With approximately 52% of all European screens digitized as of January, Europe is now at an important tipping point in the digital transition. According to Media Salles, this year began with 18,525 digital screens, a 79% rise over the previous year.

Norway and Luxembourg are already 100% digital, and the majority of markets are at, or above, the 50% mark. Based on the January figures, the European Audiovisual Observatory (EAO) projects France passing the 80% penetration mark by early 2012, with the U.K., Denmark and the Netherlands predicted to be all-digital by 2013.

Screen Digest projects overall d-cinema penetration in Europe to reach 70% this year and 95% in 2015.

While the first phases of conversion in 2009-10 were almost entirely driven by 3D installations, figures for 2011 show that, for the first time, most new conversions are 2D screens. Screen Digest puts 3D’s share of new digital installations at only 34% for the second half of 2011.

Increased audience turnout and ticket surcharges for 3D films provided a financial incentive for digital conversion. With the next phase driven by VPF schemes and the beginning of subsidy support, the goal shifted to full conversion. The EAO report states that larger operators have reached a plateau of 3D saturation in their venues and says cinemas in general are now concentrating on the coming transition away from 35mm to digital prints.

As major markets switch over, demand for 35mm will drop, putting pressure on remaining 35mm screens. Fox has already said it expects to phase out 35mm by the end of 2013.

Christian de Stoop of Belgian integrator XDC adds: “Once you reach a certain threshold of conversions, say 80% or 85%, the 35mm distribution model starts to shut down. There’s a sufficient number of digital screens to warrant a distributor to say it’s not worth it any more. And you need to be on board or you’ll be left behind.”

It’s the small cinemas, the mono screens and the mini-plexes, that are the most vulnerable to this time factor, being statistically the slowest venue group in the penetration process due to lack of financing power. But Media Salles reports that single-screen cinemas account for 60% of total venues (as opposed to screens). General director Elisabetta Brunella adds, “They are very important for their social and cultural role in their territories, that’s why many regional governments realize that it is important to keep this type of cinema open, even if from the commercial point of view they are not so meaningful.”

Most European countries have initiated their own schemes to support conversion of the smaller cinemas. France has a legal mandate for distributor participation as well as national and regional subsidies, Germany has two large federal funds plus several regional initiatives, Italy has a tax incentive plan plus regional funds.Hungary and Poland have state funds.

The U.K. has no public money but the smaller cinemas have formed a collective buyers group of 350 screens that expects to be fully digitzed by the end of 2012. The Netherlands has a buyers group that has been folded into a national initiative.

The next couple of years will tell how smaller cinemas come through the changeover.

Steve Perrin CEO of the U.K. buyers group Digital Funding Partnership believes there’s an important commercial stake in their survival.

“If you are born and brought up in a small environment with no cinema, you’re not going to get into a cinema-going habit,” he says, adding that we need an “appreciation of the role of small cinemas play in the whole process of cinema-going and building business for the future.”



June 18
11:30 a.m. CineEurope Showcase “Step Up 4 3D,” Lionsgate Intl.; “Amour,” UniFrance; “A Monkey on My Shoulder,” MK2; at Cinesa Diagonal Mar Theater.
5:15 p.m. Paramount Pictures Intl. sneak preview Including a presentation by Jeffrey Katzenberg of “Rise of the Guardians.” Host: Anthony Marcoly, president, Paramount Pictures Intl.

June 19
8:45 a.m. Opening Ceremony
10 a.m. Universal Pictures Intl. presentation and screening of Oliver Stone’s “Savages”
3:30 p.m. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Intl. presentation and screening of “Brave.”

June 20
10:30 a.m. Warner Bros. Pictures Intl. product presentation
1:45 p.m. CineEurope U. — Alternative Content Presenters: Jean-Marie Dura, managing director, UGC Cinemas; Jacob Elkaer-Hansen, marketing director, Nordisk Film Biografer; David Gajda, chairman of software, CinedigmModerator: Christine Costello, managing director, More2Screen
2:30 p.m. Sony Pictures Releasing Intl. slate preview
4:45 p.m. Screening: Fox Intl.’s “Ice Age: Continental Drift”
7:15 p.m. Twentieth Century Fox Intl. slate preview

June 21
11.30 a.m. Screening
1:30 p.m. Awards Luncheon

CineEurope 2012
Theaters at tipping point | Local pics gain market share in Europe | Basking in Barcelona | CineEurope 2012 set to fete honorees