A full house at the CEA digital cinema conference yesterday heard a range of industry experts set out an optimistic picture of the industry of tomorrow.

Over 300 professionals from across the industry, including operators of all sizes, technology partners, media agencies and key suppliers gathered at the event – Cinema of the Future: Innovation Driving the Audience Experience, at the Cineworld O2 in Greenwich, London. They were invited to consider the way the industry had changed due to the move to digital technology, and what changes it could look forward to, all through the prism of the audience experience.

And it was that word – ‘experience’ – which was a constant theme in each panel session, with a consensus that whatever the changes in technology, or the quality of the film slate, the extent to which each customer felt they were getting value, and were part of an event, was increasingly key.

The first session, chaired by Mike Gubbins of Sampo Media, explored the ‘digital present’ – the changes with the sector now, and the way they have enabled cinemas to programme more flexibly and to benefit from greater screen advertising income. The next, chaired by Mike Thomson of Dcinex Consulting, looked at new business models in the sector, including the growth of boutique cinema, and also at the sector from the perspective of property development.

The afternoon kicked off with a session – chaired by Steve Perrin from the UK Digital Funding Partnership – where cinema operators large and small were invited to cast a critical eye over key technological developments including digital distribution, laser illumination and immersive sound. And the final session, chaired by David Hancock of IHS, explored how operators would fund these improvements and the next fundamental change in the operating platform, whatever that may be.

The event closed with the presentation of a Lifetime Contribution to Cinema award to Eddie Poole of the Pavilion Galashiels, who spoke warmly of his life in the business and the support he had received from family and colleagues.

Commenting on the event, CEA Chief Executive Phil Clapp said:

“While we await survey results from all those who attended, the initial feedback on the conference has been overwhelmingly positive. I cannot speak highly enough of the support we have received from sponsors and the wider industry in bring this event together.

We are clearly in a period of challenge but also great optimism about the future of the cinema industry. Given the quality of discussion today, and the wide range of things we will need to continue to talk about, we certainly hope that such gatherings can become a regular fixture going forward.”