Safeguarding the future of arthouse, small and regional cinemas
In 2011 the Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture announced to support the digitisation of arthouse/repertory cinemas and small and regional cinemas. The
announcement was preceded by consultations with sector stakeholders and the concerned trade associations in the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber. According to the trade association, the rapid conversion from analogue to digital projection technology is putting increased pressure on repertory, small and regional cinemas, especially since film distributors are more and more switching to digital film copies and many smaller cinema exhibitors cannot afford to convert their screens to digital projection technology without financial support. A recent analysis by the European Digital Cinema Report (2011) confirms that less screens are digitized the smaller the cinema site in Austria is. The same is true for the number of screens an exhibitor operates (80% – of a total of 231 – screens operated by major exhibitors are digitised, compared to 17% – a total of 129 – digitised screens operated by small exhibitors). Therefore, the ministry decided to provide USD 1,3 million (1 million euros) in total as co-financing for the digitisation of cinema screens, earmarking USD 650.000 for repertory cinemas and USD 650.000 for small and regional cinemas.
The purpose of the programme is twofold: first, to safeguard the programming of independent and arthouse films in Austrian movie theatres and second, to ensure the future existence of local cinemas and therewith counter the continuing concentration of cinemas in major conurbations. Repertory cinemas are defined according to the Ministry by i.a. a highquality programme, a high percentage of Austrian (min. 10%) and European (min. 30%) productions, film education measures and the hosting of film festivals. The criteria for small and regional cinemas were defined by representatives of cinemas and film distributors, specifying that cinemas, with a regular service of a hundred days per year minimum and at least 5% Austrian and 15% European productions are eligible. Both repertory cinemas and small and regional cinemas must have no more than five screens. Co-financing by the cinema exhibitor, distributors, the province or municipal level is a pre-condition for funding from the federal Ministry. The Ministry assumes that up to 125 screens will be digitised. An evaluation of the effects of the measure is possible in 2012 at the earliest.
It should be noted that several Laender have introduced temporary funding schemes for the digitisation of repertory cinemas (e.g. Vienna with a budget of USD 200.000 (150.000 euros) in 2011) and / or small and regional cinemas (e.g. Styria with a budget of USD 80.000 (60.000 euros) in 2012).