Industry Report: Distribution and exhibition
Strategies and future of European cinema (Part 1)
by Fabien Lemercier
- At the heart of film exhibition, theatres are paradoxically the most impenetrable sector of the film industry in terms of circulation of information, with each country tending to be unaware of practices of neighbouring territories. This paradox is all the more damaging as theatres are faced with several big challenges: digital transition, growing competition from alternative modes of exhibiting films, changes in the consumption of cultural leisure activities, and a tense economic and financial climate.
Organised in Paris from December 6-7, 2011 by the Film and Audiovisual Research Institute (IRCAV), the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l'Homme (FMSH), Paris 3 University, CICAE (International Confederation of Arthouse Cinemas) and AFCAE (French Association of Arthouse Cinemas), the international conference Movie theatres in Europe shed valuable light on a sector full of contrasts, but flooded by shared problems. Here is a zoom on the marketing strategies of European theatres and the current situation and future of arthouse cinemas in Europe.
The art of marketing in the digital world
"I’m not interested in knowing that the average viewer is of such a gender and age. I want them to be described in detail. What do they like? What are their hobbies? What do they watch on television? And what about their family? How do we reach them? What do we want them to think?" For Mark de Quervain, sales and marketing director of British group Vue Entertainment (69 theatres for 700 screens, 38m admissions per year and a 23% market share), understanding the client perfectly is the essential ingredient of the marketing strategy for theatres. For it’s about thinking well ahead about the notion of choice ("you have to exploit films like television") and about the value that the experience of a movie theatre screening has for viewers put into perspective with its cost (i.e. the client’s possibilities) in order to better outline targeted offers. This approach is shared by Marlène Brunelle, head of French marketing of the Kinopolis network (23 multiplexes in France, Belgium and Spain for 21m admissions per year): "you need to have content for each of the target groups, therefore build up as well informed a database as possible, the aim being to be able to send an email to a viewer recommending a film that suits his or her taste."
The next phase is setting out a wide range of prices and offers. For instance, Vue offers Over 18 screenings (which has nothing to do with the type of film, but simply keeping away noisy teenagers from the audience, which is an effective sales argument according to Mark de Quervain), Night Watches, Mystery screenings with a surprise film (and 20 minutes to get a refund), etc… In a similar move, Kinopolis hosts Girls evenings (the 1st Tuesday of every month) and a "Free for friends" offer (from a lucky draw). And this host of offers is not just the privilege of big networks as confirmed by Arnaud Auvêpre, marketing director of the Cineville network (10 cinemas, from a multiplex to single-screen arthouse cinema in western France), Britain’s Madeleine Probst (Watershed Media Centre in Bristol – three screens) and Grégory Sauerborn (the two Le Chaplin cinemas in Paris). All exhibitors, from the biggest to the smallest, rely on young audience screenings, as well as preview screenings, festivals, film cycles, meetings, etc. Naturally, each one does what they can within their means, from Vue with its weekly TV programme at midnight on Channel 4, to Kinopolis with its "Re-watch a cult film" (screened when 200 votes have been reached), Watershed Media Centre which invites the guitarist Adrian Utley from the band Portishead to talk about the music in Taxi Driver, and the “Connaissances du Monde” evenings hosted by Le Chaplin which attract a new audience, a good third of which return later to see some films.
This strategy is often coupled with seeking cross-disciplinarity with other arts: theatre at Le Chaplin, cross-over with music in Bristol, experiments with video game screenings at Kinopolis in Belgium…Live or pre-recorded screenings of non-cinematic works (opera, concert, sports) has also been done, but all the participants at the conference agreed that the success of these programmings is unpredictable.
The boom in digital technologies and social networks is perceived as an opportunity that has been seized by all theatres in order to enter into dialogue with their audience. In this field, the Watershed Media Centre is particularly cutting edge, creating original content for its site (interviews and other things), using Twitter in a very attractive way and relaying articles from its viewers on Youtube for example. This cinema, which only screens films that are invisible elsewhere in its city plays the community creation card wholeheartedly and successfully. Cineville adapts this example in its own way by relying on partnerships and local advertising or by creating its own trailers.
On the other hand, at Vue, which attracts a total of almost 5m users per month to its website, the social networks are viewed with caution. "It’s pointless if it’s just for customer relations," believes Mark de Quervain. "They only reach a low proportion of the 62m inhabitants of the United Kingdom. You need very enticing content to raise awareness among audiences, you need to be different. And we will have to be increasingly intelligent and attentive to really know who we’re talking to". This opinion echoes another of his analyses whereby cinema marketing is becoming more and more sophisticated, which increases the risk of confusing viewers with regard to what’s on offer. Also, the big networks, while pursuing their strategies on all fronts, today mainly rely on the development of their brand through slogans (which, of course, have to be guaranteed in reality) like The Ultimate Cinema Experience at Vue (a concept set out in theatrical trailers and on their website with several sensational slogans on the quality of the screening, the sound and the seats). For in the end, in terms of marketing, everything always comes down to one golden rule that can be adapted to all techniques: "customers like simple and interesting communication".