Further ReadingThe reports on the cultural sector & C-19 that film exhibitors should be aware of
Sector surveys highlight audience concerns and industry changes during lockdown.
Last week we reported the findings from the Independent Cinema Office’s recent sector survey: a study of almost 500 exhibitors which found that 41% of organisations could not reopen with social distancing measures in place. We’ll be taking insights like this forward on behalf of exhibitors to advocate for a reopening strategy that works for the independent sector – you can find further analysis in our summary article.
The Independent Cinema Office’s study is one of many data gathering exercises that have taken place in recent weeks, and there's a dizzying number of surveys and reports offering their own take on current feeling within the sector and the potential impacts of Covid-19. To help film exhibitors find the information that's right for them, we've picked out a few key studies below.
Our chosen reports adopt a variety of approaches and offer scope for valuable insight when considered in combination with one another, the Independent Cinema Office’s findings and exhibitors' own observations of their situation. In them, you'll find information on a range of pressing subjects: from exhibitors’ planned audience development strategies on reopening to the future of the theatrical window in a digitally disrupted industry. Our final selection looks beyond the confines of the film world and provides provides wide-reaching insight into audience attitudes towards returning to cultural venues.
If you know of another data set or study that will help independent exhibitors during this period of uncertainty, we'd love to see it. Get in touch at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
North East-based cinema consultant Jonny Tull surveyed almost 100 exhibitors for Pressing Play, a research project which asked programmers to consider life on the other side of lockdown. 63% of respondents were anxious about how quickly audiences will return to cinemas after reopening and, in line with the Independent Cinema Office's findings, audience confidence within older demographics and the role of cinemas as safe, welcoming spaces for customers and staff were key concerns.
I set out to create Pressing Play in order to try and help exhibitors better empathise with our customers at this time of upheaval, and to provide focus on some specific audience-related aspects of our return to business. Although right now the industry is considering the logistics of opening cinemas, and there are many surveys discussing this, I wanted Pressing Play to consider our marketing and programming activity - what we might say and do to bring our cinemas back to our customers in coming weeks. Jonny Tull
Pressing Play also sheds interesting light on how sentiment within the sector has changed throughout the duration of the survey period. The further into lockdown we go, it seems the more concerned exhibitors have become about its impact on the industry. None of the survey's later respondents felt they could reopen at original capacity, compared to 22% of earlier respondents. And, as lockdown wears on, exhibitors' focus on reopening has shifted from hosting celebratory events to launching new pricing initiatives or membership schemes.
You can download the full Pressing Play report at Jonny Tull’s website and reach out to Jonny directly with any questions.
The future of theatrical windows
The latest study from film data researcher Stephen Follows takes a closer look at a particular issue which concerned some exhibitors in Pressing Play: the ascendance of online offerings during lockdown and the future of the theatrical window. Follows’ survey of over 350 professionals across the US industry – from filmmakers to theatrical exhibitors to VOD providers – suggests that cinemas are at particular risk from Covid-19 related disruption and that the sector’s traditional bulwark of the theatrical window may be under threat.
Unsurprisingly, Follows' diverse pool of respondents are deeply divided on what the future of the theatrical window looks like. More than half of exhibitors would like to see a return to the 90-day pre-lockdown window or longer – a view shared by only about 20% of those working in home entertainment and distribution, and even fewer filmmakers.
In these unpredictable times, change is something of a constant and Follows finds the strongest cross-industry consensus among respondents - including two thirds of exhibitors - who acknowledge that the business model of cinemas will need to significantly adapt. Whilst Follows’ analysis suggests that such adaptation may not yet usher in a watershed moment for the theatrical window, it’s clear that Covid-19 and the corresponding increase in direct to digital releasing have intensified conversations about the window's future. You can see the full survey results and dive into the debate yourself over at Stephen’s website.
After the Interval
Outside of the film world, cultural sector consultancy Indigo-Ltd have collaborated with hundreds of theatres, arts centres and concert venues on the After the Interval National Audience Survey. This study sought to measure audience sentiment towards cultural events during lockdown and has received over 86,000 responses from engaged patrons - including those of Hub Member organisations such as HOME, Kirkgate Arts and Sheffield Doc/Fest.
While film audiences may behave differently from theatre bookers and cinemas may face different operational practicalities than live music venues, the sheer scale and scope of After the Interval makes it worthy of film exhibitors’ attention. It provides a valuable audience-side perspective to many of the industry concerns raised in Pressing Play and the Independent Cinema Office’s recent survey – from when audiences expect to return to venues to what measures will most reassure those that do.
Beyond this, the study’s stark headline findings make it difficult to ignore. Only 19% of respondents surveyed between 16 April – 6 May would feel comfortable to come to events as soon as venues are allowed to reopen, and 41% would not consider booking for events for at least 4 months.
The full After the Interval report can be accessed, along with supporting documentation and an interactive dashboard, via Indigo’s website. Film exhibitors curious about the factors that influence respondents’ answers and how they might wrangle the data to reflect their own audience profile, should check out the insightful secondary analysis carried out by evaluation experts Culture Counts. Further editions of the survey are forthcoming.