The third French circuit, CGR, opts for digital in all its theatres
by Elisabetta Brunella, Secretary General of MEDIA Salles

Whilst in Paris, headquarters of the main exhibition companies, the professional associations and the CNC (National Centre of Cinematography), the debates are proliferating, the sensational news arrived from outlying La Rochelle (France) at the end of November: CGR, the third largest circuit in France, is opting to go 100% digital and is doing so with the support of a third party who uses the VPF model.
And so, in Europe’s biggest pool of movie theatres (around 5,400 screens), which counted only 41 digital projectors in the MEDIA Salles census of June 2007, at a single stroke almost 400 screens using the new technology have suddenly appeared.
At the beginning of February, the Idiff – International Digital Forum – provided an opportunity for various players and different positions to be heard. At the round table, which was a rare chance for the presidents of professional associations and the CNC representative to meet, an awareness emerged of the need to take action, yet cautious attitudes, if not resistance, were also to be seen. Whilst Carole Scotta, representing independent distributors, stated: “We are late, action must be taken,” Victor Hadida of the distributors’ federation, repeated that for his members digital remains a technology that must not be allowed to modify the existing relationship between exhibition and distribution.
Jean Labé, president of the exhibitors’ federation (FNCF), also spoke in favour of maintaining the present cinema economy, adding: “ The real problem is for all theatres to shift to digital over a reasonable period of time. This is why the issue of financial resources is crucial.” As to the willingness of the different categories to share in the costs of the transition, if Labé has argued that, apart from the issue of who pays for the equipment, the exhibitors will, in any case, find themselves incurring other costs, such as adapting the projection booths or maintenance, Hadida makes no mystery of the fact that the distributors are not without their “reluctant” members.
Patrick Caradec, moderator of the round table and a journalist from “Le Film Français”, commented, “If the message is that neither distributors nor exhibitors want to pay, how will the digital transition be financed?” “It is not going to be the audiences,” Labé hastened to affirm, “just as they have not paid for modernising structures in the past.” It is therefore clear that in the French path to digital changeover, public money plays an essential role. On the other hand, the CNC, which has devoted a lot of energy to the transition (including the Goudineau Report, a platform shared with the German FFA, the appointment of the Lévrier commission), is aware that the sums of money in question are incompatible with the resources – and commitments already made – of the present “support account”. From the floor, the reactions to these messages came from representatives of the companies that candidate themselves as intermediaries between distribution and exhibition, the so-called “integrators”. As well as their regret at not having been involved in the technical panel promoted by the CNC, they expressed the conviction that their formulas allow the main body of theatres to shift to digital. The buzzword is again VPF, the key to systems that can be “extremely flexible and variable, according to the individual player’s capacity to contribute,” according to Gwendal Auffret of Arts Alliance Media, and “redistributive, in order to take into account very different sorts of theatres, covering 90% of all cinemas,” according to Jean Mizrahi of Ymagis.
“That VPF has enabled 4,000 screens in the United States to change over to digital has now been demonstrated,” added the representative of XDC (producers of servers and suppliers of services for digital cinema), emphasizing the importance in Europe of using companies that are familiar with the characteristics of the various national and regional markets. Moreover, strong arguments in favour of the role of intermediaries had already emerged during the morning from the words of Jocelyn Bouyssy the “self-made man” who has scaled the career ladder in the CGR circuit from projectionist to managing director: “Why have we chosen digital? First of all we did not want to find ourselves lagging behind, as happened with the multi-screen cinemas, then because we believe in digital 3D as a means of bringing back the enthusiasm for cinema-going and lastly because we have found a very reliable partner in Arts Alliance Media.” As regards the costs of this operation, through which CGR has outstripped all their competitors (“We realized that the premises did not exist for us all starting out together,” explained Bouyssy), no details were forthcoming but an eloquent comment: “I came to a super-agreement with Arts Alliance Media! I can safely say I have found my “personal” business model!”