IBC Big Screen 2017: Business Insights

An in-depth look at cinema’s marketplace

The final day of IBC Big Screen started on a business theme, with Patrick von Sychowski chairing three separate sessions focusing on how the industry can better understand its customers and what we must do to persuade them to visit the cinema more frequently — and to keep them coming back. He said that with more cinema screens than ever providing more and more choice of content, it is vital that the industry does everything possible to maximise the use of its cinema investment.

Proximity marketing

Owen Geddes from Devicescape gave an interesting presentation on how they use location data with a ‘proximity marketing’ solution to build location-targeted engagement campaigns into promotional activities for film releases across the UK. They are working with the UK arm of Universal Pictures International and harness the rich datasets generated by the Devicescape Engage platform to develop an understanding of the UK cinema-goer experience, allowing Universal to develop more effectively targeted marketing campaigns.

Devicescape uses its ‘Curated Virtual Network’ of shared public Wi-Fi to establish consumers’ presence at numerous retail, hospitality, leisure, and transport destinations, and triggers the delivery of location-aware, targeted engagement messages to consumers’ smartphones. The assurance was given that all such data is anonymised.

By tracking customer behaviour they find incredibly rich amounts of information about family behaviour — such as that after visiting a cinema more than 50% of families visit a department store and over 80% a grocery store. Different groups can be shown to visit pizza places and cafés after the show, with many different symbiotic partnerships.

Owen stressed the importance of families to the cinema business, saying that although only 5% of titles are in the ‘family’ category, these account for 18% of UK box office sales. Families are frequent cinema visitors, with 5.6 visits per year, and these visits sow the seed to get children to continue to visit the cinema as they grow up and become independent. Understanding customer movement and location and building behavioural profiles allows you to target the audience you want, and he gave an example of ‘dropping’ messages on to cinemagoers’ phone lock screens, saying that this achieved a high engagement rate. Knowing the right time and place to reach different groups is the key to cutting through the noise of other competing messages.

Who is watching what?

Sarah Lewthwaite of Movio explained that Movio is the global leader in marketing data analytics and campaign management software for cinema exhibitors, film distributors and studios. Part of the Vista Group, it aims to revolutionise the way the film industry interacts with moviegoers, and its software currently in over 40 cinemas, enables us to know exactly who is watching our movies. Whilst Owen had concentrated on families, Sarah focused on the importance of the 50+ audience, saying that the over 65s are the most frequent moviegoers and that it is important to make films that appeal to them — a compelling story, well told. If you get the over 50s in to the habit of coming to the cinema (many prefer to come before 6pm) they will prove loyal repeat visitors.

Who owns the data?

There wasn’t a convincing answer to the ownership of data or to what effect the European Union General Data Protection Regulation will have, but there were protestations that data is stripped of personal information before use. Owen Geddes said that his company collects data on all sorts of customers and they want to share it with distributors and exhibitors. In answer to a question on cinema ticket pricing Laura from UNIC surprised many by saying that the average price across 36 European territories is €6. Sensing that many in the audience have experience of paying much higher prices, she ended with the statement that ‘we deliver value for money’!

The digital journey

The second of the business insight sessions looked at The Digital Journey of a Cinemagoer. Ben Johnson of Gruvi explained that the movie industry is subject to technology disruption and needs different business models and marketing practices. We need to understand how to use the data that is being collected to get the solutions we need, and that hyper-local targeting is important. Audiences are fragmented and busy, with 7.56 hours each day being used to consume all forms of media. As an example of the sort of analyses Gruvi are doing, he showed that people decide in principle that they are going to watch a film weeks in advance but they only make the actual cinema booking at the last minute.

The power of customer service

Rosalie Moorman from Vue, Netherlands said that their company had a national approach to the cinema market, with current marketing concentrating on letting customers know that they will get very good hospitality, the best sound and vision technology, and VIP seating.

