Your family has been involved in exhibition for a very long time. Do you remember your first job in the business?
Our family got involved with the cinema business back in 1930. Our grandfather opened the first cinema in Haifa, Israel—very early days—and our family has been connected to the industry since then, growing the business step by step for 86 years now. At a very early age I was doing all the jobs possible at a cinema: usher, cashier, concessions, and so on. I spent a lot of my holidays in the cinema for this reason.
What defines your approach to the exhibition industry today?
It was very clear to me throughout the years that the cinema should provide a good experience to our customers at a fair price. It is a mass-audience business; in the early days, before TV and before my time, it was a huge business, and we were packed all the time. At a later stage the multiplex era began, and today people are looking for added value from the cinema experience, and we are trying to stand behind that standard.
You were established in Israel. What led to your expansion in Europe?
We were very active in Israel up to 1997, having been a leading exhibitor there for many years. At that stage we decided to take our expertise and experience to other countries. When we analyzed the situation at that moment, we realized there was a very big opportunity in Central Europe. That market was missing the right cinema experience—they either had no infrastructure at all or a very old infrastructure from the old Communist times. We first arrived in Hungary and then branched out to Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia. We found that people were big cinema lovers in these places, countries with a big tradition of their own national cinemas—some of the great directors in this industry have come out of Central Europe. But there was no infrastructure, so our first challenge as both an industry and a company was to create a top-rate, modern infrastructure. We built state-of-the-art multiplexes there. In a way, the cinemas in this region jumped three to four generations in one step. Wherever we brought the infrastructure, people very clearly embraced cinema-going with a great affection. Saying that, we need to remember that unlike the U.S., U.K., or Western Europe, the habit of going to the cinema was in a way quite forgotten. It was not only a challenge to bring the infrastructure, but also to create the cinema-going habit and show people that it was part of their daily entertainment lives. Going to the cinema isn’t something that you do once a year, to watch the big blockbuster, but a habit in our lives. I think that was our second big achievement—growing not only the infrastructure but also the habit of going to the cinema.
What are some of the biggest challenges in that international expansion?
I believe that our first and foremost challenge is to continue giving the great service we’re currently providing, not only personal service but also in terms of our technology and the comfort in our cinemas. We cannot disappoint our customers. Secondly, being involved in a mature market like the U.K. that hasn’t made the same jump as others like Poland or China have, means we are now involved in building new sites and refurbishing some of our old, great cinemas at Cineworld and increasing the level of service and the experience.
Are there any transformative changes to the industry, apart from digital cinema, that stand out as you look back on your time in the industry?
I cannot really put my finger on anything that has had a game-changer effect. I think it’s an industry built from a combination of many smaller details—except, of course, the digital revolution, which is something that is very rare to see in any industry. At the end of the day, however, this business is built from many pieces, and we emphasize our technology, comfort, and the creation of a different experience. One of the things that we have adopted in our big multiplexes, and I wouldn’t call this a revolution, is having customers not only choose what movie they want to see, but how they want to see it. We offer the option of IMAX, 4DX, and VIP and dining options. So when you come to see the new Star Wars, you are not only choosing the film itself but you can also determine if you’re in the mood to see it in a VIP auditorium, IMAX screen, or 4DX. I think audiences respond to that, the freedom to choose between these options.