The return to cinema: why the best seat in media will get better

After the Covid-19 shutdown, the 'new', safety-first movie-going experience can be better for advertisers, Karen Stacey argues.

Looking back over the past few months, both personally and professionally, it feels like we’ve all been starring in a movie.

A movie with so many plot changes, global themes and defining moments for a huge cast of everyday superheroes.  

It has felt impossible to predict future scenes, particularly in terms of timing, but I believe ultimately, like the Avengers, we will triumph over adversity and come out stronger. 

This week, for my own movie character – the cinema advertising industry – we’ve had some really positive news regarding our future trajectory.  

This has been much needed for me and our team, as our character’s arc has been particularly harsh, going from being predicted by Warc in 2019 to be the fastest-growing medium in 2020 to the only medium closed for business in the second quarter of 2020. 

But everyone loves the feisty underdog and we’re certainly up for the fight.

At Digital Cinema Media, our mantra is "Always looking forward" and looking forward to the fourth quarter and 2021, I believe that what we know to be "the best seat in media" will get even better. 

From the date the cinemas were allowed to reopen on 4 July in the UK, we’ve closely monitored admissions numbers in what has been a soft launch for the industry.

From the reopening weekend until 31 July, they increased by more 400%, building every weekend across the small core of cinemas open across the country.

And following the news that the first blockbuster, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (pictured, top), will now open in the UK on 26 August, we’ve seen an uplift of 235% on the previous weekend, with Cineworld and Picturehouse cinemas opening across the UK on 31 July, to be closely followed by Vue at the end of this week (7 August).

This is a big milestone in terms of cinema advertising’s recovery in 2020, particularly as it has been one of the most-missed activities during lockdown.

There has been widespread positivity about the "new", safety-first cinema experience, with industry-wide guidelines being implemented swiftly across all cinema operators.

A recent report by Enders Analysis has also revealed that while Covid-19 and the subsequent cinema closures have put immense pressure on the cinema industry, cinema will remain first in the pipeline of studios’ release strategies. 

According to the report: “Studios rely on cinema as the first point of contact with audiences and many view cinema as the most lucrative part of their distribution strategies. Studios receive a significant, although variable, share of box office revenues, reportedly reaching 70% for some films. In a record year like 2019, where eight films generated over $1bn in revenues worldwide for the first time in history, the take-home for studios is significant, and makes up the majority of a film’s total earnings.

“Not only is a successful film in theatres more likely to see increased chances of commercial success in other distribution channels like DVD, TVOD [transactional video-on-demand] and pay-TV, but will also benefit from heightened media coverage, publicity and merchandise sales.”

The fact that the studios have been shifting the film slate constantly this year due to the pandemic backs this up and has now made our Q4 and 2021 slate much stronger. 

In Q4, we can look forward to the new Bond film No Time to Die, Wonder Woman 1984, Black Widow, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, Dune and West Side Story. 

And, in 2021, the slate is packed with blockbusters, particularly strong for 16-34s and family audiences, including: Jurassic World: Dominion, Top Gun: Maverick, The Eternals, Minions: The Rise of Gru, The Suicide Squad, The Batman, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 3, Mission: Impossible 7 and the next Spider-Man.

So we have unrivalled content to look forward to and a much-missed and unique entertainment experience. 

There are also three changes in cinemagoing that we believe will make the "best seat in media" even better. 

Due to the pandemic, rituals have changed across all society and we believe that while the cinema ritual remains sacrosanct, people are likely to arrive earlier, resulting in even more people seated for the pre-show, the attendance of which had already hit a record high of 80% pre-lockdown.

We’re also starting to see cinema "time-shifting", where cinemagoing is much more balanced across the week due to flexible working and, as a result, the first two weeks for a big release are likely to be more equal in size in the future.

Finally, one of cinema’s superpowers, its ability to engage the hard-to-reach young audiences who have flocked to ad-less streaming sites during lockdown, will get even stronger. 

Research and attendance to date have shown that any drop-off in attendance is likely to be from an older audience, so our 16-34 audience profile will be even stronger. 

While there is no doubt that we are all in for a tough few months leading into Q2 2021, we know we have the content, the experience and the audiences to help advertisers tackle their new communications challenges. 

The best seat in media may have been empty for a few months, but we’re back with a vengeance and I know we will be better than ever.

Karen Stacey is chief executive of Digital Cinema Media
Picture: Warner Bros

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