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Jocelyn Bouyssy • Exhibitor

"Digital: the need to look ahead"

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Jocelyn Bouyssy • Exhibitor

It came as a surprise at the end of 2007 when CGR Cinémas announced plans to convert all of its 400 screens to digital projection before the end of 2009, given that French exhibitors have been very wary about making a rapid changeover to digital. The first European network to make the complete transition, CGR has opted for a VPF (Virtual Print Free) agreement with the UK’s Arts Alliance Media (the British division of a Norwegian investment fund), who are acting as a third-party investor.

Provision has been made for the digital conversion of between 200 and 250 screens by the end of 2008, with 35mm screenings being held alongside digital during the transition phase. In Paris at the end of January – at the International Digital Film ForumJocelyn Bouyssy, Director General of the network, explained this radical change.

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Cineuropa: Why have you decided to convert the whole of your network to digital?
Jocelyn Bouyssy: I experienced the crisis in cinema in the mid-1980s, with equipment being designed that was already obsolete. That period reminds me of the need to look ahead. The prospects for three-dimensional film convinced me to make the transition to digital projection, even though I know that the directors themselves play an important role and that not all films require 3-D effects. However, I believe that these technological advances will encourage young audiences to return to the cinema. Today, viewers don’t learn about the cinematic image, but digital and 3-D screenings may play this educational role. Moreover, I believe we are experiencing an evolution in a cinema industry that remains anchored in the love of the image.

Why didn’t you wait for a financing model to be drawn up across France as a whole?
I realised that I wouldn’t receive any subsidies and that there was no consensus between small, medium and large exhibitors because we all have different interests and requirements. I therefore chose my economic model. I knew that I would have to embark on the initiative alone and I don’t believe that I took any disproportionate risks in doing so. I believe I have signed a very advantageous agreement, even if all this obviously involves certain costs. I can’t say any more about the financial aspects for reasons of confidentiality [the overall cost of the operation is estimated at around €40m, with a 70-80% investment from the third-party investor] and my network is only the third largest in France, in a difficult market. Now I hope that distributors will quickly follow suit even if they are not obliged to sign an agreement with Arts Alliance.

How is the deployment progressing, having begun with eight screens operational by the end of 2007?
Our plan was to make quick headway by aiming to have a minimum of 200 screens converted to digital by the end of 2008. We’ve negotiated with people who have the technical expertise. The installation is being managed by Ciné Digital Services with projectors supplied by Christie, servers by Doremi and a central database by Smartjog. We’ve worked quickly and eliminated most of the technical risks, even if there are always a few unfathomable problems such as overwritten files, but this type of unforeseeable problem can also occur with 35mm. And we’ve had very good feedback from viewers.

Will this transition to digital lead to an increase in admission prices?
After considering the issue, I decided not to raise admission prices and I hope I won’t have to change my mind. It’s not up to viewers to fund this changeover; it’s our responsibility as exhibitors and distributors. For ordinary people, going to the cinema is expensive and I don’t think that the French market should increase admission prices. The average admission price in France is currently €5.55. Three-dimensional screenings are another matter altogether; this is an issue for debate and people can expect to pay an additional euro because it is an entirely different experience for the viewer, not to mention the costs of the 3-D glasses.

The number of films available in digital format – particularly European films – is still low. Will this effect your programming?
By running both digital and 35mm screenings, I’ve ensured that nothing will change, either for our network, our programming, distributors or audiences. As it is today, there are fewer digital films because French distributors have not yet come to an agreement between themselves, but this isn’t such a serious problem: the transition will run its own course and will not hold up our deployment.

In order to prove that everything is working well and that they are not solely interested in making money at all costs, Arts Alliance provided VPF free of charge for January and February, which meant we were able to screen Asterix at the Olympic Games [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
in digital. And current negotiations between French distributors and third-party investors lead us to foresee developments within the next two months. All that is needed is for a few distributors to sign an agreement and others will follow suit. For beyond the announcement effect, they will soon realise the savings they can make.

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