How did you first enter the industry?
It was in Austria in 1967, when I was still a little boy, when my father decided to acquire a single-screen cinema in the heart of Vienna. The motivation here was related to our distribution business; we tried to find a cinema as a distribution partner. This motivation was the cornerstone for the cinema chain back in 1967, and the cinema was called Kreitz Kino.
What was the exhibition market like in Austria in the 1970s, when you began building your first chain across the country?
In the 1970s and 1980s the exhibition market was more distributed. There was one big exhibitor, Kiba, where the city of Vienna owned cinemas with a strong focus in Vienna and eastern Austria. In the other cities of the country there were many smaller family-owned cinemas and more than 250 different cinema owners in the market. The Constantine Film Group of companies built up a connected cinema chain as a circuit; this was actually the only connected competition to the Kiba cinemas owned by the city of Vienna.
In the 1980s we increased the number of our locations in Austria, all across the country, to a total of 25 cinemas. In the early 1990s we started to develop the Cineplexx cinema chain, partly replacing old and traditional cinemas, especially in cities outside of Vienna, in the countryside. There we developed multiplex and multiscreen cinemas under the brand name Cineplexx.
Cineplexx was founded in 1995, an interesting time in the concept of multiplexes and bringing modern cinemas to Europe. What was your early strategy in launching Cineplexx? Was a European presence always part of the plan, or did that opportunity reveal itself over time?
In 1995, the strategy of course was to adopt the cinema exhibition business in Constantine Film Group of Companies to the state-of-the-art standards of cinema operation. It was necessary to transform the market from traditional Austrian cinemas to international-style multiplex cinemas. It was our clear target to have a country-wide cinema chain covering all the key cities, of course starting in Vienna, but then going to the capital cities of the small federal states of Austria. In the later stage it was clear that a midsize concept of multiplexes had to be developed to go further down to second- and third-tier cities in the small market of Austria. At that time in 1995 there was no strategy for operations abroad. It was not clear at the time how southern and eastern European countries would develop and how the economic situation would be. This strategy was developed at the later stage in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium.
What were some of the early obstacles and lessons you learned in expanding Cineplexx internationally?
We had the target and the vision to bring our concept of cinema operations to new markets, and it was clear everything had to follow a red line in terms of design and concept of the cinemas. It is not easy to establish the existing success for a home-market circuit across 10 different countries. There aren’t only legal and cultural differences; it is also a question of common understanding, a question of language, a question of organization. Of course, organizational tasks have to be different in other kinds of countries than in the home country. They have to be adapted to local legal standards, to local accounting standards, and so on. It is all more complicated than expected—from teaching and training staff, to finding the right people, it takes more time than you wish it would. This is the major obstacle of developing a successful cinema chain. In order to understand local cultures and markets, you have to find experts, partners, and staff who are fully committed to the Austrian home base but are also sensitive to their local market.
You were a strong proponent of the digital transition from the outset. Do you believe that was an important turning point in the history of the industry?
Digitization was one of the most important innovations in the last couple of decades for both the film industry and film technology in general. It boosted the cinema business to new levels. First of all, it was the innovation necessary to compete in terms of protection quality with film-entertainment devices. It also opened the world to other new sources of business—alternative content, new 3D standards—and it was the basis for justifying ticket-price increases. The technology boosts once again made the cinema the best destination for state-of-the-art projection.
What are some of the current trends and innovations in the exhibition business that you find most captivating?
The current trends and innovations in the exhibition business that stand out the most for me are in the PLF sector, premium large format. This includes high-quality brands like IMAX and the new Dolby Cinema system with exceptional laser projection, which for me is very important as well. It drives admissions, increases excitement about moviegoing, and represents the peak of current technology in the cinema. Besides technology, it’s also important to look at a customer’s comfort. Premium seating is very specific and can be different from market to market, but the focus on comfort in general, with better seating, extra space, and [recliners] increases the comfort of the moviegoing experience. Finally, communicating with customers and maintaining contact with them via mobile apps and web ticketing is also very important. These are the three main fields where we’re seeing very exciting innovation and that can complement the core standards of our business.