Crowdsourcing: A social revolution for cinema

New online marketplaces like OurScreen are bringing dedicated film enthusiasts into new venues. CT examines the impact of crowdsourcing on the auditorium.

 

TODAY, COMPETING LEISURE interests all vie to keep cinemagoers from your door, so how do cinemas create value in quieter times? How can they capitalise on flexible programming — and where do you uncover a rich seam of motivated film fans? One answer is to explore services like ourscreen.com in the UK or tugg. com in the US. These online marketplaces act as a melange of film club, internet dating site and crowdsourcing hub that unite the trinity of film, cinema and audience. Delivering specific titles to specific audiences is a model in which everyone wins — customers watch a film they are genuinely keen to see, the cinema is guaranteed an audience, often in a quieter scheduling slot and, for smaller distributors and indie filmmakers, the model allows big screen presentation of classics and arthouse films from a wide variety of genres.

 

Advantages for cinemas are clear — commitment to a screening is made once a pre-agreed critical mass of ticket sales is achieved, meaning distributor and exhibitor should, in theory, make money. But what technical aspects must be addressed — and, equally importantly, what motivates customers to be involved? OurScreen’s co-founder David Kapur and Fergus Higginson, founder of Manchester Classic Film (“The most successful crowdfunded cinema club in the UK”), give the technical and social perspective.

 

The Technical View:  David Kapur, Co-CEO, Ourscreen

OurScreen is a tech business but, really, it’s about people. Projectors have changed, cinemas have websites, but the way we interact with our local cinema has stayed pretty much the same as it was when I was a kid. Nothing is inherently wrong with that but considering how differently we now interact with phones, televisions and radios, it felt surprising. A few years back I imagined how great it would be if, for fun, anyone could control their favourite cinema in the same way we control smart TVs. Selecting what we want, when we want. Imagine also deciding who comes!

 

This became a fascination — I discussed the idea with Ian (my business partner at elevenfiftyfive), Marc (CEO at Trafalgar Releasing) and my father, Dilip (a serial entrepreneur). They shared my passion and ourscreen.com emerged. Our mission was to create a website that enabled more people to watch more films in the cinema. Today, we oversee hundreds of screenings each month in a growing number of the UK’s best cinemas including Odeon, Vue, Picturehouse, Empire, Reel, Scott and brilliant independent sites. These screenings are created on ourscreen by film fans selecting from around 700 new, classic and exclusive titles, sharing them with friends and like-minded people.

 

Screenings are crowdsourced: a target of tickets must be sold to confirm each showing. Some cinemas upload a few slots, some upload all their slots. All titles are rights-cleared in advance and all tickets booked online until 24 hours before the show, when a guest list and capacity report is sent to each site. Payment is taken once screenings reach their crowdsourced target. Our technology and team need to work hard, but the magic is really at the screenings.

 

We only truly understood this when screenings started to happen — ourscreen came to life. We knew this was a new way to connect with the cinema, but we didn’t release it would create a new way to experience cinema. Via social media and supported by our channels, ourscreen hosts or influencers promote their chosen films passionately. This means a snowballing amount of like-minded people are connecting, sharing, and meeting often months before a show. With this level of anticipation, it’s no surprise the atmosphere is amazing. Average occupancy across nearly 5,000 screenings is 63%. Screenings are happening right now around the country, from cult classics to emerging Indian and Nollywood cinema — and of course independent and arthouse gems. We are excited to be releasing “The Man from Mo Wax” exclusively in August and recently held the UK’s largest-ever crowdsourced screening (see below).

 

A Customer’s View:  Fergus Higginson Founder, Manchester Film Classics

I’m an avid film fan and a frequent buyer of film memorabilia, but I have no background in the film industry and no event promotion experience.

 

Despite this I organised the largest-ever crowdfunded cinema screening in the UK in April, with more than 400 people attending a screening of the Schwarzenegger classic ‘Predator’ in Manchester’s Odeon.

 

How? Well, I first became aware of OurScreen in September 2017 when a neighbour invited me to a screening he was organising of “An American Werewolf in London”. Intrigued, I then discussed with a friend how we could run our own screening. OurScreen makes it simple for customers — you just choose a film, select a date, time and cinema. They give you a ticket price, and then target number of crowdfunded tickets to sell to secure the screening. For our initial screening of ‘Aliens’, we spoke to our friends and colleagues from work, and linked in with local Meet-Up groups. With a good deal of effort we made the threshold. We caught the bug and arranged further screenings monthly. Recognising that we needed a larger pool of people to draw on, I set up a Facebook page and an event that I shared via relevant blogs and social media. I soon realised the challenge was to find people in the area who also liked a particular film I wanted to see. To overcome this I set up targeted Facebook advertising. This meant I could select a population of people (say within 25 miles of Manchester) who have previously ‘liked’ a particular film, director, actor, or similar films on Facebook. I typically spend up to £25 on advertising per screening and select a range of “likes” that enable me to reach an audience.

 

Whilst I get a reasonable response rate to ads, I also find that people share the event with friends and that improves ticket sales. I encourage others to help build the community and have a regular pool of people who will attend any and all screenings I organise. Though I don’t make any money from the Manchester Classic Films group, I aim to get a good volume of tickets sold to help maximise the screen size we occupy and generate a good atmosphere in the cinema. I test the water with certain films and genres by sharing a particular trailer or still image from a film to gauge the reaction on the group’s Facebook page.

 

I saw a phenomenal response to a “Labyrinth” screening I set up and sold out the initial ticket allocation (110 tickets) in a weekend — over 900 people were interested in attending. So I set up multiple screenings — all sold through word-of-mouth. The feedback from screenings has been excellent.

 

I post pictures on my Facebook page from screenings and this again creates a buzz in the group. Organising this film group has been an empowering experience. I’ve learnt by trial-and-error, but by running my own screenings to build a community, it has been effective in letting me enjoy the social aspect of seeing what I want to see on the big screen and connecting with a like-minded audience.

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