The digital accessible cinema chain: Part 3 – exhibitors: at the coalface of accessible cinema

Thursday, 29 May 2014 14:06pm

In the final part of our three-part series on accessible cinema, Media Access Australia project manager Ally Woodford tackles the often-misunderstood roles and responsibilities of exhibitors.

Exhibitors are presenting an end-product around which strict licensing controls are in place in terms of how, when and where a movie is shown. Also, exhibitors have no control over whether access features of audio description and captions are included on a movie. Their control extends to whether those features, if available, are transmitted for patrons.

Exhibitors’ jurisdiction is the weekly scheduling of a movie at each location and the equipment used to bring access features to life for patrons that wish to use them.


Cinema complexes vary considerably from small, single or double-screen locations to major complexes of 20 or more screens.

For each movie, the cinema programmer will determine which screen it opens its season on, based on expected box office takings. Most cinemas will have an assortment of auditorium seating capacities, so if the movie is expected to be a major hit, it will naturally be programmed to a complex’s largest auditorium.

After the movie has run over a number of sessions its box office takings will be reviewed. Dependent on those results, the movie may remain on that particular screen or be moved to a smaller screen if it is not meeting expectations. On occasion, cinemas may even have a ‘sleeper hit’ on their hands, where it does the reverse: starts its season in a small auditorium but exceeds expectations so is bumped to a larger screen.

For accessible movie patrons, this industry process can be a bit of a lottery. Generally, cinema complexes will only have access equipment available in a percentage of their auditoriums. This means that the likelihood of the movie being accessible every week of its season is not 100%.


As the industry has moved from film to digital cinema the uptake of accessible cinema services has increased dramatically. Digital cinema has created an easier platform for movies to be made accessible and also distributed worldwide. It has also opened doors for a variety of ways in which access can be delivered.

We are seeing a worldwide trend of captioned movies shifting to a closed, personal delivery via viewing devices such as CaptiView and the Sony Entertainment Access Glasses. Audio description is still delivered through a standard radio transmitter and personal receiver, although some manufacturers market exclusive products to meet this need.

This personalising of the delivery of accessible movies is considered a win-win situation by some: a win for consumers who have a significant increase in the number of movies and sessions they can attend; and a win for cinemas that have shied away from having such a service for fear of box office losses.

To find out more about the equipment that is used in cinemas around the world, visit our accessible cinema equipment webpages.

The accessible cinema revolution continues with more equipment in development, which in time will provide more options for cinemas and patrons to enjoy the cinematic experience.

Accessible cinema is still prone to in-cinema technical and operational mishaps, and while exhibitors are dealing with an end-product, as the industry sector at the coalface of accessible cinema they are accountable for a smooth and enjoyable patron experience.

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Tags: General, Cinema