Exhibitors are increasingly proactive when it comes to attracting audiences. Screen International correspondents explore programmes in key markets around the world
US: vending merchandise
Like cinema owners around the world, US circuits have been trying to enhance their offer with a range of initiatives. The two main approaches have been alternative content - from live opera to concerts and sport - and expanding the multiplex as a place for audiences to spend time, with games and other diversions.
Exhibitors would also like to make it a retail outlet but have not formulated a workable game plan. But a couple of entrepreneurs believe they have found the answer.
For Craig Bandes, chairman of Movie Loot, his eureka moment occurred when the lights came up at the end of Pixar’s animation Cars. His son turned to him and said he wanted all the cars he had just seen in the movie. “Think about it,” says company president Brian Nash. “Movies are the only outside-the-house entertainment where you cannot buy a souvenir of the show.
“Basically movie theatres aren’t set up to sell you a T-shirt with the name and graphic from a new movie. You can’t buy the book or a CD of the music, and if it’s part of a series maybe you’d like to have an earlier chapter on DVD.”
The Movie Loot machine dispenses merchandise that feeds into what Nash calls the “going out” experience. Unlike conventional food vending dispensers, it uses robotic technology to select and pack product securely, while its built-in screen can play trailers or promotional material.
The prototype was recently completed and Nash says could be in cinemas by Christmas. Theatre chains have expressed interest for obvious reasons including the fact the machine is self-contained and requires no financial support or staff involvement.
SPAIN: alternative events
In an overscreened market where digital roll-out has been slow, exhibitors are turning to alternative content in a bid to improve revenues.
Manu Claessens, territory manager for Spain at leading cinema chain Kinepolis, says: “We signed a deal with [leading broadcaster] MediaPro to show live Spanish league football on our cinema screens [in 2D]. We sold more than 2,000 tickets at about $10 (€ 8) a head for the recent Real Madrid v Barcelona match, which was amazing considering it was broadcast on free-to-air TV at the same time. We want to show [games] in 3D soon as well.”
Exhibitor Yelmo Cines also shows live football matches in 2D, but has been a little faster to push into 3D sports broadcast. “We showed the Madrid Open tennis final matches live in 3D in May,” says Fernando Evole, Yelmo Cines director general.
Live music events are also proving popular. In May, the Spanish music group Maldita Nerea performed live on stage at Yelmo’s Islazul 600-seat screen in Madrid, where the audience paid $24.75 (€ 20) and were able to speak to the band after the show, while Kinepolis is starting to broadcast live per-formances from the likes of Elton John and Robbie Williams, although takings vary depending on the -performer.
Meanwhile, independent chain Cines Verdi is having success showing silent films on one of its proj-ectors, which are taking as much money as regular films. “They often prove to be our best performers thanks to their novelty value,” says Enrique Perez Font, director of Cines Verdi.
GERMANY: quality venues
Veteran German exhibitor Hans-Joachim Flebbe had the idea for the Astor Film Lounge in Berlin after friends told him they disliked the hustle and bustle of multiplexes.
The single-screen Filmpalast was transformed in 2008 into Germany’s first premium cinema with state-of-the-art digital and 3D projection facilities. It attracted almost 100,000 admissions in its first year from December 2008.
“The target group is people over 30 who will pay more for their tickets if the service is more personal and there is greater comfort,” Flebbe says. “The aim is to win back lost audiences by making the visit more pleasurable - you can book and pay online, there is valet parking and a doorman at the entrance to make the people feel welcome.”
The Astor Film Lounge is becoming a popular venue for special events, including live broadcasts of plays and opera. “Tickets for the Robbie Williams concert were sold out within 10 minutes, and we showed the red carpet at the opening night in Cannes [on May 12] and followed it with a preview of Robin Hood,” Flebbe says. Chanel hired the cinema for a screening of Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky for its clients, while Babelsberg’s film school, HFF, staged the premiere of its 3D film Topper Gibt Nicht Auf in mid-May.
Flebbe will open an Astor Film Lounge in Geneva in autumn and is seeking other locations in Europe.
FRANCE: price promotions
The French exhibition sector has a rich history of reduced-price promotions to lure movie-goers. The National Federation of French Cinemas (FNCF) organises several programmes throughout the year, including Le Printemps du Cinéma where all showings of films throughout the country are reduced to $4.30 (€ 3.50) for three days in March. This year’s event brought in more than 2.8 million admissions.
The FNCF also organises the Fete du Cinéma which runs every summer. Audiences pay full price for their first movie ticket and $3.70 (€ 3) for each film after that. The promotion was recently expanded from three to seven days and last year brought in 4.6 million movie-goers.
Meanwhile, exhibitor UGC started what it calls UGC Week which also slashes prices at UGC cinemas across the country. The programme ran May 12-18 this year and cut ticket prices to $4.30 (€ 3.50) for all showings in its theatres nationwide.
JAPAN: low-cost 3D
In a competitive market which has seen flat admissions growth in the past decade, exhibitors have been heartened by the popularity of 3D. Avatar and Alice In Wonderland became the first Hollywood films to cross the $100m mark in the territory since 2007 and both earned about 80% of their take from half of their screens - the 3D half.
Nonetheless only 13% of Japan’s 3,400 screens are digital 3D and while the major exhibitors are steadily upgrading, costs remain prohibitive for smaller players.
Enter Fuji Film, which this May launched a relatively inexpensive 3D solution which can be used with existing 35mm projection equipment. For beleaguered Japanese exhibitors, the layout is only 10% of the typical $100,000-$150,000 investment for a digital set-up and Fuji Film, which is licensing the technology from Technicolor, aims to install 700-1,000 units over the next three years.
