UNIC View: Advocacy… how does that open doors for Europe’s cinema industry?

UNIC exists as the key representative of cinema operators in Europe. Here, Chris Mill, policy and communications manager, explains why a love of cinema makes things happen at a political level.

So, your main role is advocacy, what is that exactly?” It’s a question that, as an organisation acting as the bridge between the industry and the policy-makers, we’re no stranger to. That said, the work of trade bodies such as the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC) is most certainly a crucial one when it comes to the legal framework that can shape the way cinemas do business, innovate and provide customers with the best experience possible.

Here at UNIC, we work by the motto “We love the Big Screen.” This means that, just like billions of avid cinema-goers across the world, we attach great value to the shared experience of watching films in theatres — encapsulating everything that comes with immersing ourselves in a collective viewing experience like no other. This fuels our central mission; shining a light on precisely what makes the cinema experience so special.

Fortunately for us, in discussions with representatives from both the European Union and national level you won’t be surprised to hear that the vast majority of people we encounter share our love of cinema; after all, it brings us together, provides a window into the lives of others and a space in which the distractions of modern life can take a backseat until the credits roll. However, it’s one thing to enjoy going to the cinema and another thing altogether to fully understand the workings of our industry that make such an activity possible. Namely, the key principles on which cinema exhibition relies — territoriality, exclusivity and contractual freedom, just to mention a few — without any of which, the unique and thrilling experiences enjoyed by audiences in cinema theatres across Europe would be at stake. 

What’s your favourite movie…?

Getting this message across in Brussels is particularly crucial at the moment, following last May’s European elections and with a new European Commission coming into office. When asked, most of the policymakers we meet can readily recall their earliest cinema memory or their favourite cinema trip ever, although conversation often becomes slightly trickier when it touches upon the dangers of piracy, the importance of territorial licensing or why cinemas need exclusivity. 

It’s therefore key that UNIC acts as a voice for cinema operators on these issues, in order to ensure the continued celebration of the cinema experience through support for the foundations of our industry. 

As we welcome in a new European Parliament, we’ve been trying to raise these messages as early on as possible. Alongside our manifesto, outlining what cinemas do for their audiences, communities and national economies across Europe, we meet with policymakers to boost awareness of the benefits of the abovementioned principles, for everyone from cinema theatres to colleagues throughout the value-chain and, ultimately, the cinema-goers themselves. Through such discussions, supplemented by our conferences at the European Parliament, publications, data-gathering and (in our view, the best way to celebrate the magic of the Big Screen) screenings, we strive to share our members’ concerns, place their successes under the spotlight and, most importantly, ensure that cinemas have a seat at the table when it comes to the fundamental nuts and bolts of legislative procedure.

After all, when we start to look into the policies that affect our industry, the sheer number of files and their potential impacts on cinema exhibition can sometimes be underestimated. For instance, it goes without saying that piracy remains one of the biggest threats to box office revenues. It’s therefore crucial that the stakeholders like us have a say in legislation such as the recently adopted Copyright Directive (and its implementation) to help bolster the enforcement framework and combat film theft.

UNIC strives to protect cinema operators’ interests — ultimately to the benefit of audiences — and our efforts towards doing so when it comes to film exclusivity and windows will only increase in the coming months as discussions on the EU Geo-blocking Regulation continue.

Come see the show!

Alongside direct participation in legislative discussions,
we also communicate the forward-thinking nature of the cinema industry by welcoming the European Commission to our annual show, CineEurope. By attending the largest cinema convention in Europe and bearing witness to the cutting-edge developments in everything from screens, to sound, concessions, content and beyond, policymakers gain a glimpse of what audiences are at risk of missing out on should the sector come under threat. We are also proud
to partner with other industry stakeholders, such as the Creative Europe MEDIA-supported Europa Cinemas Network, for instance, to highlight the potential of the sector in terms of providing audiences of all demographics with as broad and enthralling film content as is possible, through concrete success stories.

Our job also involves a great deal of lateral thinking. UNIC keeps an eye on any legislative development that could have an impact on the sector, to ensure that nothing — big or small — escapes our attention. It’s crucial that we keep a close eye on everything from the banning of plastic straws to loudness levels, to accessibility, safety, privacy and beyond, as illustrated by recent legislative developments on these specific issues that can and do have an effect on how cinemas operate and best serve their customers.

So, when asked why advocacy matters, the answer is easy. We’re here to spread the word about the economic, social and cultural value of cinemas and to preserve the cornerstones of our business, in the interest of prosperity and keeping audiences happy. In short, our CEO, Laura Houlgatte, recently said at CineEurope that “cinemas are not only here to stay — they are here to grow and to continue to bring audiences together all over the world to share in the unmatched Big Screen experience”. It’s our job at UNIC to ensure they have the legislative support to be able to do so.