Subscriptions, merch and fewer seats: How cinema can beat streaming
Many of my conversations with clients this year have been on the twin topics of simplicity and impact. In this context, is a medium like cinema able to justify its place on the media schedule? With the additional complexity that is added to the creative and media execution has the silver screen lost its lustre?
Over the past few weeks – I have been well and truly ‘Marvel’d’. Firstly, I attended Movie Convention on the Gold Coast – where of course Endgame was celebrated as the highest grossing film of all time, beating 2009’s Avatar which held the previous record. On Friday night I finally watched Endgame with my 12-year-old daughter Jemima, joining the millions of other Aussies that have seen the film. And then over the weekend I read a brilliant article on Marvel, and how they have redefined the franchise movie over the past decade. Marvel’s 22 films have grossed over US$17bn, more than any other movie franchise in history. Impressive indeed.
Kevin Feige, head of Marvel studios, offered a deceptively simple explanation in Variety: "I’ve always believed in expanding the definition of what a Marvel studio could be. We try to keep audiences coming back in greater numbers by doing the unexpected and not simply following a pattern or mould or a formula."
Reinvention and wilful disregard for convention is what is keeping audiences coming back to cinema. It is crucial to the success of Australian cinema. In turn this approach drives the success of arguably one of the most impactful of advertising platforms.
Cinema may only be a 1 per cent medium by way of total share, but it has long provided advertisers with an impactful and immersive experience to connect brands with audiences, especially in a world where advertisers battle against continuous partial attention of audiences.
At its most basic, cinema packages unrivalled impact at six times the impact of TV, the ability to deliver hard to reach audiences and adds incremental reach across video campaigns.
Cinema also provides an array of activation possibilities such as AirBnB’s in-cinema campaign where moviegoers were able to see two alternate views of the same travel experiences when watching the ad by wearing bifocal 3D lens glasses and titling their head. Gimmick or genius, you decide.
While 2019 has been another strong year for cinemas with total box office expected to be up 2 per cent year on year, competition is rife and growing from streaming services such as Netflix, Stan, Disney+ and Amazon Prime. Cinema must continue to invest and evolve to create experiences in the battle for eyeballs against these platforms.
For cinemas, innovation can take many forms, whether that be in-cinema experience itself, food and beverage, pricing and the value equation, the cinema occasion or the movies themselves.
This type of innovation across the established chains and the independents in Australia will be necessary for cinema to continue to achieve box office targets and audience guarantees for advertising campaigns to remain on track.
It is an interesting exercise to consider how the cinema industry is adapting and innovating; here we review the major areas we have been following to date:
In cinema experience:
Hoyts has been actively investing in cinema experience where, over the past four years, it has renovated around 80 per cent of venues, stripped out all the seats, installed power recliners and in the process lost about half of capacity. Importantly Hoyts kept the headline ticket price the same so that the focus is squarely on the value equation and customer experience.
Both Village and Event cinemas have launched a new concept focussed on the junior end; an experience dedicated to kids eight years and younger. Event Junior features a playground designed in collaboration with children, complete with a slide, a netted climbing gym, digital interactive games and other play equipment. Parents can book for play only, play and movie or movie only. More focus on fun and less stress for parents trying to keep their cherubs cinema quiet.
The Alamo Drafthouse, the Austin Texas-based theatre chain, is a cinema for the real movie lover. Alamo strictly enforces a ban on talking and texting (after a single warning, customers are exited without a refund). The Alamo holds the cinema experience as sacrosanct so if you’re running late don’t expect to just walk in - viewers are barred from entry after the movie has started with no refund. CEO Tim League says they have a “protocol” for kicking out unruly patrons. It starts with “jokey style” pre-show announcements including one that warns incessant talkers: “Baby, get the fuck out of here.” Blimey!
DBOX Seating & Movies are also starting to gain traction, but it’s not widespread yet. DBOX uses subtle movements and vibrations to enhance the movie experience. The seats vibrate and move in time with explosions, car chases and other kinds of action. This type of experience is far more widespread and a lot less subtle in Korea where you can choose a Vetabox seat. If there’s an explosion on screen or a really loud gunshot your chair will rumble. Not shake. But rumble. With the new Sydney Imax due to open late 2020 there will undoubtedly be the best of all the new technology for Sydneysiders to experience.
The value equation:
A family trip to the movies can feel like an expensive outing, so the shift to saver / super Saver ticketing is a great addition The value equation is turbo charged if you are one of millions of Aussies that are part of a reward programme where discounted ticketing, reward points, Qantas Points and free popcorn refills are all up for grabs. Audiences of course are providing exhibitors with data on their viewing and candy bar habits, which is enormously valuable and unlike some reward programmes, there is an easily redeemable, tangible upside for audiences.
Subscription – ‘all you can eat’ style models for a fixed monthly fee are now well established in the UK and the US. AMC is the largest cinema chain in the US. Its subscription service launched in 2018 and reached 860,000 subscribers in its first 12 months – well above expectation. The AMC experience is that regular cinema goers are going even more frequently – which is exactly what they were hoping. It is un-clear if this is on the radar for the Australian market, and whether the commercial model will work, but I believe there would be an audience for it.
Would you like a choc top with that?
You do know that choc tops are uniquely Antipodean? Coca-Cola, popcorn and choc tops are still a staple of cinema, but all cinemas are testing food and beverage options with more and more now licensed premises. In cinema bars and restaurants, celebrity chef designed menus are just some of the ways food options are expanding. This can also extend out to movies, with branded popcorn boxes and keep cups a regular option. Sony Pictures ‘Ladies in Black’ from 2018, hosted a series of fancy high teas across the country. Of course, merchandising through the cinemas can add an extra revenue stream and let’s face it, the merchandising options for Star Wars will be extensive; figurines, models, t-shirts, stamps, comics, Nerf guns, Lego sets, water bottles, key chains, phone cases, etc…
Making it an occasion
Girls’ Night Out, Festivals, Moonlight, Mums n Bubs, Drive Ins, Sing Alongs, Movie Marathons and Classic movie replays are all part and parcel of the cinema landscape. Even the Friends 25th Anniversary was celebrated with an in-cinema marathon, the first time on the big screen for the gang. These events are important to encourage broader audiences into theatres, to keep them coming back as well as unlocking a host of commercial opportunities for brands.
There are so many great movies to come, from Star Wars 9 to Frozen 2 to Jumanji 2. But just like the cinemas themselves, we need innovation in content to truly succeed & we need more than just successful franchises. My experience at Movie Convention gave me much to be confident about in relation to the content ahead for the next 12 months.
Into 2020 and beyond
In the current debate about efficient and effective media channels and a renewed focus on brand building, the fundamentals of the cinema medium remain strong.
Coupled with innovation across the cinema experience, the cinema occasion, expanded food and drink options and a better value proposition for customers, cinema looks like having a positive year ahead with audiences expected to at least hold year on year.
This is good news for advertisers looking for unique reach and an impactful environment. However, this process of cinema reinvention will need to continue as the streaming services continue to grow and of course Disney + launches on November 19.
Many new movies in 2020 are designed to be seen on the biggest of screens and this too is good news for the cinema.