It’s been a rocky road for cinema in recent years. From the booming popularity of SVoD services like Netflix and Amazon Prime creating cut-throat competition, to the Covid-19 lockdowns forcing theatres to close for vast stretches, to the cost-of-living crisis that’s driving consumers to tighten their belts. The beloved and culturally significant cinema has, in many ways, been battling to stay relevant. When Cineworld filed for bankruptcy in August last year, the situation looked especially bleak. But although media chatter would have you believe otherwise, the cinema very much isn’t dead.
In more positive news, Cineworld is poised to emerge from bankruptcy protection, beckoning a new lease of life for the chain. Essentially, the entertainment landscape is evolving, and traditional forms of entertainment will need to adapt to continue to draw audiences. The cinema isn’t going anywhere and in fact, there’s plenty to feel optimistic about.
While foot traffic isn’t quite touching pre-pandemic levels, it’s heading in the right direction. For example, the latest Avatar ended up becoming the third highest-grossing film of all time. While not every release carries the same level of hype, these stats certainly don’t speak of a dying cinema. Audience levels are stabilizing, according to Futuresource Consulting’s recent research. For the right releases, the demand is there, but the question remains: how can cinemas continue to entice audiences?
For now, elevating the current offerings appears to be the strategy. In a bygone era, cinemas may have got away with bad food and poor seating, but not anymore. Watching a new release film at home is cheaper, easier, and increasingly, just as readily available as at the cinema. This means theatres are having to capitalise on luxuries: premium snacks, unmatched audio, the big screen, and the shared experience.
And for many, it’s working. For those that are visiting the cinema, 2022 saw an increase in the frequency rates. French audiences are among the biggest cinephiles, with the average attendee averaging 6.9 cinema visits per year. Plus, there’s a bumper slate of releases lined up for summer 2023. From June through August there’s set to be an impressive run of blockbuster films released to match all tastes. All these factors are conducive to a healthy cinematic landscape.
Yet there’s clear audience bias towards big releases. Futuresource Consulting’s recent survey shows that cinema is the preferred way for consumers to watch high-profile movies, with on average 35% indicating they’d plan to watch them this way. However, when it comes to medium and small movies, preference leans towards subscription services as the leading way to watch. It’s understandable. If consumers are paying top dollar to see a film, as in the current economic landscape, then they want some guarantee it’s good. But this leaves less room for smaller-budget flicks.
The idea circulating is that smaller films are struggling to gain traction with audiences. Some might argue this is part and parcel of show biz – bigger is better, as the old adage goes. But it still represents a rather lucrative hole in the cinema landscape and, interestingly, it’s not always been this way. Recent data from the UK FDA’s yearbook exemplifies this point – the top twenty films’ share in box office revenues sat at 64% in 2022, around 10% higher than the pre-pandemic 2019 figure. Once upon a time, mid-budget movies were at home in the cinema. Now, many suspect classics like The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, and LA Confidential would struggle to be made in the current landscape. Studios are piling their resources into the films they know will perform – big-budget hits like Top Gun Maverick, Avatar, and superhero blockbusters.
Cinema still has a solid place in the entertainment landscape, with SVoD services clearly recognising its value. Netflix gave the latest Glass Onion a cinematic window before streaming it on their service, and both Amazon Prime and Apple TV+ are rumoured to be investing. But the industry is not as diverse as it used to be and must now compete against more instantaneous and convenient forms of entertainment, like SVoD and even TikTok.
Despite these less than favourable circumstances, the cinema lives on. The landscape is evolving, this much is true, but we’re far from seeing the demise of the movie theatre. Gianluca Sergi, Professor of Film Industries at the University of Nottingham, said: “120 years and countless ‘deadly crises’ on, it continues to remain one of the most popular art forms for audiences from all backgrounds, and a multi-billion-dollar global industry.”
NAB 2023 is just around the corner and is set to spotlight the trends dominating the cinema industry, from both a production and consumption standpoint. Futuresource’s NAB post-show report will delve into the biggest trends and news stories from the event. Sign up to receive your free copy as soon as it goes live.
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