Australia's independent cinema owners are planning to push through a number of changes in the code of practices between distributors and exhibitors. The code generated considerable controversy when it was introduced three years ago, but despite increasing transparency in the industry it has failed to satisfy many independents.
The Cinema Owners Association of Australia (COAA) has already warned John Dickie, chair of the code administration committee, to expect their recommendations, one of which is certain to be that independents should have more than their current one seat on the committee.
"The major exhibitors do not need the code as they can talk to distributors whenever they like because of the number of screens they have," said newly-elected COAA president Neil Pentecost, head of Reading Cinemas, which is COAA's biggest member. "The code committee is weighted in favour of the majors. Yet it is the small operators who feel they have no negotiating power whatsoever. They feel like it is a take it or leave it situation on policies and terms that are set by the major distributors."
The 10-person COAA board, which has several new members, has just held a weekend retreat to discuss priorities. They want open access to distributors and a stronger voice in industry debates. But for big and small members alike, the issue of supply is the biggest concern. As Pentecost says, "Without supply you are out of business." Independent exhibitors control roughly 45% of Australia's over 1,800 screens, less than at any other time in Australia's cinema history.
Dominating the scene is the Hoyts, Village and Greater Union/Birch Carroll and Coyle circuits. COAA has about 50 members but numbers are rising, and exhibitors from outside New South Wales are joining. The formation of a New Zealand branch has also been discussed. Outgoing president Harry Waghorn has driven the organisation for the past 10 years. He remains the COAA representative on the code of conduct committee.