A tale of two surveysWe look at the latest insights into how audiences & exhibitors feel about cinemas reopening
Reopening one month on: two new reports shed light on the state of the cinema sector.
Almost one month on since cinemas in England were able to reopen on 17 May and, at this point, lots of the early signs are good. Exhibitors will be cautiously eyeing the government announcement on 14 June regarding the potential lifting of lockdown the following week – particularly as some areas of the North West are now designated as Enhanced Response Areas. But, for the moment, cinemas are busy. More venues have committed to opening their doors than at any other point in the past 15 months; audiences are returning in greater numbers; and there’s a strong slate of films available to choose from.
To dive deeper into the current state of the exhibition sector and its prospects going forward, we’ve highlighted two recent surveys exploring attitudes at the UK's independent cinemas - both behind the scenes and among audiences.
Since 17 May, we have had some sell-out screenings whilst operating on our new social distancing capacity of just 25%. Our audiences are providing positive feedback on their experiences of being back in the venue, feeling comfortable and secure with our new safety measures. We are confidently looking forward to the future and have a varied and exciting programme scheduled for the rest of the year. - Ian Wild, Chief Executive at Showroom Cinema
Pressing Play (Again)
Pressing Play (Again) is the follow up to Jonny Tull’s Pressing Play report, published in May 2020, which investigated how exhibitors themselves felt about lockdown and reopening. Many of the updated report’s findings bear out the good news stories that have been circulating the sector anecdotally and in hard data at the box office for the past few weeks. 78% of respondents are planning to reopen in May or June, and the general trend points towards increased confidence that audiences will return – although not uniformly.
Perhaps one of the most telling findings is exhibitors' shift away from framing reopening as a “moment” for cinemas. In 2020, 72% of respondents were planning a special event to mark their reopening – in 2021, 64% are not. After a period of huge challenges and upheaval, the desire to simply open and return to screenings is understandable. But this change of heart perhaps points towards the overriding mood music within the exhibition sector and the key story of Pressing Play (Again).
In the short term, there is a sense of pragmatism and optimism. Exhibitors want to get back to work and back to audiences; in their turn, audiences are more confident to return and there's a strong line-up of new releases to meet new-found demand. Beyond this, though, there are some residual concerns about the long-term outlook for the sector. Key among them are the availability of funding (visit our Exhibition Funding landing page to see how we can help), new distribution practices and changing viewing habits, operational challenges, and disruption to the wider film ecology. Check out Jonny’s full report to explore the detail and get up to date with the view from inside the sector.
Culture Restart Cinema Tracker
The first round of results from the Culture Restart Cinema Tracker again point towards an increase in audience confidence around returning to cinema venues. The survey, developed by marketing agency Indigo Ltd in collaboration with the Independent Cinema Office, helps independent exhibitors across the UK survey their audiences and gauge their attitudes to returning to screenings.
In the month leading up to 17 May, more than 5,000 regular independent cinema attenders shared their thoughts, and the signs are positive. 69% of respondents felt ready to book tickets within the next 3 months – a stark contrast to the same respondents’ attitudes in 2020 when 69% did not attend screenings whilst cinemas were able to reopen. Exhibitors might also take heart when they consider the demographics surveyed in this round of research. Respondents skewed older and many were either partially or fully vaccinated. Previous research and general sector feeling had suggested that this audience grouping would be more reluctant to return; that may be changing.
Booking decisions and audience confidence will, of course, be contingent on the wider public health picture. And while the announcement on 14 June will be a key milestone on the road towards lifting restrictions for some, the Cinema Tracker makes it clear that the story for cinemas may not be so simple.
Health and safety measures like socially distanced seating are still important to audiences, and the sector’s early successes have in part been down to its ability to make visitors feel safe in venues. It’s likely, then, that many independent cinemas will retain some form of enhanced safety measures if lockdown does lift in June – just as many are already going beyond the requirements set out in guidance to cinema operators. You can see more survey findings, including sector insights from the Independent Cinema Office, over on Indigo’s blog.