way to start the conference.

These 21st Century Shopping Centres tour, supported by Celluloid Junkie and SISAY, visited the amazing malls at VadiIstanbul and Istinye Park where there was a showcase of the CGV cinemas including their 4DX, IMAX, Tempur Cinema and Gold Class screens. These multiplex sites felt very different to the more typical cinemas found in other locations, including the UK. The public areas were bright and made use of a large amount of brick and a “steampunk” aesthetic. They made for a genuinely interesting alternative to the now commonplace multiplex style which looks decidedly unimaginative in comparison.

A part of the calendar

Organising any event is a challenge, but organising a first-time conference in a country that isn’t your home turf is always going to add an extra level of complexity, so DCS Events are to be applauded for achieving such a successful three-day event.

There is an ever-growing calendar throughout the year for cinema events, and, just as with the weekly releases, it gets harder and harder to attend them all and distinguish one from another. This conference has real potential to become a regular event — and an opportunity to meet people and businesses from the parts that other events just don’t reach.


What was on the agenda?

African countries, Turkey and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were all key elements of the programme. All have different challenges, but cinema in all these territories have aspirations to develop and grow. It is clear that to deliver the opportunities for cinema that are possible, all stakeholders need to work together in emerging markets. That stretches from the vision of a shopping centre or real estate developer; to studios and film licencees aiming to grow the market; financiers supporting the investment; and operators of cinemas opening up in new markets. IT systems such as those supplied by Vista, Movio and Comscore will play a vital part in the development — more accurate, transparent and trustworthy information is critical to enabling the opportunities to be realised fully.