Hoss Ghonouie of Everyman Cinemas said that their approach is all about offering the highest possible quality experience, providing a great night out, with a wide programme offering from arthouse to popular movies. They had recently taken over some existing Odeon sites and improved them. In marketing terms the industry is way behind the ways in which social media is used elsewhere.

Patrick suggested that marketing of movies had traditionally been left to the distributors, and Rosalie agreed, but said that exhibitors now work more closely with distributors on this, citing a new ‘Go to Vue’ campaign. She said that as well as advertising the movie there is the need to provide customers with more targeted information about Vue, and they are doing this.

Hoss said that things are changing fast, that amazing awareness of new movies is generated by the downloading of info and trailers generated by distributors and advertisers many months before a movie is released. But we mustn’t forget that attendance decisions are only made a day or two before a cinema visit, representing a quite different scale of awareness, for which e-marketing and social media techniques can be ideal.

Ben agreed that new social media technologies can provide enormous benefits in selling tickets, highlighting one cinema that previously kept its customer info on a spreadsheet but had recently begun to use MailChimp marketing automation to connect with its audience, and is now full every night. This type of solution handles the marketing stuff so that cinemas can focus on the rest of their business. It learns what the audiences like and takes the email list and creates targeted campaigns to remind them that a new movie is coming that they would like, and to tell them that a cinema newsletter will be appearing in their email inbox shortly.

Hoss said that Everyman now has sufficient data on its customers to provide an insight into the demographics of their tastes and preferences, based on their previous movie-going, and that this is much better than just relying on age-related general statistics.

Patrick suggested this technique requires hard work and might be difficult for many cinemas with limited staffing to do. Rosalie agreed, saying that things are now more difficult than when they just used to send the same email to the whole customer database. They now send targeted information to each customer saying things like ‘you told us you enjoyed this movie, you are going to love this forthcoming one’ — and the results are better than before!

The value of premium

Questions from the floor asked how important cinema customers regard premium presentation quality and how far the cinemas highlight the new technologies. The panel agreed that higher quality pictures and sound now on offer correlate well with the expectations of demanding customers.

Rosalie said there is little point in advertising particular technologies because customers need to experience things like Atmos and HDR before they can appreciate the benefits they bring. Vue holds special screenings with ‘influencers’ — targeting 18-30 year olds and encouraging them to experience the highest quality images and sound — hoping their enthusiasm rubs off on their friends.

Other questions asked how cinemas can gauge success of their marketing efforts and if it is possible to predict the success of a movie beforehand. It was agreed that you can correlate box office numbers with the responses to targeted marketing attempts, and that a look at the interaction rate with the cinema’s website in the days and weeks before a movie is to be shown can provide a reasonably accurate prediction of how a movie is likely to succeed in your particular cinema.

The panel agreed with a questioner who suggested that the customer journey is different for event cinema. Performances such as plays, ballets and operas are often scheduled six months in advance and experience shows that such events can book out months in advance, to the great benefit of the cinema business. André Rieu’s concerts are a good example. .

Innovation and the Big Screen

The third of the International Business Insights sessions was entitled Innovation and the Big Screen Experience and featured two cinema operators, Stijn Vanspauwen, from Kinepolis and Stine Påskesen from Nordisk Film Cinemas, together with Michael Zink, from Warner Bros bringing in the Hollywood Studio view.

Michael Zink said that lots of innovations are coming in at the same time. Not only are cinemas looking at immersive technologies and screen extensions like Barco Escape, but there are a host of new technologies relating to displays on mobile devices, and WB has to look at them all to figure out what their effect will be on different parts of the business. Many of the solutions need to be scalable and inter-operable between different areas, so standards are going to be increasingly important… New ones are essential.

Stine Påskesen said that there is such a wide range of digital content available in so many formats which are still to reach maturity. She felt there is the need for more business development to open up cinema to wider audiences. So far, cinema has closed in on itself, but innovation must mean we expand our horizons and look at the possibilities of everything from gaming to e-sports, making optimum use of the big screen.

