ICAA Conference 2015.

Beginning on Monday and wrapping up tomorrow, this year’s ICAA conference is utilising research commissioned by the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia to look at the barriers to increasing cinema attendance.

“The reality for some time has been the trend towards less frequent attendance at cinemas, even though the box office is ostensibly going up,” says ICAA chief executive Adrianne Pecotic.

“About 84 per cent of Australians go to the cinema at least once a year. We’ve got a very saturated market but a very popular product, and what we need to do is make the cinema experience more attractive so that people come more often, not just on Boxing Day.”

The research, conducted by Screen Audience Research Australia (SARA), found that customers prize comfort, convenience and choice.

“If the customer feels that the cinema is giving them choice and speaking to their personality, the research is telling us that’s what the customer is looking for,” says Pecotic. “And I think independent exhibitors have a unique point of difference in the market, in the sense that when we talk about choice, about personality, those are things that independents really do deliver.”

Yesterday, SARA’s Peter Drinkwater outlined key actions indie exhibitors can take to build their brand, while a panel discussion today, May 3, will explore the perception that moviegoers have little in the way of options.

“The SARA research identified a lack of choice as a key customer perception inhibiting cinema attendance,” says Pecotic.

“The received wisdom around theatrical exhibition is that the customer is following the film; that they’re going to come to the cinema on Boxing Day because there’s going to be at least one blockbuster that they want to see. But what we want to re-invigorate in our customers is Friday night at the movies, not because they’re following a blockbuster but because they know they’ll have a fantastic night and they’re confident something will be on that they want to see.”

“In order to achieve that, we have to make sure that we preserve some diversity in content programming. There’s a real tug of war going on at the moment, because one side of customer behavior is to come in to the cinema and expect that there’ll be a session opening within a few minutes opening of the big new blockbuster. And of course that’s not realistically achievable in an independent cinema – it’s more achievable in a cinema that has 20 screens. And only showing the big blockbuster might alienate the demographic that doesn’t want to see that film.”

“That tug of war is something we really need to think through carefully and work with distributors to better understand. Particularly in the independent exhibition space, where we don’t have the screen numbers to support block bookings. Every distributor would like to have as many screens for their film as possible, but it isn’t serving the customer necessarily. And I would argue it’s not serving the exhibition space either. We need to make sure we don’t cannibalise ourselves.”

Independent exhibitors and independent distributors have joined together to create an indie cinema trailer partly as a response to those issues, notes Pecotic, promoting “more diversity in the cinema while bearing in mind the challenges of having enough space to trailer films.”

“We don’t have three minutes to trailer every film,” says Pecotic, “so how can we develop between ICAA and AIDA a package that makes a punchy, effective statement in a cinema and gives exposure to some of these films?”

Deakin University’s Deb Verhoeven participated in a panel discussion on May 2 on the price-value equation of a night at the movies.

“Feeling comfortable about the price is one of the things the research flagged as a barrier,” says Pecotic. “And of course price is not just the price of the ticket, it’s the price of the whole experience, which might start at the car park and right through to the candy bar.”

“It’s about questioning: what is the price-value equation? We’ve got cinemas doing a Deluxe Class offer, cinemas doing a volume pricing offer, we’ve got a very hotly debated issue around price because it’s a box-office sharing model between distributors and exhibitors, so naturally there are tensions there.”

“There’s also the whole question of loyalty clubs and discounting and whether that actually is necessary to have loyalty. It delivers terrific data in terms of being able to reach out to your club members but are we giving discounts to club members unnecessarily? Can we deliver them value in a better way than a cheaper ticket? I think there’s an interesting conversation to be had about that.”

Pecotic describes the feeling among independent exhibitors as “reasonably positive.”

“I think the trend we’re seeing from the exhibition sector is that films are coming out in a more even way. A couple of years ago there was a lot of clumping of films, which meant they couldn’t reach their maximum potential. But since then there has been an evolution in the distribution of films.”

Pecotic singles out the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens two weeks before Christmas as a turning point.

“Disney took that slot two years ago, and of course all of a sudden they have expanded the thinking. That’s been a fantastic development which has led [to] optimism.”

“And we’ve had good strong content. It’s much easier to keep audiences coming back on a regular basis when the quality of films is good, and that’s by trailering. They come in for one film, you trailer the next crop of good films, they come back in. When the films are not as good, it falls away.”

“We’ve got some challenges, because there are so many films being released into the market and it’s becoming harder and harder to grab people’s attention, but we’re optimistic.”

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