The viewing habits of UK film-goers go under the microscope in extensive new research carried out by Film3Sixty - with surprising findings about piracy, social media and theatrical windows.

First, the good news: some 89% of the UK’s engaged film audiences still think the cinema is the best place to watch a film. Then comes the bad news: less than a third of those active UK film-goers think going to the cinema represented good value for money. That is according to new research from Film3Sixty, the cross-media agency started by London-based Target Media and Communications Group.

This new survey, the largest ever of its kind, questioned 18,831 people across the UK about their film-watching habits. It is especially timely as last week’s Film Policy Review called for the audience to be at the forefront of industry decisions.

“In the industry we can get so carried away with the issues - we wanted to turn it back on the audience,” Film3Sixty head Chris Watts [pictured] says of the research, which is revealed first to Screen. “The consumer is in control now of what they want and how they want it. We need to focus a lot moreon what the consumer wants.” The research has been a six-month project for the company, which has clients including StudioCanal, Icon, Vertigo Films and Soda Pictures.

In terms of cinema-goers’ perception of value for money, Watts notes: “Audiences still think [cinema is] the best way to see a film, but they think it¹s expensive. We believe this is a reasonably recent development, that premium ticket prices for 3D have influenced this.”

‘The clear answer is that piracy is not a substitute. Those who pirate actually spend more money in the cinema’

Chris Watts, Film3Sixty

The survey assessed film-goers as four self-identified groups: Blockbuster Only (no interest in indies) at 10% of the audience; Blockbuster Mainly (open to indies) at 59%; Indie Mainly (open to blockbusters) at 29%; and Indie Only (not interested in blockbusters) at 2%. The people surveyed were selected because they were engaged with film, representing the top 40% of cinema-goers and 80% of UK admissions.

In total, they averaged watching 120.37 films per year, of which 17.29 were in the cinema. For the non-cinema films, 65.51% were not paid for and 37.57% were paid for. Of the paid-for breakdown, 23.1% was purchased DVD; 20.4% was DVD rental; 19.1% was subscription film channel; 10.1%was Blu-ray purchase; 9.2% was online streaming; 7.1% was Blu-ray rental; 6% was pay per view and 5.1% was download to own.

When asked how many times they had visited the cinema in the past 12 months, the leading group was Indie Mainly with 20.33 visits, then Indie Only with 16.88, Blockbuster Mainly with 15.56 and Blockbuster Only with 12.79.

Theatrical and beyond

Indie fans were more keen to watch films on traditional platforms (cinema, DVD); blockbuster fans were more adventurous, embracing new platforms (tablets, internet-connected TVs and mobile phones).

The research also addressed the issue of theatrical windows - blockbuster lovers said they would pay the equivalent of a cinema ticket price or more to see a film in another format at the same time as a cinema release. The percentage of each type who would pay the equivalent or more to see a film outside the cinema at time of release were: Blockbuster Only 63%, Blockbuster Mainly 65%, Indie Mainly 53% and Indie Only 42%.

Dan Brown, head of Target’s research operation Eyeball, notes: “We saw lots of viewership on laptops, that was the first new screen [after TV for people to] consume film, that’s the established one. But games consoles are coming through almost on par for the blockbuster [fans].” For a new format, tablets [such as iPads] saw a big uptake. A surprisingly large 7% of Blockbuster Onlys said they had watched films on a mobile phone.

Consumers complained current broadband speeds made streaming films a patchy experience, which is one reason some of them said they may turn to piracy to see films at home.

Cinema-goers and pirates

One telling statistic from the research is that those who admit to pirating films regularly visit the cinema 4.6 times more than the average (piracy is likely to be under-reported by survey respondents).

Watts says: “The question we wanted to ask is, ‘Is piracy replacing paid-for film consumption?’ Or are they doing it as part of their film-consumption portfolio? The very clear answer is that it’s not a substitute. Those who pirate spend more money in the cinema.”

Brown adds: “There is the argument that if they weren¹t pirating, they’d be spending a lot more. But still they are champions of film. [Piracy] may be a trial, a way of checking things out.”

Of those surveyed, 37% have committed some form of film piracy; 18% download movies from file-hosting sites; 30% swap movies on hard drives or USB sticks; and 28% download movies from peer-to-peer file sharing sites.

Social media and advertising

Specific uses of social media were also studied. Watts says: “Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, they all have very different roles to play within the entertainment consumer’s decision-making process.”

YouTube was the favourite destination for trailers; Twitter was seen as the best way to exchange gossip and early information (as well as pre-release photos and other exclusive information); Facebook was used for sharing and engaging with films in more social ways. For example, 35% of respondents have arranged to go to the cinema on Facebook; 38% have liked an official film page on Facebook; 19% follow an actor on Twitter; 16% Tweet about films; and 33% visit official film pages on YouTube.

Those 35% arranging to go to the cinema on Facebook visit the cinema 14 times more per year than the average. They are 46% more likely to go only to see films their friends also want to see.

“One chap in the focus group was asked how many people did he get to go to the cinema with him [using Facebook]? He said 43. So it was clearthere was this whole way of using Facebook for the cinema that we didn’t know much about,” Watts says.

The study found that those who say they are influenced by social media go to the cinema five times more per year than the average. They are also easily swayed and more likely to change their minds.

Film3Sixty’s social media manager Kathryn Winter adds: “Social media contributes across the life cycle, from pre-production through to blogs and teaser trailers, through to the theatrical release and then the DVD release. Through that, the social chatter is very opinion based.”

She continues: “With the blockbusters it’s about the social networks, but with the indies its more about the newspaper reviews online. The blockbusters are more socially minded so that fits with the rest of the research.”

Indies are influenced by online reviews and information but as a rule do not want to watch films online. “The indies aren’t technology early adopters,” Watts adds.

UK Consumer types

10% - Blockbuster Only

  • 10% of survey
  • 56% female
  • Average age 39.2 years — youngest group
  • Own games consoles —have all the tech gadgets
  • Prefer comedy/rom-coms
  • Most likely to pirate movies
  • Most likely to think the cinema is expensive
  • Watch a lot of TV

59% - Blockbuster Mainly

  • 59% of survey — biggest group and truest picture of mainstream film consumer
  • 53% female
  • Average age 39.6 years — though most likely aged 16-24
  • Own games consoles — have all the tech gadgets
  • Prefer comedy/rom-coms
  • Buy the most home-entertainment product
  • Heaviest Facebook and YouTube users

29% - Indie Mainly

  • 29% of survey — second biggest group
  • 52% male
  • Average age 44.5 years — younger than Indie Only
  • Heaviest cinema-goers
  • Heaviest consumers of film on DVD
  • Most likely to online stream
  • Most likely to watch a film on a laptop or PC
  • Heaviest users of Twitter

2% - Indie Only

  • 2% of survey — smallest group
  • 55% male
  • Average age 54.2 years — oldest group
  • Prefer drama and foreign-language titles
  • Lightest consumers of DVDs
  • Least likely to pirate
  • Lightest users of Facebook