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Curzon boss warns of global admissions drop

Curzon boss talks admissions, Soho venue and Netflix collaboration during Screen Exhibitors’ Forum.

Curzon CEO Philip Knatchbull has warned that cinema admission numbers may be on the verge of a major drop.

“I don’t see the life of these big boxes (cinemas) of 15 to 20 screens continuing beyond five or 10 years maximum and there may be a 30 to 40% drop off in worldwide admissions in that period,” Knatchbull predicted during a Q&A with Screen International at yesterday’s Screen Exhibitors’ Forum: The Future Of Independent Cinema, produced in association with the Independent Cinema Office.

“I think we have to accept that people want to consume films in a different way. They shouldn’t be forced to go and see films in the cinema.”

However, acknowledging the passion for cinema-going among many film lovers, Knatchbull said that Curzon itself hopes to expand the group’s cinema holdings to around “30 to 35 sites with 100 screens” and “no more.” Curzon currently has 18 cinemas with 40 screens, with a 19th – the five-screen Curzon Aldgate – due to open in January.

He described the group’s cinemas as “the shop front” for showcasing Curzon’s acquisitions to its customers. These cinemas, he said, were “more a means to an end than an end in themselves.”

Curzon Soho

In a wide-ranging discussion, Knatchbull also confirmed that Curzon is in active discussions with Transport For London about finding a replacement for the group’s Curzon Soho venue, which looks bound to be demolished to make way for a new ticket office for CrossRail.

“They [TFL] are actively trying to rehouse us if we have to move in four years’ time.”

Knatchbull highlighted the importance of exhibitors engaging with “a new, younger audience” which (he argued) is currently staying away from cinema.

Curzon’s day and date strategy, he said, is partly about reaching the audience “excluded” from the cinemagoing experience partly because it can’t afford ticket prices.

He expressed his disappointment that even a film like Andrea Arnold’s Cannes winner American Honey has struggled to capture the interest of this younger audience.

“Most of our customers are over 40, perhaps the majority are over 50 and they are not being replaced,” he said.

Foreign-language films and Netflix

The Curzon boss highlighted the company’s continuing commitment to foreign-language films, pointing out that Curzon has released 19 foreign-language titles in the last year alone - and 150 in the last 10 years.

He refuted strongly the idea that foreign-language films are “dead in the water” but pointed to the “systemic problem” in the industry that foreign-language titles aren’t given the time on screens they need to reach audiences. 

Following their collaboration on Beasts Of No Nation last year, Knatchbull said that there are no current plans for Curzon to work with Netflix again on releasing the SVOD giant’s films in UK cinemas.

He said that Curzon and Netflix did have talks about joining forces ion the release of Netflix’s upcoming war satire War Machine starring Brad Pitt but ultimately decided against it.

“They (Netflix) paid us handsomely to rent the cinemas but no-one came to the cinemas. I don’t want empty Curzon cinemas. There are no food and beverage sales,” Knatchbull commented.

“I said to them, look, if you want to do it again, you’ve really got to get behind the films. You’ve got to market them, you’ve got to publicise them. Really, I think they were just interested in the BAFTA nominations. I think BAFTA have now changed the rules. On a discretionary basis, they can look at different films qualifying that don’t have to have a traditional cinema release which has helped Netflix.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • UK admissions saw tremendous growth from 1984-2002 but in the years since 2003-2015 have been flat. Had the growth continued in the years after UK admissions would be at levels they were in the late 60s.

    In 1996 to celebrate 100th anniversary of cinema there was National Cinema Day all cinemas £1 was a massive success boosting admissions dramatically and was repeated the following year. This year was the 120th anniversary while Ireland had a National Cinema Day on August 26th was surprising the rest of the UK didn't.

    According to figures by UK Cinema Association cinema tickets are up 68% from 2003 - 2015. While annual box office has increased 67%;

    The UK Cinema Association claimed average price was £7.21 they will point to independent cinemas PeckhamPlex £4.99 and Premiere Romford £4 as two cheap cinemas. But there have been many surveys that have said average ticket price is a lot more was one recently that said it was £8.24 Voucherbox was closer to £9.50.

    Using £9.50 as the average ticket price for last year admissions would be 130.5m which would be the lowest since 1996. Even with Spectre and Star Wars: The Force Awakens admissions were 2.2% less than they were in 2002.

    Within the £1.24bn of box office last year was Secret Cinema with ticket prices £70+, Event Cinema with tickets double regular prices and 3D and IMAX adding a third to regular prices.

    This week Bridget Jones’s Baby overtook Bridget Jones’s Diary at the box office but admissions are 5,126,213. still 49.1% less than Bridget Jones Diary 10,070,675 admissions and 36.1% less than Edge of Reason 8,017,817.
    It was claimed to be the biggest British rom-com but 1994’s Four Weddings and a Funeral took £27,762,650 admissions were 8,542,354 (average ticket prices £3.25 150% less than are now).

    In the US its similar story with box office increasing 21% from 2002 - 2015 but ticket prices according to official figures up 45% from $5.81 - $8.43. NATO might claim average ticket price is $8.43 but real average is closer to $12.

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