Peter Knight looks back on two days of the 2021 UKCA Conference
Following hot on the heels of CineEurope, the 2021 UKCA Conference was held in person at the Cineworld O2, London. It’s hard to believe that prior to this, the last conference was held at the beginning of March 2020, only days before the UK entered into its first pandemic lockdown. And so it was 19 months later that more than 300 delegates joined together to share insights, thoughts and ample data on the UK cinema exhibition industry.
Aptly titled “The Next Chapter”, the two-day conference was spent looking to the future of cinema exhibition, the theme being one of positivity and celebration. Not surprisingly, there was much talk of the success of the recently released James Bond film, “No Time To Die” and if a pound was made each time the film title was mentioned, most of the next Bond movie’s budget would have been paid for well in advance. But, thanks to the huge success of the film, the industry was left with a warm fuzzy glow, after a traumatic 18 months.
The keynote address given by Ben Roberts, CEO, British Film Institute (BFI), was titled “Why We Love the Big Screen”, a suitable title when it came to Roberts detailing the work of the organisation, and the helpful role it played during the pandemic. He then discussed the positive impact that cinemas had on their communities, recounting stories of them opening up to become food banks staffed with volunteers, or even providing a DVD delivery service to those stuck at home.
Roberts said, “COVID reminded us of the importance of cultural spaces and how cinema is the most accessible of them all”, demonstrating how cinema is at the very heart of its community. There was also a plea to be as creative as possible with programming and to develop new talent streams, after a pandemic where cinemas were left high and dry without Hollywood content.
The following day, the opening addresss was given by Lyn Goleby (Abbeygate Cinema, Bury St Edmunds, Chiswick Cinema and Trafalgar Releasing) who highlighted three key
- The need for cinema to constantly reinvent and reinvest in itself.
- The need for cinema to work on the trust of both staff and customers.
- The need for cinemas to work on the granular detail of marketing content to customers.
In her address, Goleby succinctly captured much of the sentiment of the previous day. She then discussed the necessity of making changes and updates to operating practises as a result of making applications to the UK Government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for financial support during lockdown.
No Time To Stay At Home
An interesting slide from Comscore’s Lucy Jones showed that the films contributing to the biggest box office returns varied depending on the number of screens per cinema. And returning audiences were, initially, mainly younger, with older audiences coming back from September, even before “No Time To Die” came out. One key observation was that, generally speaking, audiences were not aware of upcoming title releases, because they had not been exposed to the usual marketing tools like posters and trailers.
Addressing the question of once more reaching customers and audiences, Mark de Quervain, Director of Client Services and Strategy, Showtime Analytics, talked through real-life data in his presentation titled, “Rebuilding an Active Customer Base”. De Quervain demonstrated that the customer ‘churn and replacement’ cycle has been disrupted by the pandemic, illustrating how new and existing cinema-goers might be tempted back through the door with real world examples.
MASSIVE-ly Into Film
An incredibly important, and ongoing, topic for the industry is the issue of reaching, engaging with and bringing younger audiences (16-24 years) into cinemas. And rightly so, it was therefore given plenty of focus over the two days. David Kapur, co-founder of elevenfiftyfive and ourscreen, provided a temperature check on the relationship between Gen Z and the cinema via the MASSIVE initiative, carried out through partnerships, screenings and social media.
Leigh Thomas, Director of Business Development for Into Film, held a Spotlight Session on bringing young people back into cinemas after a year of watching films at home. As well as young people returning to the big screen, Thomas discussed the value of younger audiences attending with friends and the uniqueness of the communal cinema experience. And, of course, forming that all-important cinema-going habit at a young age.
A European Perspective
Closing the conference on Day Two, UNIC’s CEO Laura Houlgatte delivered a stand out presentation, summarising “Back to the Big Screen” campaigns from around Europe. Sharing a selection of clips from different countries – all of which are to be commended – Italy’s offering has often been highlighted as a particularly successful example, incorporating a cast of several Italian household names in a comedic, cleverly written short film.
A refreshing addition to the two-day conference programme were the “Spotlight Sessions”, 15 minute slots whereby an organisation would highlight either an overview of their work or a specific project. We’ve summarised a selection of them here but for the full list, visit https://www.cinemauk.org.uk/conf2021hub-2/.
The Film and Television Charity
The Film and Television Charity’s Chief Executive, Alex Pumfrey, took the first Spotlight Session, and presented on how the charity was able to help thousands of people, particularly industry freelancers, over the last year. Services included financial guidance and support, a suite of new tools to support mental health & wellbeing, advice on bullying & harassment and practical support including legal advice.
Sustainability in Soft Drinks
Tom Fiennes, Director of Commercial Sustainability, Britvic Soft Drinks, focused on the company’s Healthier People, Healthier Planet business programme. Aligning with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals the programme has built upon Britvic’s progress to date and the company’s commitment to creating a better tomorrow. As part of the presentation, Fiennes provided details of incoming UK legislation that will affect cinemas, including the plastic bottle deposit scheme.
During lockdown, a number of UK cinemas decided to diversify into streaming, looking to ensure that their audience’s film-watching needs continued to be met despite their closed doors. In this session, Joan Parsons from the Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast, shared their team’s experience in launching the ‘QFT Player’ and offered thoughts on the lessons learnt.
Colin Lawrence, the newly appointed CEO of MediCinema, gave an update on the cinema charity’s recent activity. Lawrence talked about how the team continued to deliver tens of thousands of in-hospital cinema experiences, at a time when loneliness and isolation felt even more extreme than usual for patients during the pandemic. Like the rest of the cinema industry, the charity is having to chart a path to recovery, while looking to the future and planning how to continue to open more MediCinema locations in NHS hospitals.
A Social Network
And so, after a jam-packed couple of days, the UKCA conference came to a close. Being back at an in-person event highlighted how special the regularity of seeing friends and colleagues in person throughout a normal year is. And, of course, refreshment and meal breaks presented ideal “networking” (horrible word) opportunities that just aren’t the same online. Some would even say these moments are as important, if not more so, than the main meat of the programme, particularly for those who couldn’t attend CinemaCon or CineEurope. But with COVID still present, particularly in the UK and Europe, certain measures were in place, such as individually-wrapped lunches to reduce contact and the option to sit socially-distanced if desired. Let’s hope, moving forward, that the actual end of the pandemic is near as the industry forges ahead.
The next UKCA conference is scheduled to return to its normal March slot in 2022. We’ll see you then.
Data Aplenty and Audience Sentiment
Unsurprisingly, several presentations included in depth analysis of available industry data and subsequent effects on the industry. The “Returning Audience” session featured Sharon Reid from Cinema First, exhibitors Rob Younger and Mark Williams, Lucy Jones of Comscore Movies, and Amir Jalaly of Metrixlab, and looked at the progress of the recovery of the sector. The results of an ongoing Cinema First survey were also dissected, looking at public sentiment as a way of understanding audience behaviour.
Immediately prior to the panel, a presentation by Jalaly detailed that audiences want to see specific safety measures and that these measures need to be visible. But, compared to many other venue types, cinemas were right in the middle of the survey results, just behind bars but in front of theatres and nightclubs. The panel discussed their experiences of getting audiences back in to the big screen, including how to appeal to a returning older audience.