Europa Cinemas will examine the potential threat posed to cinemas across Europe by digital switchover at its 13th annual conference in Paris in November.

Growing concerns that the cost of the digital switch will be beyond the reach of independent and arthouse cinemas have recently been highlighted in Screen International.

The Europa Cinemas conference will address the potential threat to those theatres and also to independent European film.

While it is generally felt the market will resolve the switch for mainstream and mid-level theatres in the coming months, there are currently no viable financial models for smaller and independent theatres.

Claude Eric Poiroux, General Director of Europa Cinemas feels strongly that these are questions the industry should be looking at now.

'While the situation is not yet critical, it should most definitely be on the industry's agenda today. Once the mainstream theatres start to make the switch, the change will happen very quickly.'

The conference will raise the thorny question of support from outside the industry to allow smaller cinemas to survive.

For Poiroux, the industry and the market should normally be left resolve such financial issues but the advent of digital raises broader social and cultural questions, particularly regarding access to films. Consequently local and regional authority representatives from across Europe will be invited to discuss the issue.

'Digital is not just a new technology, it could significantly impact the circulation of films and the diversity of existing exhibition structures, especially the smallest ones. We want authorities to see that this change will have an impact on their town, their region. It is possible that cinemas will disappear in smaller towns. It is also possible that if independent cinema suffers then certain European films will suffer, perhaps even disappear. In November we will be asking what could be the outside contribution to support this changeover''

While the European Commission, the main public sector funding body for film in Europe, has so far ruled out any capital support for smaller cinemas to convert to digital, sources close to the Commission indicate that this door is not as firmly closed as it once was.