It's official. New figures out this week showed UK cinemas recorded their highest attendance levels for 50 years in 2018, with total admissions reaching 177 million.
That is even more impressive when you consider that last year cinema was competing with Gareth Southgate’s waistcoat at the World Cup and one of the hottest summers in recent memory, and it was also trying to beat the performance of the previous year, which saw the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi – one of the biggest films of all time.
Despite this competition and the ever-growing proliferation of content choices across media platforms, an unprecedented 10 movies each made more than £30m at the UK box office last year.
The top 10 films in UK and Ireland, according to Comscore, were:
1. Avengers: Infinity War
2. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
3. Incredibles 2
4. Black Panther
5. Bohemian Rhapsody
6. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
7. Peter Rabbit
8. The Greatest Showman
9. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
10. Deadpool 2
These 10 films accounted for 35% of total box office – a percentage that has remained steady for more than 20 years despite competition from an increasing number of films being released. Only 394 films were released in 2008. Last year, this increased to a massive 800 films.
So, despite the huge growth in content choice, more than double the number of films are being made for cinema now compared with 10 years ago, and in 2019 an additional 100 films are set to be released.
Audiences value the cinema experience
So what’s driving this extraordinary performance that has also resulted in Digital Cinema Media, Britain's biggest advertising sales house, posting its fourth consecutive year of revenue growth?
According to UK Cinema Association chief executive Phil Clapp: "These fantastic figures for 2018 confirm that the UK cinema sector remains in extraordinary health. The UK public has responded with overwhelming enthusiasm both to the breadth of the film slate and the quality and range of different cinema offers across the country."
But who’s going? What I believe is unique to cinema, and critical for our industry to understand and capitalise on, is that young people are driving this growth.
People in the 16-34 age group account for nearly half of all cinema tickets sold each year and their attendance is 19% higher than the national average at eight visits a year.
The biggest film of 2018, Avengers: Infinity War, was also the biggest film for this audience, delivering more than three million 16- to 34-year-old admissions, equivalent to a TVR of 20 for the age group.
And we predict that 2019 will be even bigger, with 16- to 34-year-old admissions forecast to be up 8% year on year, thanks to huge releases such as Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Toy Story 4, The Lion King and Star Wars.
With the ad industry currently lamenting a lack of commercial opportunities to engage with this "Netflix generation", we went on a mission to better understand this audience, inspired by Kantar Millward Brown’s Ad Receptivity research, which revealed that Gen Z (16- to 19-year-olds) and Gen Y (20- to 34-year-olds) rate cinema ads as the audiovisual advertising format they feel most positive towards.
Our new research, Mission 16-34: Launch, Land, Impact, which we unveiled at our Upfronts in November last year, found that although this audience still values experiences and loves entertainment content, technology has fundamentally changed the way they access this at home and on the move.
They are heavy on-demand viewers but are also easily distracted, with many looking to actively avoid advertising.
The findings also revealed a stark challenge for all of us – 71% felt that they are "hounded by advertising" and, while they spend a huge amount of time online, 39% have installed ad-blockers.
But there is hope. Our study also revealed that 16- to 34-year-olds do still feel a strong affinity with brands, they do enjoy quality content and they do like advertising – as long as it’s in the right context.
We found that all audiovisual platforms can play complementary roles as they provide different viewing experiences at different times for different needs.
So let’s dispel this myth that 16- to 34-year-olds have disengaged with advertising.
They love cinema because it provides big cultural moments and they don’t want to miss out when it’s still the only place to see the latest movie content for 16 weeks.
They also love the shared, premium experience and the guaranteed quality of the content. They trust the cinema experience and this trust transfers to brands on the big screen too.
According to Dr John Curran, a business anthropologist and cultural analyst who worked with DCM and Differentology on our latest research: "Cinema is ultimately an indulgent experience – the opportunity to switch off from the outside world for two to three hours and give yourself up to the big screen in front of you. Cinema therefore provides attentive audiences who are in the best possible context for paying attention and taking in brand stories."
Let’s stop current ad practices that lead to people feeling "hounded" – a problem that we as an industry have caused collectively.
And let’s go back to the craft of advertising so we can entertain and inform audiences in a context they feel comfortable with.
Don’t take just take my word for it… as Luke Randall, senior AV executive at UM, wrote in his Campaign prediction piece earlier this month: "2019 could be the best time yet for us as an industry to go to the movies."
Karen Stacey is chief executive of Digital Cinema Media