Knowing who — and where — your audience is, can be key to successful live content distribution. Joe Evea, MD of Cineplace, explains how marketplace analysis aims to bring clarity to event cinema releases
Words: Joe Evea
he first interest I HAD in “alternative content” or event cinema as it is more commonly referred to, was a few years ago. Much like today, cinema audiences were stable, but not growing exponentially, and box office, while rising, was buoyed by a spate of blockbusters and 3D movies. The trend, as today, was for distributors to focus the majority of their efforts (and budgets) on sequels and adaptations, not original productions. A number of directors were (and still are) looking to television and VOD as an alternative vehicle on which to concentrate their efforts.
With this backdrop in mind, opportunities for events in the cinema appear endless, especially when you consider that we are moving ever-closer to a society that engages with “experiences” rather than things. This is borne out by the rise of the “experience economy” with more spent on pubs, restaurants and entertainment than in shops or cars.
In this context, the advantage of cinema is its proximity to local communities, There are over 750 cinemas in the UK most of which sit in the centre of town providing a ready-made communal environment. Digital cinema lends itself to more flexible distribution, too, opening-up opportunities for large-scale live broadcasts via satellite and IP.
Advances in information on audience behaviour have made it more accessible to reach diverse groups, who express their passion for various types of content and activities via social media. It is perhaps surprising then, that while event cinema has shown enviable growth over the past few years, it appears to be reaching a plateau, especially in Western Europe. The stats suggest there were more “events” in 2017 than ever before — but audiences are not growing at the same rate. If you remove the two most successful events of 2017, audiences appear to be declining on an event-by-event basis.
Bringing clarity to event programming
To combat this, and to capitalise on the opportunity event cinema offers we have developed Cineplace. In short, it is a digital marketplace designed to support the event cinema industry. Cineplace has the twin aims of growing event cinema revenue and of driving new and diverse audience groups in to local cinemas. At the heart of the Cineplace site sits a data engine that helps cinemas and distributors make more accurate distribution decisions about specific genres.
We use a variety of sources (see overleaf) to create consumer profiles linked to specific content types. These can be compared against UK cities to estimate age and gender distributions for that profile. To illustrate this, we can develop an idea of the number of UK NFL fans, and establish where they are based geographically. Using our database, we are able to match fans to cinemas, establishing a footprint for the distribution of NFL content.
We’d be the first to say that this is not a foolproof model and by no means does it provide all the answers. It does however, offer some context to help decision-making when it comes to placing content on the big screen. Clearly it plays a role in establishing whether an audience exists for content never before shown in the cinema, but it can also help establish whether cinemas or distributors may have overlooked locations for existing content. With opera, for example, we understand that while c.200k UK individuals watch it at the cinema annually, over 500k watch it live and over 600k consider themselves opera fans. The aim of our tool, is to establish where to find fans who aren’t watching at cinemas. The next stage is to build plans to reach them.
The next integration planned is for the tool to read anonymised search data from our partners at Powster. Rather than focus on sales data, we are working with Powster to understand search data. As such, we can establish where in the UK searches have been made for specific genres. Seeeking to buy tickets for select content shows a level of intent and is instructional in respect to understanding interest based on location. In addition, we can start to establish what media platform searches have been made from and build a picture of the type advertising that works for audiences of specific genres. Opera fans for example, might prefer a short trailer via established operatic digital magazines, while eSports fans might react better to YouTube promos — but only if they’re less than 10secs long.
There’s a mountain to climb
We are in the foothills of understanding how audiences engage with event cinema marketing, but our aim is to build a more robust picture of where fans are and how to reach them. Additionally, Cineplace pulls in key event cinema and industry news, providing a “knowledge base” that aims to promote and guide best practice across the industry. There is also a cinema guide, which provides information about individual cinemas, including event show times and demographic data on the local community.
Every event is listed, working directly with distributors to understand their schedule, as well as looking at all the available show time information for event cinema at every cinema in the UK. This enables us to list lots of events that may not have been picked up in the mainstream. We are also working closely with Comscore, which has its own box office data section on the Cineplace site, to ensure that event cinema box office data is reported as accurately as is possible.
To conclude, we believe that more data based in one single destination can encourage the industry to communicate more regularly and openly. This in turn will lead to more opportunities for content to be successfully distributed to cinemas. Once established in the UK, our plan is to look at Europe, the Americas and Asia Pacific. As Ray Nutt, CEO of Fathom, recently stated at CinemaCon, the world of cinema is getting smaller, it is our aim to support this inevitable consolidation and help establish a more unified sector, geared for creativity, innovation and, ultimately, growth.
Event cinema’s defining characteristics
Event cinema, although now considered established, was only just being recognised as an emerging genre of entertainment when I first got involved, but I was very interested in the underlying data, which appeared to be telling a compelling story:
- An average occupancy rate upwards of 50% vs an industry standard that sat below 20%.
- A higher average ticket price than standard films and
a new audience, not all traditional cinema-goers.
- Significant interest from brands and media owners interested in reaching a highly targeted and passionate communal audience.
- The defining characteristics of event cinema, as I saw it then and still see it now, are as follows:
- An event, or occasion that has a single or limited cinema release and that cannot be viewed widely anywhere else at that moment.
- Content that readily attracts a clearly delineated and passionate audience.
- Content that benefits from, and is suitable for, a communal space, a big screen and surround sound.