In the run-up to and during CinemaCon 2015 CJ is interviewing and profiling several leading companies, trade bodies and people to capture the mood of the cinema industry as it enters its post-digital era.
Today we talk to Barry Rebo, newly appointed head of Ymagis’ just-launched division Direct Cinema North America (DCNA), which expands the pan-European cinema service majors’ footprint globally and seeks to revolutionise the distribution and availability of a wider variety of content for cinemas.
Rebo has a long experience in pioneering digital efforts, most recently in Emerging Cinemas and Emerging Pictures
Celluloid Junkie: What was the vision for setting up DCNA and how will it be implemented?
Barry Rebo: I first met Jean Mizrahi at the November 2013 Europa Cinema Congress in Athens, Greece. We were both invited to speak at the event yet didn’t know of one another before then. Once we heard each other presentations it was clear we shared not only an affinity for the international film business but agreed there were lessons and opportunities to be shared between Europe and North America.
Direct Cinema North America is an Ymagis Group company that extends its European services into the US market. That technically, as well as in terms of the overarching business models Ymagis has introduced over the years, we are an extension of what Jean’s teams overseas have accomplished, to date. Of course, there will be certain adaptations to the States market realities.
The New York office is already connected electronically to Paris as well as all the other Ymagis digital laboratories and offices – London, Barcelona, Berlin and Liege. We can share both facilities and staff-member’s tremendous, and deep, expertise.
The company is coming to market with tremendous depth of resources already in place. Like our parent company, we do not plan to acquire license or sublicense for our own account content in the traditional distributor’s box-office participation model. Our electronic delivery portal CineConductor and the digital file delivery platform it feeds into are designed to facilitate commerce between exhibitors & distributors, directly.
We are not a gatekeeper. We are a facilitator.
New York continues Ymagis’ focus on being an open platform available to all rights holders – producers, distributors, and sales agents, international film commissions – to use to bring their content into the theatrical marketplace here in the States as well as across Europe. For example, an Event Cinema distributor in the UK can just as easily add US sites to the footprint they design for their local releases.
CJ: Will the focus of DCNA be to service the independent and art-house sector primarily or is there a broader scope?
Barry Rebo: DCNA’s focus will most certainly be on the specialty film & event cinema sector – in terms of both distribution & exhibition. We do not plan to address the wide releases market where Digital Cinema Distribution Coalition “DCDC” is better fit to provide the right service. Instead, we wish to provide an alternative solution for smaller releases, advertising and trailers.
Jean & I had no problem agreeing that DCNA was to be focused solely on digital cinema technical services only – file creation & physical delivery with an emphasis on DCI compliant downloads via broadband. By that I mean we are not a distributor or a sub-distributor. We only work in the DCI file format. No MPEG HD services will be provided.
Venues and distributors will use our online booking portal to streamline their communications, commit to the agreed upon delivery needs and timelines and set their terms between one another. We then facilitate the processes required, keeping all parties informed along the way. Our intention is also to provide the software tools that Ymagis is developing to the independent sector market: Theater Management System, logs management, etc.
CJ: What experiences and learnings from your time with Emerging Pictures/Cinema do see as being most relevant for DCNA?
Barry Rebo: I’m very proud of what was accomplished at Emerging. It was started at a time – officially 2005 but, in actuality, there were years spent before then explaining the concept to some rightfully skeptical exhibitors & distributors – when the options were basically restricted to either 35-mm prints or standard definition DVDs.
The dramatic conversion to the DCI format over the last years needed to be addressed. You could say I wanted to advance the technology – move solely to the DCI format delivered via broadband – while returning the longstanding, direct exhibitor/distributor relationship to the key participants, albeit by providing them with a new toolset, the electronic “business to business delivery portal” Ymagis has successfully introduced. First in France, now in the States.
As both sets of users become comfortable with the first feature sets we are introducing there’s any number of extensions we are anticipating developing for them with their ongoing input.
CJ: 2015 will see the last 1,000+ 35mm cinemas in North America convert to digital or die – is there or role for DCNA there?
Barry Rebo: That’s a big question, the fate of the US’ remaining 1,000 or so “film houses”. We certainly do not want to see them fail. Not every community can support a dedicated art-house, let’s be realistic. But they do deserve the opportunity to continue having a local venue to provide the communal experience of seeing a movie – of their choice – on a large screen.
In Europe, Ymagis is involved with all types of cinemas – mainstream commercial multiplexes, commercial and non-profit art-houses, second run commercial sites… Here, at least for now, we want to provide the best possible combination of services to the specialty field.
If one of the above mentioned endangered sites does convert to digital and wants to offer additional content, if only on a part time basis, we are exceptionably well positioned to support them in doing so. And, we would want to.
CJ: Where do you see the alternative content (event cinema) market in terms of maturity in USA/Canada and what developments do you see next?
Barry Rebo: I’m completely convinced that the Event Cinema and alternative content market will continue to grow dramatically in the coming years. Likewise, I personally believe that “specialty film” rightfully deserves to be re-positioned as “event cinema” in certain venues and certain markets that do not have a dedicated art screen.
Let’s give all sorts of communities a cost effective option to grow their audiences beyond purely mainstream films if they so desire to try. I made the changes I am embarking on with this market anticipation in mind. I learned first-hand what the challenges are and I now believe there are solutions to these challenges readily available. All the Event Cinema participants I have worked with over the years realize that controlling hard costs, increasing flexibility is critical to succeeding in this market.
We know that the digital transition has taken hold already and it works far better than the skeptics of only three or four years ago would have ever thought possible. But it’s the combination of revisiting programming initiatives and the underlying business models that will allow the “event cinema” sector to really explode.
CJ: Will the end of VPF agreements mean greater opportunities for small and medium sized exhibitors in North America?
Barry Rebo: Once the VPF agreements end it’s probably going to mean that the exhibitors will look at programming differently, and this is likely to bring opportunities in terms of content variety. We are preparing the tools for all parties to implement new content strategies.
CJ: Personal question: are you able to go to the cinema and just enjoy the movie, without thinking of the technical and business parameters around you?
Barry Rebo: Amazingly enough, yes I can. And, I’m really thankful that the experience still means so much to me. As long as the audience members I’m surrounded by are courteous and respectful of the communal experience, I’m a very happy camper. Clearly, this means I take efforts to select the “right” venue to support and a well-run art-house meets my needs.
I’ve been this way since I was maybe eight years old, sneaking off to the Saturday matinees at the Chancellor Theatre in Irvington, New Jersey. I had two bucks to go bowling with my classmates but jumped ship once I walked by that marquee. Lights go down, I’m happy. And if I can continue to contribute to a better theatrical experience for others, on both sides of the box-office, all the better.
CJ: Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and insights.