At the heart of CineEurope, the exhibs’ confab formerly known as Cinema Expo Intl., is a partnership with UNIC, the federation of European exhib orgs. Rather than have a separate powwow, as it did in 2009, UNIC opted last year to merge its annual get-together with the trade show.

One of the concerns that UNIC members will air at CineEurope is that the studios are likely to launch premium VOD in Europe, as they did earlier this year in the U.S.

The UNIC viewpoint mirrors that of U.S. exhibs’ org NATO, says Phil Clapp, chief exec of U.K. exhibs’ body CEA and one of UNIC’s VPs.

“We share many of the views of our U.S. counterpart about why this is potentially damaging to the biz and the interests of the customers,” he says.

“Slow-burner” films that depend more on word of mouth, such as “The King’s Speech,” will be hit hardest, he says, because auds will be tempted to wait to see them on premium VOD, and so theater owners will be less keen to keep the films on their screens.

“Cinemas go to where the audiences are. If a film is soon to appear on premium VOD, they will shift to screening a film that they have exclusivity on,” he says.

He argues that the proposals pose a particular risk to smaller operators.

“For many of them, cinema operation remains essentially a marginal business, where the difference between financial viability and going under can be measured in just a few thousand admissions. We would fear that any significant erosion of the release window will push a number of smaller cinemas to the wall,” he says.

He claims that premium VOD will also exacerbate the problem of piracy.

“What you end up with is a more pristine digital copy for the pirates to rip and then make available on a global basis,” he says.

Piracy is set to be another hotly debated topic at CineEurope. Exhibs have made great strides in improving staff training in ways to tackle illegal recording, but rapid technological advance forces exhibs to constantly update the skills of their staff. “We are in an arms race with people who record films in theaters as technology improves,” Clapp says. “For example, the iPhone has been a boon to film thieves because it is able to record at a relatively high quality.”

European exhibs are also seeking to persuade local politicians to follow the lead of the French government in moves to place sanctions on illegal file sharers, says Clapp.

Another concern of exhibs at the confab will be the poor perf of homegrown product in many territories recently. Germany, for example, saw a 23% decrease in admission last year, and a major cause of that drop was the weakness of local product, says Clapp.

As a result of the pact with UNIC, non-U.S. product will have a higher profile at CineEurope than it did at previous editions of the event, reflecting the importance of this aspect of the business to European theater operators.

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