This year's Independent Cinemas Association of Australia, at Melbourne's Palace Cinemas Como, wraps up this afternoon after three days of presentations from distributors, projection specialists and independent cinema owners themselves.

Below is an edited transcript of ICAA CEO Adrianne Pecotic's opening address.

The impact of technology on media and entertainment businesses has been, and continues to be, profound. Three years ago we were here at this theatre in Melbourne celebrating the power of digital, and the certainty that the majority of independent exhibitors in Australia and New Zealand were going to be able to convert from analog technology with the hard-won backing of the distributors, and the support of technical service providers and the Network Operations Centre.

This was a revolutionary moment for every exhibitor that today seems a normal part of day to day operations. That is innovation for you – last years ‘brand new tech’ becomes ‘must have’ and then common place in an increasingly fast timeframe. Exhibitors, like all businesses, need to keep up or be left behind by their customers choosing from an increasing range of evolving entertainment options.

The theme for this year’s conference is Innovation – the key to prosperity in business. Not just looking at what the latest technology is, but identifying your business problems and challenges to look creatively at what innovations can help solve these issues and enhance your business. 

We know we can’t assume things should be done the way they always have – the environment around us is not the same as it has always been. In fact, it's changing faster than ever, and we must think actively about how our customers’ choices and circumstances are changing. We must think actively about the path to purchase, about the whole chain of the customer's experience at the cinema, and about smoothing the customer experience at every possible point. And along with our distributors and suppliers we must think actively about the changing needs of our respective businesses and customers, and work together to innovate and adapt for mutual success. This could mean everything from embracing digital capability to achieve more flexible terms of supply, to equitably sharing data to more effectively measure performance and work together to reach and grow audiences. By definition, innovation will mean things we haven’t even imagined yet.

So how do we know what to change and what to stay the same? Part of the answer is found in measuring and benchmarking success against similar businesses and other entertainment options. The other part of knowing what and what not to change is found in really understanding your unique selling proposition – why do customers choose to come to your cinema rather than another cinema or another option altogether?

The debate about measuring success through box office and admissions data has heated up in recent times and is particularly sensitive as big data is increasingly being collected and used to deliver business advantages against those without access. Meanwhile accurate measurement and understanding of what is and is not working with audiences is even more critical.

A study by Deakin University academics Bronwyn Coate and Deb Verhoeven recently stated: “If cinema audiences shrink much further, particularly amongst young adults, then the long term viability of cinema is less than certain”. In the last year, however, the box office has had the largest result in history, up 14 percent on 2014, and Australian films have engaged more audiences than ever, and in particular appealed to more women.

ICAA’s experience rolling out the My Cinema Platform across Australia and New Zealand has delivered well beyond expectations. By working with our distributor partners and member exhibitors, we have applied digital technology and social media techniques to traditional promotion and marketing with visible results. To date, over 85 percent of ICAA members have participated. We have partnered with nine different distributors over a variety of titles, including local Australian and New Zealand films, with more compelling promotions lined up for this year. A report by Numero into the results of the first 12 months show that the innovation and necessary hard work has been worthwhile. Enabling the independent sector to host significant promotions and previews has seen box office for these titles grow overall [and] not just redistribute the market share.

In the case of Icon’s Last Cab To Darwin and the launch of My Cinema Premiere in New Zealand with Madman’s Hunt For The Wilderpeople, the efforts of the independent sector delivered spectacularly. Hard work, personality, personal service and community, together with the diversity offered at ICAA member cinemas, are increasingly compelling advantages when coupled with the power of social media to stay connected with our customers. 

Innovation using the digital power of connectivity is also something that is significantly enhancing cinema operations. Gold Sponsor Christie and Gold Sponsor 20th Century Fox have embraced digital trailer delivery direct to the LMS of connected exhibitors via the Network Operations Centre. That is innovation and the promised ‘power of digital’ in action!

Inspiration and inventiveness in content, service and cinema operations renews and reinforces the unique entertainment experience that can only be found at an independent cinema. 

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