Interview: Jan Runge Looks Back on His Tenure as UNIC Chief Executive
There have been many changes in the cinema industry over the past six years, and Jan Runge has had a front-row view of their impact on European exhibition. He joined the European exhibitors’ association in 2011 and has been deeply involved as an industry advocate in his role as the chief executive officer of the Union Internationale des Cinémas (UNIC). Runge led UNIC through a transitional time in its history, helping move its headquarters from Paris to Brussels and working to solidify the organization’s annual convention, CineEurope, in Barcelona. Runge, who steps down from that role this year, talked to Boxoffice ahead of CineEurope to look back on his tenure as the head of the European trade body.
Congratulations on your successful tenure at UNIC. What have been the most significant changes you’ve noticed in the industry since joining the organization in 2011?
Thanks! I would say that the speed of change in the industry has only further increased over the last years, which is a good thing. Consolidation, continuing digital transformations across the film value chain, and the shifting center of gravity in the industry towards Asia are only a few factors that have a lasting impact on cinemas—large or small—across our 36 member territories. What’s remarkable is how operators across Europe have stepped up their game in this new landscape by embracing change and investing in innovation. Cinemagoing today is a much more diverse, seamless, and immersive experience than it was when I took the job six years ago and easily competes with the many digital distractions and out-of-home entertainment options available to consumers.
Your tenure coincided with the relocation of UNIC from Paris to Brussels; how has that move affected the reach and influence of the organization?
We started with modest means and remain a lean organization when compared to the lobbying power of other industries, but I would like to think that we in recent years significantly increased the profile of cinemas amongst key decision makers in Brussels and in other European capitals. While advocating on behalf of the cinema sector has not become easier—fighting piracy, for example, is an issue that only few politicians enthusiastically embrace—we contributed to several policy developments that are very important to our industry. Elsewhere, our greater involvement in CineEurope as well as establishing the UNIC Partner Programme for leading brands in the cinema space helped us built a network with key decision makers in the industry. I think compared to some other trade bodies we are, through these initiatives, more aware of current trends in our sector and maintain really good relations with key stakeholders across the value chain. We also spend comparably large efforts on research to ensure that this continues to be the case and will, for example, together with Coca-Cola and other partners present the results of a big pan-European research project on youth audience trends during CineEurope.
Which innovations do you think have had the most significant impact on European exhibition today?
We are currently seeing a second wave of digital innovations transform the industry, many of which would not be possible without the seismic transition to digital cinema a few years back. In terms of revenue growth, 3D and reinvestments into cinema infrastructure over the last years yielded noticeable returns. The emergence of a new category of upscale boutique theaters, often coupled with more diverse food and beverage offers, is also noticeable in many countries. I’m also a firm believer in growing attendance through smart digital engagement and underlying data analytics programs. And it’s exciting to see that many of the start-ups with global impact in this area come from Europe. Data really is something the industry has to get right collectively. Finally, on the content side, event cinema and more targeted and diverse programming for increasingly fragmented audience groups would not have been possible 10 years back. This short list is of course not exhaustive and only scratches the surface. We published a report on the issue, “Innovation and the Big Screen,” which readers may want to check out on the UNIC website, www.unic-cinemas.org.
What have been some of your professional highlights from your role at UNIC?
My time with UNIC has been incredibly rewarding, and it’s hard to single out a specific moment. When the organization hired me we had no staff, a very modest budget, and no office. We re-launched the organization from scratch. Developing a small team of amazing colleagues, raising our profile in Brussels, ensuring that we continuously increased funding for the organization, and motivating members and partners to believe in UNIC has been a great task.
CineEurope also keeps growing year-on-year since we entered into a long-term partnership with the Film Expo Group around the show. While the major studios of course remain a core element of the convention, I’m also proud that we managed to increase its European profile significantly: this year, there will be seven slate presentations by European organizations, which I think is a major achievement.
On the advocacy side in Brussels we have established a few innovative outreach formats, such as our annual cinema conference, which we organize inside the European Parliament once a year to inform members of parliament and European Commission officials about trends in our industry. We also host three to four exclusive film premieres for EU officials per year, coupled with short discussions around the societal relevance of cinema. The team developed these formats independently, and I’m sure they add to the more legislative advocacy work we engage in with our many partners in Brussels and elsewhere.
What are some of the challenges ahead for European exhibition and how do you believe the industry is positioned to address them?
I think overall, and despite what some policy makers and media analysts think, the industry is in a really healthy state at the moment. If there is one issue that I think should stay on everyone’s mind then it is the question of how to attract the next generation of film fans to our theaters.
Is there anything from this year’s CineEurope program that stands out for you?
You’ll see from our schedule that we have the biggest ever and most diverse lineup of studio presentations this year. There will be many amazing films and trailers shown, and while I should not have a favorite I am, to be honest, very much looking forward to what SF Studios will do. They are with us for the first time this year.
In line with this interview we have a strong focus on innovation in our seminars. We have collaborated with the European Commission’s Creative Europe MEDIA Programme around putting together a panel discussion entitled, “Innovation and the Big Screen Experience,” to which I am very much looking forward. It should be a great show!