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Re-embracing the Big Screen experience: Audiences + Content

It was a pleasure to head to London last week for the UK Cinema Association’s (UKCA) conference, focusing on Re-embracing the Big Screen experience: Audiences + Content.

The event took place on 5 and 6 April 2022 at Picture House Central and gathered colleagues from across the UK cinema sector and further afield for a dynamic programme of presentations and panels.

Kenneth Branagh, actor and filmmaker, delivered the keynote address, in which he celebrated the Big Screen. He pointed out that he had wanted Belfast to start its life in the cinema. He mentioned that the film industry was a team game and the need for stories that truly compel people to leave their home.

Comscore’s Lucy Jones then took the stage and outlined recent trends in the UK and celebrated the ongoing recovery of the sector, with a focus on content. She was followed by MetrixLab’s Dan Braithwaite, who delved deeper into UK audiences. Richard Barton and Charlotte Butterworth from RED C Research then took the stage to talk about re-engaging older audiences and were followed by a panel discussion, featuring James Collins, ODEON Cinemas Group; Stuart Henderson, Studiocanal; Craig Jones, Walt Disney, Amanda Mundin,  Manero Cinemas and moderated by Sharon Reid, Cinema First. All highlighted the need for a diverse slate, the appetite for added value (PLF, community activities etc.) and how to offer what the audience can’t get at home.  

Two spotlight sessions took place, focusing on Electric Birmingham, with Katie Markwick and the Living Room Cinema by Claire Berwick. Both speakers talked about their challenges, their passion for the cinema industry and their venues.

Liz Bales, Industry Trust for IP Awareness, then delivered an update on piracy. While figures showed that 39% of the UK population was engaging in infringing activities, she also highlighted how the industry could break this cycle.

The second panel of the day Harnessing streaming to drive audiences to independent cinema gathered Natalie Ralph, MUBI (Moderator) in conversation with Mark Cosgrove, Watershed, Bristol and Oliver Meek, Rio Cinema, Dalston and Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley. Speakers pointed out that theatrical and streaming were two sides from the same coin, the opportunity to expose audiences to different content in their local area and the need for curation.

The last panel of the day focused on New opportunities for event cinema. Moderated by Gráinne Clarke, Event Cinema Association, it gathered Marc Allenby, Trafalgar Releasing; James Dobbin, Natl Amusements (UK); Oliver Meek, Rio Cinema, Dalston and Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley; Jan Runge, Independent Cinema Consultant and Michelle Stevens, Powster. Speakers mentioned that there were an increasing number of cinemas showing alternative content, the need to promote, the potential for young people and how to give a reason for people to leave their home.

The second day was opened by Mia Bays, British Film Institute, who talked about initiatives supported by the BFI and shared her thoughts on collaboration and content. She was followed by Sophie Camp – Universal Pictures who described Universal’s strategy with the release of Downtown Abbey, A New Era.

 The following panel What happens next? New patterns in returning movie-goer behaviour brought together Sarah Lewthwaite, Movio (Moderator); David Cameron, Vue Entertainment; Sophie Camp, Universal Pictures; Serena Gill, Everyman Cinemas and John Tate, Ilkley Cinema. All agreed that bringing audiences back was about content, experience and adding more value to the film.

 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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