Monica Törnblom
Programmer and Head of Bio Kontrast, Folkets Hus och Parker, Sweden

Folkets Hus och Parker (FHP), The National Federation of People’s Parks and Community Centres, are unique in the world with the basic idea that everyone should have somewhere to meet, experience culture of different kinds and interact with their community. Within our 692 venues there are 240 cinemas and 245 screens. Most of them are situated in smaller towns and villages with between 200 and 20,000 inhabitants.

In 1999 FHP realised that digital cinema was an important transition and that we had to take action if we wanted our cinemas to survive. For the next two years we gathered information and prepared for a pilot project. In September 2001 we had our first public screening of a commercial film in Smedjebacken, one of seven pilot cinemas. During 2005 and 2006 the first cinemas were accompanied by another 33 of ours and 17 run by other smaller exhibitors thanks to a new lease. Apart from four 2K screens, all are 1.4K. For FHP, digital cinema isn’t a pilot project anymore but a daily and very real business.

My work at FHP covers two areas: firstly, programmer and consultant; secondly, Head of Bio Kontrast, which is our nationwide art-house circuit. It’s very diversified and rewarding work where the key element is the communication between me and the managers. Since many of them work on a non-profit basis in their spare-time and have autonomy regarding content and program, I have to be very supportive and be able to guide them to the ‘right’ decisions through all kinds of questions.

For the past six years FHP has tested all types of content in our digital cinemas. Some of them have had little success and some of them have made huge leaps forward. All these experiences are equally important for us and everyone in the business. To mention a few: live events like the studio-concert with David Bowie, the Robbie Williams concert, the New Year’s Concert from Vienna (four years in a row), the European Football Championships (in HD), the World Cup (in HD), opera from the Metropolitan in New York (in HD) and all of them via satellite; pre-recorded Broadway Musicals; live local sports events with local commentators; video- and computer games (Playstation, X-box, Wii, LAN parties); live European Song Contest (televised); previews of Swedish TV-series; Viasat Sports channels; interactive conferences by high capacity broadband; digital advertising, both local and national; Swedish documentaries and art-house movies on standard-, HD- and BlueRay-DVD; Swedish blockbusters on generic and non-generic hard drives; Hollywood blockbusters on generic hard drives.

One of our most recent successes was the live opera from the Metropolitan. The screening on March 24 was The Barber of Seville; 17 cinemas had an audience of 2,400 people, with 11 cinemas sold-out. Actually, this is roughly the same amount of ticket sales as Night at the Museum at these cinemas. We also got 10 full pages in the nationwide newspapers over a five-day-period and boundless coverage by local media. Nevertheless the main purpose of these digital houses is feature-film screenings. We have shown that there’s a huge part of the market out there for us. If we just could get hold of the digital prints at the premiere. The most recent example is a Swedish film Göta Kanal 2. Thirty of our digital cinemas in the first week alone took 6% of the total admissions. FHP’s total market share during 2006 was 3.7%. When 30 out of 245 cinemas can make 6% that’s a huge opportunity both for us and the distributors!

This gives us leverage, with an enormous potential to earn money but still there’s a lot of outdated thinking and maybe excessive consideration of the Hollywood Studios in Sweden. The DCI specifications are hand-stitched for the US and the large multiplexes. In fact a 2K projector projects a specified amount of pixels in a line irrespective of the screen size, meaning that in order to follow the DCI specs FHP’s cinemas have to project a picture almost twice as sharp as the multiplex-screens. This doesn’t seem fair, does it? Another consideration is that the 2K projectors are too big for our machine rooms and the projected light is too strong for our small venues. FHP believes in and works for scalability, i.e. smaller screens with smaller projectors show high quality, and should be able to get content. A relaxing of the DCI specs is the only way to prevent the wide-scale disappearance of European cinemas during the Big Roll Out!