Another increasingly popular audience-driver is ‘fukikae-ban’, or dubbed versions of Hollywood imports. Led by younger movie-goers’ reluctance to read subtitles, distributors and exhibitors have increased the percentage of dubbed prints. Avatar started off at 38% dubbed, rising to about 50%, while the dubbed version of Alice In Wonderland accounted for 45% of its haul.
Shutter Island was released in a ‘super dubbed version’ which eschewed the typical exaggerated voice acting for a more natural style. It resulted in twice the admission percentage that a dubbed version of a mature release would normally attract.
Alternative programming is also being explored. A feature-length 3D film of a 2009 Tokyo Dome fan event by Korean TV star Bae Yong-joon will be rolled out from May to June on 100 screens.
Brazil: parties and family packages
From birthday parties to extreme screens, Brazilian exhibitors are using a range of initiatives to attract audiences. UCI Cinemas says it has registered an increase of 20% in the attendance of families since creating two family packages: a promotional ticket for four people which includes popcorn and drinks, and special screenings on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The nation’s second-largest theatre company with a market share of 9.9% last year, UCI is also investing in 3D. “The occupation of the 3D theatres is usually 25% or 30% higher than the regular ones,” says Monica Portella, marketing director of UCI Cinemas in Brazil. The company has also created the UCI Festa concept, with private birthday parties which start with a film. With UCI Live, its cinemas host live theatre, and UCI Game allows audiences to play video games before movies.
The largest exhibitor in Brazil, with 29.9% of the market last year, Cinemark has created a new large-screen digital format called Cinemark XD: Extreme Digital Cinema. “This concept started for us in the US and we now have one auditorium in Brazil, in Osasco, and will be expanding to various locations in the country throughout 2010,” says Valmir Fernandes, president of Cinemark International.
Smaller exhibitors, such as Reserva Cultural in Sao Paulo, have to be creative to attract new audiences. Instead of a regular snack kiosk, the cinema owned by Jean-Thomas Bernardini offers a patisserie and a restaurant. “We also broadcast opera and soccer games and offer a special family event on Sunday mornings with two films screened simultaneously - one for the children and one for the adults,” says Bernardini. His next step is a membership card that will allow customers to get free tickets.
AUSTRALIA: bigger screens
Australia has been a world leader in the development of intimate luxury cinemas featuring bars and waiter service. But more recently the focus has turned to cinemas with 20m-wide screens, deafening sound, generously sized seats and double the legroom.
“We did Gold Class and now it’s about creating Vmax, a premium product for the mass market,” says David Seargeant, managing director of Amalgamated Holdings Limited (AHL), which owns the cinema chains Greater Union (GU) and Birch Carroll & Coyle and is one of the top three exhibitors. “[Cinema] is about much more than going to see a movie. It’s a whole entertainment experience.”
To hammer home the point, some of AHL’s largest multiplexes are being redeveloped and rebranded Event Cinemas. AHL has about 50 sites across Australia and 11 now carry the Event name. “Our mantra was that Event Cinemas had to have a Gold Class or Vmax cinema, preferably both,” said Seargeant, who adds: “The response is well beyond the targets we set ourselves.”
AHL and Village Cinemas are joint-venture partners in dozens of multiplexes and Vmax is used by both groups; Xtremescreen is the equivalent at Hoyts. These screens are big but are still dwarfed by the country’s handful of IMAX screens.
UK: giant screens and 3D investment
Size still matters in the UK, and one successful initiative introduced by Vue Entertainment has been VueXtreme screens. “They’re the size of four double-decker buses,” says Tim Richards, founder and chief executive of Vue Entertainment.
The new screens, first introduced in Vue’s all-digital cinema in the Westfield Shopping Centre in west London earlier this year, come with steeply raked stadium seating and an enhanced surround-sound system.
Vue charges $1.44-$2.88 (£1-£2) extra for admission to VueXtreme. “It’s been hugely popular. They are always the first screens to sell out,” Richards says of the initiative.
The exhibitor is equipping new sites with VueXtreme screens and is looking to retrofit existing cinemas. “We’ve already got a few locations where we can take the largest screen and increase it by as much as 60% or 70%,” Richards notes.
Another recent UK exhibition initiative, one of Europe’s first all-3D multiplexes which was launched by Apollo Cinemas in late April in Carmarthen, Wales, underlines the increasing appetite for an enhanced big-screen experience. “British audiences are particularly discerning when it comes to the cinema experience, and this new complex will offer the best possible showcase for this year’s coming film releases,” says Rob Arthur, managing director of Apollo Cinemas.
Exhibitors are also looking to provide audiences with a luxurious environment in which to enjoy movies. At its Westfield site, Vue has introduced Scene - three “exclusive VIP screens” with private wine and champagne bars, reclining leather seats, concierge and cloakroom service.
CINEMA EXPO 2010
The 19th annual Cinema Expo International will run June 21-24 at Amsterdam RAI, with more than 1,500 exhibition and distribution professionals expected to attend from more than 50 countries.
David Kosse of Universal Pictures International will be named international distributor of the year, while Lauge Nielsen will accept international exhibitor of the year award for Pathé Theatres BV, the largest exhibition chain in the Netherlands. Speakers scheduled for the event include Paramount Pictures COO Frederick Huntsberry, who will talk about online piracy, and Ad Westrate, president of the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC) which represents some 30,000 screens, who will give a keynote speech.
Other topics covered include European digital cinema rollout, European Commission support for film, digital 3D and non-film programming for cinemas. In addition to the usual studio presentations, there will be screenings of Despicable Me (shown with RealD), Toy Story 3D and Get Him To The Greek.