Smart Business

benThe obligations of businesses and other organisations are no longer seen in isolation from the communities in which they operate, the employees they depend upon, the environment from which they draw their resources and the marketplace in which they participate.

Rosemary Sainty

Head, Responsible Business Practice Project

St James Ethics Centre

Professor Rosemary Sainty is one of Australia’s leading advocates and academics in the field of ethics. She is commenting here on the ethics that should drive corporate Australia.

A major component of socially responsible corporate practice is community and social responsibility. A great example of a community and socially responsible business is Twilight Cinemas. Twilight Cinemas are a small business that provides screenings of late release movies in outdoor and indoor settings. They recently put on an accessible cinema event in Melbourne. They have a mobile van with a modern digital projector. They have a huge blow up screen on which they show movies outdoors. I am led to believe that they are able to set up indoors as well and put on screenings in places like town halls that do not have a local cinema.

They recently worked in partnership with Vicdeaf, Arts Access Victoria and the Action on Cinema Access Group to put an outdoor screening of the fantastic Life of Pi. This small business did what the major cinemas said was not possible. They did for nothing what others had advised would cost $3000 per movie. They did what any standard DVD player can do. They simply turned on the captions so that they appeared on screen. They used a CaptiView caption file. We had been led to believe that such files could only be seen on a CaptiView device.

In doing so they provided access to hundreds of happy people who are Deaf and hard of hearing. In fact around 600 people attended. Many of these people were hearing too. One would think that because the captions were on screen the hearing people would have left. After all this is what the Big 4 Cinemas told us would happen. But no, these hearing folk all sat happily through the entire movie.

Twilight Cinemas have made all of this happen although they are just a small business. Of course what they have also done is demonstrate that by providing access they have a broader market base. By investing in socially responsible accessible cinema they know that they have created a larger market for their product. Everyone wins.

In contrast the mega rich Big 4 Cinemas, rather than be socially responsible, had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table. For years the Big 4 Cinemas have provided the most absolute minimal access that they could provide. Rather than be socially responsible they even tried to lock in minimal cinema access increases by applying for a five year exemption to DDA complaints.

Their application for exemption was thrown out. As a result they introduced CaptiView, and what a dud that was. They did so largely on the back of a Federal Government subsidy. This is despite the fact that Australian Cinemas are among the most profitable in the world. Back in 2010 The Rebuttal presented an article where it provided data on cinema profits. In 2009, for example, A total of 80 million tickets were sold in Australia. That ranked Australia 13th in the world in terms of attendance. Per capita Australia fared even better. They ranked fifth in the world.”[1]

Cinema turn-over in Australia last year was $2 billion. This being the case why on earth is the Government helping the major cinemas to purchase CaptiView? They are clearly making enough profits to do it themselves. That is what a socially responsible business does. (Notwithstanding the fact that CaptiView is a waste of money whoever purchases it.) Perhaps it’s something to do with the substantial donations that are made to the political parties from the cinema industry and the need for Labor to curry favour.

Mark my word the cinemas are not poor. Just last year Amalgamated Holdings, who own Event Cinemas, reported a profit of $79 million. The cinema component of that profit comprised of $53 million which was an increase of over $7 million or 15.8%. Indeed attendance at the box office increased by 2.5%. [2]

You bet your bottom dollar that cinemas are not worried about reduced profits. Village Roadshow, for example, continue to make enormous profits so much that their CEO had this to say, ““The world is in the mood to go out, to indulge themselves in a little pleasure and escape from worries. The theme parks have once again demonstrated they are a winning formula, and the appetite for filmed entertainment appears unquenchable.”

Ok so we have established that the cinemas are rich and getting richer. If this is so why are we relying on a small company like Twilight Cinemas to do the socially responsible thing and provide comfortable cinema access for patrons who are Deaf or hard of hearing? Why can’t these mega rich cinema companies demonstrate some kind of corporate social responsibility by providing access to the cinema and pay for it themselves? Why is the Government subsidising it? And worse why are people who are Deaf or hard of hearing being foisted with a totally ineffective technology? What is more why are the tax payer paying for ineffective CaptiView technology when it costs absolutely nothing to put captions on the screen?

Ok, so what about the blind? What about the Audio description technology that is providing them with access to the cinema for the first time? Yeah so what about it? I have it on good authority that the blind are experiencing all the problems the deaf are experiencing. Advertising is inaccurate. They attend sessions that are advertised with audio description only to find that they are not. Cinema staff are often clueless. Dropouts are apparently frequent. Cinema websites are apparently not accessible to them  so it is difficult for them to find out the session times. So frustrated have they become about the failures of the technology and the roll-out of accessible cinema that they are seeking alternatives in the form of audio description via their smart phones. It is only now that this information is coming to the fore.

The bone of contention here is that for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing the cinemas can provide access at absolutely no cost at all. You see the CaptiView caption file can be beamed on to the screen; which is what the majority want. There is absolutely no need for the CaptiView device. Obtaining the CaptiView caption file costs nothing.  It is part of the rental fee from the movie distributor. Here you have a potential market of 3 to 4 million people, plus their families and their friends. It is a market that potentially will make the already mega rich cinemas even richer. Yet they cannot see this! One wonders how they got rich in the first place.

And all the cinemas need to do to tap into this potential profit is to show socially responsible business practices. And get this -what the patron who is Deaf or hard of hearing want will cost them absolutely nothing. Instead the tax payer is subsidising them to purchase a dud technology. Is that a scandal or what? Put the captions on the screen – It’s as easy as that!

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