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UKCA Conference 2020

It was a pleasure to head to London earlier this week for the UK Cinema Association’s (UKCA) annual conference, this year focusing on “Audiences – Growing the big screen experience”!

The event took place on 3 & 4 March at the wonderful Picturehouse Central and gathered colleagues from across the UK cinema sector and further afield for a dynamic programme of presentations and panels.

The standard was set right from the off, with acclaimed Writer/Director/Producer Edgar Wright delivering the keynote address, in which he pointed to the importance of seeing films on the big screen and keeping the “sense of ceremony” alive. Wright, by his own admission a “film fan first, a Director second” also mentioned the “see it live and loud” campaign for his most recent film, Baby Driver, to encourage audiences to see it in cinemas.

After welcoming words from Comscore’s Lucy Jones, outlining recent trends in the UK and looking ahead to 2020, DCM’s Michael Tull and Pearl & Dean’s Anna Cremin took the stage to delve deeper into UK audiences (and dispelling a few myths in the process). Key takeaways included: young people are heavy cinema-goers (including those who consume a lot of content on SVOD services), cinema-going is growing for families and older audiences and the community value of cinemas remains hugely important for all groups.

The spotlight was then placed on Dalston’s Rio Cinema, with Andrew Woodyatt outlining their efforts towards becoming the most “instagrammable” cinema in London and engaging with young audiences through events, social media, data analysis and “banishing stereotypes”. The subject was further explored by Into Film’s Leigh Thomas and Flora Menzies, who outlined what young people were looking for in a cinema visit and emphasized the importance of enabling cinema-going habits at a young age, making it a part of their education. To finish the morning, David Kapur from ourscreen presented MASSIVE – a pioneering initiative to drive young people into cinemas using social media and innovative marketing in close collaboration with distributors.

After lunch, Vue International’s Ruth Hinton explored the possibilities of promoting more regular cinema-going by encouraging people not to save it just for special occasions, followed by a session on film festivals looked into opportunities for new audience engagement. Moderator Seema Saujani (UKCA) was joined by Alison Strauss (Hippodrome, Bo’Ness), Jake Harvey (Phoenix Cinema & Arts Centre, Leicester), Sally Cooper (Wells Film Centre) and Dorothy Smith (Zeffirelli’s, Ambleside) whom each presented their festival initiatives, spanning a range of genres, locations and potential audiences.

Karen Palmer from National Theatre Live (NT Live) then took the stage to present their activities to try and attract as wide a range of audiences as possible and stressed that audience development should be a key part of everyone’s business plan.

The second panel of the day focused on “Disabled audiences – maximizing opportunities for all” and, after an introduction from Rick Williams (Freeney Williams), advisor on accessibility to the UKCA for the past 20 years, moderator James Connor (UKCA) welcomed speakers Kathy Wilson (Derby QUAD), Jane Woodason (The Light Cinemas) and Andrew Simpson (Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne). In the interest of viewing accessibility as a genuine business opportunity, not just a perceived extra cost, the session spanned different initiatives for cinema-goers and, above all, proved that the demand was certainly there.

And to close out Day 1, Ben Luxford (BFI), Hana Lewis (Film Hub Wales) and Dan Ellis (Jam Jar Cinema, Whitley Bay) share their experiences of the BFI’s Film Audience Network (FAN), which mobilises National Lottery funding to support audience development through UK-wide partnership.

After an evening of networking drinks and the notorious “after party party”, Day 2 began with an opening address from film industry researcher Stephen Follows, who gave a lighthearted look into a study on half a million cinema reviews in the UK. We Are Parable’s Anthony Andrews then presented their company’s work in enhancing the cinema-going experience for Black films and placing the experience above everything – “you could go to a film event or you could have a film experience.”

The first panel of the day then further explored engaging Black and Minority Ethnic audiences, with Anthony Andrews and Moderator Sharon Reid (Cinema First) being joined on stage by Julia Lamaison (BFI), Tyrone Walker-Hebborn (Genesis, Mile End), Richard Aseme (Paramount Pictures) and Samir Bhamra (UK Asian Film Festival). The discussion highlighted how authenticity was key in creating a dialogue with audiences and that there’s always more that can be done. Birds’ Eye View’s Mia Bays then placed the spotlight on Reclaim the Frame, a project that uses the medium of screenings and post-film discussions to showcase and celebrate both new and classic films made by women, deconstructing the notion that films made by women are only for women in doing so.

Liz Bales from the Industry Trust for IP Awareness moved on to engaging with another audience – infringers, or those who consume films illegally. To do so, education and enforcement were key but there’s no “one-stop-shop” and our messaging needed to be relevant. This was followed by a spotlight session on MUBI GO, with Jon Barrenechea highlighting the potential of collaboration throughout the value-chain when it came to building audiences.

The conference then headed further afield for a session on “Developing new audiences – experience from elsewhere”. Our very own Laura Houlgatte (UNIC) was joined by fellow UNIC members Guttorm Petterson (Film&Kino) and Jaime Tarrazon (FECE) as well as Marvin Weichert (Yorck Kinogruppe), to present and discuss their audience engagement initiatives. We heard about the Kinoklubb programme in Norway, with 211,000 members, the Fiesta del Cine cinema days in Spain – which had sold over 22 million tickets since its inception – and Yorck’s Kinoabo subscription scheme, representing 11% of their total admissions. Pier-Paolo Pettineo from followed with a presentation of “Meerkat Movies,” which had provided over 17 million free tickets to UK cinema-goers.

To round off the event and shine a light on a flourishing segment of the UK cinema market, Grainne Peat (Event Cinema Association) invited Serena Gill (Everyman Cinemas), Rachel Tout (The Picture House, Uckfield), Marc Allenby (Trafalgar Releasing), Johnny Carr (Vue Entertainment) and Edgar Kamga-Sande (Royal Opera House) on stage to discuss developing event cinema audiences. It’s certainly worth noting that, in terms of growth and potential, 11 event cinema titles earned more than £1 million at the UK BO in 2019, up from 4 in 2018, with the TV series Fleabag breaking a number of admissions record in the process.

UKCA CEO and UNIC President Phil Clapp then closed the conference – one that never fails to impress with its fascinating subject matter, first-class organization and forward-looking programme.

A huge thanks to the entire UKCA team for a great event and we’re already looking forward to the next one!

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