Stijn Vanspauwen told the audience that Kinepolis still has its roots in the family business based on the ethos of its founders. They have always been a technical front-runner and are critically aware that cinemas need to look more widely at what they are doing, benefiting from the experiences and developments taking place in other non-cinema entertainment markets.

Patrick raised a question that is concerning many in the exhibition business at a time when new developments from immersive sound and vision are coming along, seemingly out of control and certainly outside all the current technical and operational standards. “Now that we have finished the initial change to digital cinema, under well-established DCI rules, how should the industry cope with the numerous proprietary innovative technologies now being offered to it? “

Stine said that customers don’t know what they want, and it is even difficult for cinema operators to understand the potential of some of new ideas, but cinemas have to remain aware of trends outside the industry. She recommended cinema owners attend non-cinema conferences to find out what is happening elsewhere.

Michael said that Warner Bros are involved in many forms of entertainment technology, not just cinema, so they are in touch with new developments. They appreciate that customers are now getting a better home entertainment experience than was previously possible and have given a great deal of thought to how this might impact cinema. Cinema exhibition provides a controlled environment in which to experience specially created content, and its strength must remain in providing customers with an experience they can’t get anywhere else.

Stijn said their cinemas have a reputation for trying new things and for being the first to introduce new technologies. People are looking for new experiences and Kinepolis try to provide it for them. The chain is trying RGB laser projection — good, but expensive. With any new technology you need to include costs of bringing it to market, to find out what the customer thinks of it, and, importantly, if they are prepared to pay extra for it — whether or not they will pay for higher quality. Some products are simply not appreciated by the cinemagoer.

Questions from the floor

Questions from the audience included ‘why do we in Europe have to wait for some releases like La La Land to make their way over from the US?’ Stijn replied that even in Europe there are different release dates, highlighting differences between the same film coming out months apart in Kinepolis in Belgium and Holland. To the frustration of many there was no clear answer, apart from the less than helpful answer: “distributors’ strategy”.

There were discussions about the need to innovate in cinema marketing as well as in projection and sound technology, and a general agreement that the industry needs to be speedy and agile in its decision making. Technical innovations need the full support of top management, who need to be convinced that any investment will bring in a fair return.

Further questions followed on a range of topics, from whether premium cinemas might be physically separate from other screens, to how customers can get cinema to show the (classic?) films that they want to see, and how cinemas can extend marketing outside their current audiences, bringing in people who wouldn’t normally think of going to watch a movie. 

It’s not just technical…

An unexpected question in this session focused on the experience — why is customer behaviour getting worse, with people eating, putting feet on seats and using phones, spoiling the experience for many, and what are cinema owners going to do about it? The resulting discussions could have gone on all afternoon, with assurances that cinemas are listening to customers, monitoring behaviour, trying to see if ‘mobile friendly’ screenings work, but the sad admission that ‘unfortunately there is a minority who just don’t care about the experience of others’ seemed to sum up the state of the world, and not only in cinema. 

The netflix benefit?

There was much discussion of how Netflix is affecting cinema marketing (not all bad since it encourages more film watching) and the effect that distributor/exhibitors like Curzon are having when some of their movies are made available on other media at the same date as their cinema release. Hoss said that Everyman has sometimes done well at the box office from some of these releases.

On several occasions Ben Johnson had mentioned the Gruvi book ‘Winning Your Audiences — Marketing Movies in the Connected World’, and he said that Chapter Three “Innovating the movie business model. The challenges and opportunities of the future, from piracy, to VOD, and Blockchain technology” contains answers to many questions raised. It is available to download from https://gruvi.tv/white-papers/movie-marketing-winning-your-audiences

Ben Johnson of Gruvi said that the movie industry is subject to technology disruption and needs different business models and marketing practices. We need to understand how to use the data that is being collected to get the solutions we need, and that hyper-local targeting is important. Audiences are fragmented and very busy, with 7.56 hours each day being used to consume all forms of media. As an example of the sort of analyses Gruvi are doing, he showed that people decide in principle that they are going to watch a film weeks in advance, but they only make the actual cinema booking at the last minute.