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The Big Screen Experience: the Next Chapter

It was a pleasure to head to London last week for the UK Cinema Association’s (UKCA) conference, this year focusing on The Big Screen – The Next Chapter. It looked at cinemas can do to re-engage audiences following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event took place on 19 & 20 October at the O2 Cineworld and gathered colleagues from across the UK cinema sector and further afield for a dynamic programme of presentations and panels.

Ben Roberts CEO, British Film Institute delivered the keynote address, in which he celebrated the BFI passion for the Big Screen. He also mentioned that cinemas were accessible cultural places, to come together and connect and which deliver unique immersive experiences. He also pointed out to the key roles of local titles in the recovery process and the need for a steady flow of commercial British titles.

Comscore’s Lucy Jones then took the stage and outlined recent trends in the UK and celebrated the ongoing recovery of the sector. She was followed by MetrixLab’s Amir Jalaly, who delved deeper into UK audiences. Key takeaways included: cinema safety is a key differentiator and the slate will dictate when a significant proportion will return to the cinema.

The first panel on “The returning audience” featured Sharon Reid, Cinema First (Moderator), Amir Jalaly, MetrixLab, Lucy Jones, Comscore, Mark Williams, WTW-Scott Cinemas and Rob Younger Parkway, Barnsley and Station Cinema, Richmond. All highlighted the return of regular cinema-goers (especially families and 18-30 years old) and commented that the Bond release had been a game changer, attracting audiences that had not yet returned to the cinema. All agreed that the industry needed to build on this momentum. Older audiences were touched upon, with a need to communicate differently to them. Speakers concluded that the message was that cinemas were safe and a place of enjoyment.

Mark de Quervain, Showtime Analytics, then talked about how to rebuild an active customer base and was followed by Alex Pumfrey, Film and Television Charity, who gave an update on the organisation’s actions to help people from the industry with financial guidance and support, and legal advice to name just a few.

David Kapur, elevenfiftyfive and ourscreen, then shared an update about MASSIVE, an initiative focusing on young people to drive them into cinemas.

The second panel of the day focused on branding and marketing. Speakers included Kate Gerova, Mustard Studio, Mandy Keane, Mustard Studio, Lee Shelton, Mustard Studio and Gruvi and Anna Navas, Plymouth Arts Cinema who touched upon marketing campaigns, the unique relationship between audiences and cinemas and how cinemas could upgrade their communication and branding.

Britvic then dived into their new initiative Healthier people, healthier planet  with a focus on sustainability.

The third panel “Explaining the wow!” included speakers Richard Mitchell, Harkness Screens and CTC (Moderator), Bobbie Andrews, RealD, James Collington, Savoy Cinemas, Adam MacDonald, GDC Technology and CTC and Kevin Markwick The Picture House. They talked about how to market the experience from a technology standpoint, the awareness of technology, how to communicate to the audience and persuade them that the experience was worth it. There was also a discussion around maintaining standards across the industry, the need to have more people on the ground who knew about technology.

The last panel was “Accessible cinema – building back better” and featured  James Connor, UK Cinema Association, Jonathan Gleneadie, Cinema Administrator, Barbican Centre and Sarah Walters Campaigns Manager, Dimensions UK. Speakers highlighted good practices and also underlined some of the key challenges presented by the pandemic and also explored what improvements could be implemented.

After an evening of networking drinks and the notorious “after party party”, Day 2 began with an opening address from Lyn Goleby Abbeygate Cinema, Bury St Edmunds, Chiswick Cinema and Trafalgar Releasing.

She was followed by the panel “Returning audiences: do actions speak louder than words?” Gabriel Swartland, Movio presented a new study exploring the actions of UK cinemagoers over the past 12 months, looking at different variables (gender, age, frequency) and how the demographics of returning audiences had evolved. He highlighted that breadth of content was essential and that cinemas could not rely only on tentpoles. Other panelists included Seema Saujani, UK Cinema Association (Moderator), Anna Cremin, Pearl & Dean, Ruth Hinton, Vue International and Faith Taylor, Pathé. They mentioned that frequency was key, that working with local PR was essential, that there was a need to look at the audience that wasn’t driving the decision to go to the cinema (“the +1") and the necessity to be patient with the market.

Joan Parsons from the Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast, shared her venue’s experiences in launching its own streaming platform and offered thoughts on lessons learned. Catherine Ferguson from Pearl and Dean then showcased how they chose UK cinema for their first ever content partnership back in 2012 and renewed the sponsorship year after year.

Into Film’s Leigh Thomas outlined the organisation’s plan to encourage young people to go back to the cinema  and DCM shared insights around cinema-going habits, consumers’ positivity and towards cinema advertising and why truly capturing an audience with cut-through creativity is cinema’s greatest power.

The last panel focused on “Bringing back older audiences” and featured Gráinne Peat, Event Cinema Association (Moderator), Johnny Carr, Vue International, Lyn Goleby, Abbeygate Cinema, Bury St Edmunds, Chiswick Cinema and Trafalgar Releasing, Amanda Parker, Inc Arts UK, Egidio Rodrigues, Powster. This session explored and compared the return of older audiences to cinemas and to live performing arts productions.

MediCinema Throughout the pandemic, MediCinema has continued to deliver tens of thousands Colin Lawrence CEO, MediCinema, then shared an update on MediCinema’s activities.

UNIC CEO Laura Houlgatte then delivered a presentation about "Back to the big screen – a European perspective" and presented a selection of back to cinema campaigns.

UKCA CEO and UNIC President Phil Clapp then closed the conference.

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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