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Screen sharing: a well established practice for some,
an innovation brought by digitization for others

by Elisabetta Brunella

The Italians call it "multi-programming", more or less the same as the French, but whilst this is a decidedly new practice in Italy, it is a long-standing phenomenon in France.
"With the arrival of digital," Christiane Reynaud, an independent exhibitor in the Île de France area, tells us, "showing several titles on the same screen has become far simpler. Today it is quite easy to screen the same film, dubbed for children and in its original version with subtitles for adolescents: we use a single DCP but choose the audio channel we need for each screening. It is obviously far less of a problem to alternate quite different titles in the same auditorium. In our 5-screen Fontainebleau site - L'Ermitage - open from 2 p.m. until midnight, we manage to offer as many as 15 titles a week."
In the cinemas run by Mrs Reynaud and her daughters some titles may be screened once only, as in the case of "Cinégoûter". Organised in Chartres, this is a Sunday slot for children and young people with an afternoon snack provided. The same applies for premières, a privilege that L'Ermitage, a cinema which keeps a careful eye on quality films and experimental works, often offers its customers.
Other titles are more frequently shown: when a widely popular film is released in Fontainebleau simultaneously with Paris, distributors demand at least three screenings a day, if not four, even if the title is mainly intended for children and teenagers and would not be particularly suitable for an evening screening.
The "art" of screen sharing also means getting audiences used to moving in a more complex programme than the sort normally adopted in Italian movie theatres: and this is why communication tools become essential. The Ermitage uses a blend of "old and new": a classical flyer with the week's programme, but alongside it the inevitable website and even an app that can be downloaded to smartphones.
Germany provides us with an excellent demonstration of the fact that screen sharing cannot be taken as a licence to reduce the number of projections of a film that "fails to please", but that considerable planning ability is required. In Germany the practice of "Schienenspiel", or programming by time slots, became widespread years ago, first and foremost in single-screen cinemas and then in those possessing up to three screens or, in other words, in those cinemas that would otherwise only have been able to offer a fraction of the films that are released over a twelve-month period. In this way they manage instead to programme as many as a couple of hundred or so of new titles.

This formula is the bread and butter of the art-house sector, partly because over 60% of cinemas belonging to the category's association have only one screen and have more or less always been characterized by the fact that their programming may even be monthly. It is no coincidence that they are known as "Programmkinos" and may screen 4 titles a day on a single screen. An illustrious example of this type of cinema is offered by the Kant in the Charlottenburg neighbourhood of Berlin. Opened in 1912 and with five screens, in this first week of December 2013 it has offered 9 titles ranging from Young and Beautiful to the cartoon movie Das kleine Gespenst", and including The Lunchbox and Two Mothers.

As emerged at Ciné, the yearly gathering of the Italian cinema community held at Riccione, screen sharing, which is also starting to appear in Italy, must be understood by exhibitors and distributors as an opportunity to be more precise in attracting the spectators interested in seeing a given film. Knowing the various audience typologies also means knowing their habits. "Who better than the exhibitor can know when to offer a certain film?" said Elise Brandt, a Finnish exhibitor, in her much appreciated video conference with her Italian colleagues' meeting at Ciné.

She went on, "Fortunately distributors here in Finland have confidence in our knowledge of the market and the demands of our audiences. Frankly I can't imagine a distributor signing a contract that imposes a single title on a screen for a whole week."

The experiences of those who have been practising screen sharing for years - even decades - thus show that trust between exhibitor and distributor is an essential requisite, as is good planning ability - in order to create varied and attractive weekly "programmes" for different audiences - together with a good audience communications strategy.

Screen sharing has been widespread for years in most European countries, independently of their size. Amongst its pioneers there are large territories, such as Germany and France, but also smaller markets like the Netherlands and Romania or Denmark and Finland, in Scandinavia. Digital projection technology not only facilitates the practice of screen sharing where it is already used, but also encourages its adoption in countries like Portugal or Italy. For those who are just starting out along this path, it may be useful to become acquainted with the clauses that regulate agreements between exhibitors and distributors on a pioneer market of screen sharing like the U.K.
Here the contracts that regard screen sharing quite rarely foresee the clause "all shows" and generally only for films with wide audience appeal and in their first and second week of release.
Frequently films suitable for children - like "Despicable Me" - are screened in cinemas with one or two screens, with a clause that stipulates "not the last show".
A title such as "Stitch" may be screened with the clause "evening shows from day 1", i.e. from its very first day of release this film, suitable for adult audiences, is only screened in the evenings.
The conditions are negotiated on hiring the film: the choice of the programming slots is thus not entirely at the exhibitor's discretion.
Nonetheless, in general from the third or fourth week of release onwards, exhibitors are free to present the distributor with proposals that may vary greatly from the original one and are based on different time slots: "just matinées" (morning or early afternoon shows), "just evening" or even at a specific time on a specific day (3 p.m. on Monday, 5.30 p.m. on Tuesday etc.).
Particular conditions may also regard children's films: for example, "matinées on Saturdays and Sundays" or "post-school show on weekdays", i.e. screening around 4 p.m. during the week, which is very common for cartoons, offered at the time children come out of school.
The KDM keys are provided by the distributor for each screen in the complex. The exhibitor chooses which screen to place the film on for his audiences at the times agreed with the distributor. 
In the case of the live screening of alternative content, the projection of the film is guaranteed in any case on another screen, in general taking off a title that is already in its fourth week of release or more.