The International Union of Cinemas (“UNIC”) is the European trade association speaking on behalf of cinema operators and their national federations across 36 countries.
The cinema technology landscape across the world is changing rapidly, due both to the transition to digital cinema and the development of an increasing array of technology options aimed at improving the film-viewing experience in theatres.
Many UNIC members make regular investment in high-end technology to provide cinema-goers with the most immersive and engaging experience possible. Making such investment choices does not come without challenges.
Alongside the many practical challenges of installation, operators must be confident that upgraded theatres will provide a tangible return of investment in the future. Cinema operators are ultimately responsible for the quality of the image and sound of theatrical presentations – both to their audience and to those who created the film.
UNIC members want to screen as many films as possible in the many sound and image formats that are now available and featuring in an increasing number of screens around the world. From Premium Large Formats (PLFs) to immersive sound, laser projection and High Dynamic Range (HDR), the possibilities in terms of technology are practically endless.
Unfortunately, some of our members find themselves increasingly confronted with situations where they are not able to show a film in the best possible quality – as permitted by the equipment available in their cinemas. Issues around cinema standards often contribute to this problem.
Below is a list of the types of challenges that have arisen:
1. Some major releases and accompanying trailers are not mixed in immersive sound, despite the technology being available in many cinemas around the world;
2. Some films are only available in one specific Premium Large Format. Operators who have not invested in that specific format are then required to screen the film in a classic, smaller format on their otherwise large screens;
3. Certain releases are only made available during the opening week in one specific image or sound format, limiting their release to cinemas equipped for those formats only;
4. Some films are only made available in one specific non-standardised aspect ratio, therefore encouraging exhibitors to show a cropped film to their audience unless they can create a new macro in time.
UNIC would encourage all stakeholders in the cinema eco-system to work together in good faith to help overcome as many of the above challenges as possible. A more innovative – yet at the same time more complex – ecosystem requires increased co-operation and collaboration amongst all to ensure that film-fans can continue to see films in the best quality possible – on the big screen.
UNIC also strongly encourages that all image and sound formats should be playable on all systems and calls for the development of open standards in the industry to give operators the comfort and assurance they require in order to have confidence that the investment they are making is worthwhile.
Every film, whether part of a small or large release, should be able to take advantage of the amazing systems now installed in a growing number of venues. Manufacturers should therefore make sure that the cinema equipment they deliver does not rely on proprietary technology and they should co-operate with industry partners to develop open standards where possible. We greatly encourage film producers and distributors, as well as directors, to create films in those open standards in order that they might be screened around the world and not only in a limited number of venues.
Open standards would, in turn, allow new and innovative formats to flourish and be adopted more widely. Programming should not become a function only of the type of image and sound formats that an exhibitor is able to screen.
UNIC welcomes the work undertaken by the SMPTE towards the creation of an open standard in immersive sound, a first step towards necessary harmonisation. We would like to hold further discussions on this pressing topic with other industry stakeholders as well as the creative community, which delivers the amazing content that exhibitors are proud to deliver to their audiences.