Cinemas can ensure they remain a key part of pop culture by making the moviegoing experience even more of an event that can’t be had elsewhere, and by emulating TV’s ability to tell continuous stories.

That’s according to Cinema in Australia: An Industry Profile, a new report by Swinburne University.

Cinemas face a number of challenges in the Online Age, according to the study’s authors Jock Given, Rosemary Curtis and Marion McCutcheon. The core audience- young people- are going to the movies a little less often.

Cinemas’ window of exclusivity for new movies has shrunk. Hollywood’s pre-occupation with franchises “reduces the risk that overloaded audiences won’t notice the next film, but magnifies the scale of the debacle if a whole project goes off the rails,” the report observes.

But cinema has numerous advantages including the aging population which means older people are going out to see more movies. The larger number of movies being made creates opportunities for festivals and events that can curate compelling collections.

“Earnings growth for commercial cinemas may be mainly in ‘premium’ experiences, but they deliver premium entertainment a good deal cheaper than competitors like musical theatre shows, stadium concerts and the biggest sporting events,” the report says.

“Cinemas know that, in the Online Age, their position at the start of the release chain for movies is not a fixture but something that has to be earned each weekend, each week, each year.”

The authors suggest cinema should consider ‘televisionising’ itself by increasingly telling its biggest stories by instalment. They envision big screen narratives being presented as a regular flow of digital chapters, each released simultaneously and everywhere, advancing the narrative, reaffirming the brand and updating the conversation.

“Cinema’s magic would endure: it would be bigger and more intimate, more public and more private,” they write. “Householders might install home cinema systems and cinemas might sell tickets to TV-like events or content streams, and they might screen movies in theatres smaller than living rooms, but the line between buying a ticket at a cinema and other ways of experiencing audio-visual content remains fairly bright.”

The report notes that cinema screenings of alternative content generated slightly more than $3 million last year out of a total box office of $1.1 billion.

Among the most successful events have been the 25th anniversary performance of The Phantom of the Opera, recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall, which grossed about $722,000 in Australian cinemas; Andre Rieu’s Maastricht Concert in June 2012 ( $378,000), the Met Opera’s Gotterdammerung ($176,000) and Leonardo Live ($173,000).

Sharmill Films’ Natalie Miller distributed about three-quarters of the alternative content titles last year. “It’s very costly, the margins are small, so it’s a challenge, but it has grown enormously,” said Miller.

Peter Cody, general manager of film and entertainment content at AHL, told the authors, “We’re still in a trial and error situation [with alternate content]. We’ll give anything a go to see what works. The Met Opera was one of the first real success stories and we think that will continue to grow. We have done State of Origin rugby league at a number of our bigger sites in NSW and Queensland over the last few years and we will do it again.

"With contemporary music, we’ve done well with Foo Fighters and Nirvana – a program that had a never-before-seen concert – but not so well with older acts like a Doors concert from the 1960s or a Wings concert from the early 80s. For the BBC’s 50th anniversary of Dr Who, we screened some episodes and had good success but it was a special thing.”

The report is available at:

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  1. The authors suggest cinema should consider ‘telisionising’ itself by increasingly telling its biggest stories by instalment…I agree, as a publisher/screenwriter and novelist based in Australia. We have the series in the starting blocks to fit this exact demand, a series as big as King Kong, based on the ripping yarns of Western Australia’s most popular fictional character, but luring Hollywood filmmakers to our humble shores remains the biggest challenge, regardless of the quality of the project. We seriously need a ‘family friendly’ sugar daddy to champion a company such as Walden Media here to realise the above.

    Graeme Bond

  2. Graeme – you’ve got me intrigued. Who is WA’s most popular fictional character?

    Also, re the wording in the report this article is based on – what on earth do they mean when they say the line between buying a cinema ticket and experiencing entertainment another way is “bright”? Seems a strange turn of phrase to me. Makes no sense.

  3. Matt, greetings from WA. WA’s most popular fictional character appears in a series of bestselling novels set in WA. He’s a washed-up WW2 spy and local crayfisherman. You are welcome to his webpage reference Pelican Point 1-4. His name is Tom Mornington and his latest outing is a sci-fi time-travel comedy with Sadie the cleaning lady as a side kick. The Beatle’s Yellow Submarine is a time machine driven by a jukebox into the past and into the future, while Creedence Clearwater Revival save mankind with a swamp rock concert in the Kimberley in the ’70s. Can’t help you with the curly one about ticket prices. All the best.

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