Exhibitors for digital: an Italian experience
by Vittorio Polin, Exhibitor, Italia Eden Multisala, Italy

At the end of the first DigiTraining Plus course some Italian participants, members of the ANEC (Italian Exhibitors’ Association), decided it would be a good idea to set up a work group, coordinated by Alessandro Tizian, to act both as an observatory and as a body for making suggestions on D-Cinema.  The main objective was to find the most effective models for Italian exhibition to successfully deal with the challenge of digital.  Rather than being discouraged by the technical features of D-Cinema, attention has been concentrated on locating sustainable economic models for Italian exhibition; as to the technical aspect, the work group has received indications from bodies such as the DCI, SMPTE, NATO, UNIC and CST, and welcomed the valuable contributions by Angelo D’Alessio, in the hope that those who are already experimenting with digital will soon be willing to share the experience they have acquired in the field.

In the field of D-Cinema it is worth considering the fact that, whilst the technical aspects, which are the prerogative of few experts, are progressively defined and settled, those regarding economic and business strategies, at first sight comprehensible to everyone, find far more difficulty in moving towards a definite and satisfactory settlement.  We therefore consider that the digital issue should be tackled by giving priority to the economic and logistic aspects, leaving technological ones to a later date and only at the end allowing room for the fascination of technological novelties. 

Many exhibitors remember the introduction, around thirty years ago, of audio and stereo systems, initially analogical and then digital. This occasion was not without its technical difficulties, because of the various standards proposed, which competed with one another in terms of technical characteristics but not in terms of economic appeal.  This resulted in difficulties due to the uncertainty of the standards, whilst the possibility of enjoying competitive prices, which the competition between products should have produced, was not forthcoming.  In connection with this it has been observed that in the years of the changeover from silent movies to sound, attractive proposals were made to the exhibitors for the installation of different sound reproduction systems but clearly this was another age and the role of the exhibitors was different.

Two plans of action have been defined by the work group, which they would like to put into the form of practical proposals where the exhibitors have an active role.  The former concerns ways of allowing exhibition to enjoy the dividends resulting from the huge savings that distribution would obtain when the whole process of D-Cinema were operating regularly and 35 mm film were replaced by files.  The basic idea is clear but it is important to go into the operational details, for example the method for attributing a correct value to the digital copy, corresponding to its equivalent – either virtual or real – on film; the juridical status of the interface between distribution or production and exhibition; how to involve theatres in general in a changeover plan, in order to make the most of the benefits, etc.  The prospects of savings to be made and the improvement of logistics allowing access to products are incentives for insisting on a detailed definition of the economic model.  The second plan of action draws its inspiration from Digital Screen Network – set up by the UK Film Council and already in operation – which is considered to be the model at present best suited for combining technological innovation, support for quality cinema and public intervention; the objective is to define an equivalent Italian route.

But the work group is certainly not insensitive to issues that are of interest to the world of media and the expansion of the new technologies that can act as vehicles to content; we ask ourselves where exhibition will stand in a world where the producers of content have for a long time continued to carry out important creative and distribution work, yet using economic models that still revolve around a system of legal protection of author’s rights in potential conflict with the new distribution systems and the Internet in particular.

It is also necessary to remember that the introduction of new technology in a market has always produced upsets and sometimes the destruction of existing scenarios and has always led the operators to launch into processes of innovation in order to survive the market and survive on it, seeking a balance between the opposing interests at stake.  To return to the world of exhibition, what costs, timing and mode of access to content, whether films or other audiovisual products, will allow theatres to compete successfully with other means of viewing? In terms of economic returns, how much will the quality of D-Cinema weigh, in comparison to other, competing media?  The answers to questions like these are important in order to foresee future scenarios.