Cinema has changed. Cinema will never change. A contradiction…
Cinema has changed. Last week I set about trying to catalogue how cinema has changed in recent times. The last two years have generated plenty of discussion about how cinema has changed and will change, and covers both the content (the films) and the physical space (the venues). Because I am looking at repositioning this cinema guide, Screening Room Map, I rushed off some emails to gather opinions within the industry. I wanted to clarify and map out how this wave of change will pan out…
Cinema will never change. Last week I also made a spontaneous visit to my local film house and experienced a pure cinematic treat; a captivating film which triggered a deep emotional response and a wonderous suspension of time. I experienced something linked to that enigmatic definition – “Cinema is sitting in the dark and seeing the light”. It was just myself, a seat, a big screen and a projected image. Those basic elements of cinema are unchanged over the last century and will, surely, be unchanged for the next century. No change there…
Exploring this contradiction…
I am curious about this contradiction and want to explore it more. Areas of change include
streaming vs. cinema developments, the theatrical window, widening the purpose/function of cinemas as venues,
cultural shifts in the viewing of content,
new cinema technologies & design thinking,
the growth of upmarket boutique cinemas, and lots more.
So in this organic post, I will be compiling a collection of opinions and news about how cinema is changing. I will attempt to document it, adding news items, some straw polls and my own personal experiences and perhaps start to form a picture of what the ‘new cinema’ will become. I welcome all contributions.
More to come and bear with me as I try to juggle additions…
Tony Franks, Publisher, Pocket Films • Started October 2022 • Latest additions added at the bottom.
••• Industry response from Patrick von Sychowski: “a) Cinema will become more experience and premium driven, with smaller but more dedicated audiences; b) There has to be ongoing innovation to differentiate cinema from the experience of watching films at home;
c) Even in the future there will be a demand for cinema, because it is a social experience and not just a way to consume films (with popcorn). Patrick von Sychowski, Cinema Guru
••• Analysis: “Cinema is changing, but why does Martin Scorsese fear it’s dying?” Breakdown of Scorsese’s fear of cinema becoming a deminishing artform. Link
••• Industry response– “I think the pressure on cinema will be to present the strongest most memorable experience that makes it worth going out for. If cinemas are not delivering a wow factor, interpreted differently for different demographics and different venues, then audiences will just not turn out. Cinema has been perceived as an expensive, even “rip-off” experience for too long. And the music has stopped. The cost of the product itself has to change if the food chain is to work and the economics of cinema are to stack up for the customer. What we don’t have currently is a staple feed of mid-priced original films that please audiences. Every piece in the pipeline to cinemas has to deliver more careful economics. We have plenty of half-baked content sufficient to fill up the multiple home channels. But a key change is that the mid-range films need to deliver stable underlying revenues for cinemas within an environment that persuades people that watching in social surroundings is an event worth turning out for“. – An international cinema specialist, preferring anonymity for this post.
••• Industry response– “That’s a big question, I’ll try and give some (hopefully) clear thoughts:
1. I think venues are going to become more flexible and will morph into a lot more than cinemas. This will be an opportunity for them to become rental spaces more than ever. I know [cinemas] will now hire out screens even on a Saturday evening, something unheard of eight to ten years ago. The pressure on cinemas to become profitable (or to remain so) will become a big driver behind business plans. In essence film will become less important, at least for the foreseeable future, until film releases become more consistent and regular.
This will also extend to non-film activity – things like music, poetry, and live performance will become more visible and the Genesis Cinema in East London is doing some good activity around these areas. Pitchblack Playback is a fascinating new idea that is proving very popular in cinemas. The audience is listening to great music in its purest environment – no other sound, no lighting and no distractions. And think about what The Prince Charles Cinema has always done – themed nights, marathon film overnighters, even ‘film plus’ events.
2. Cinemas will, once again, have to adapt if they are to compete with home streaming. No longer will a sub-standard experience be acceptable, especially with high ticket prices in cinemas. People might pay around £17 – £20 for a special release, but not for regular, week-in-week-out cinema-going. If the customer is not 100% about the merits of a film, they might just wait to see it at home. I’m not sure about the long-term benefits of the Netflix / Disney+ / Paramount business model – when times are tough, this is the first saving that a lot of people will consider. The same with BT Sport and Sky subscriptions.
3. Cineworld’s troubles are a foretaste of the problems faced by all of the multiplex chains. I think there will be a natural resistance to frequent these on a regular basis, and maybe Vue has got it right by reducing their ticket prices. The likes of Everyman, especially, at least try to offer a premium experience and I know that their whole business model is based around ensuring their customers go home happy“. – UK cinema exhibition specialist, preferring anonymity for this post.
••• Industry response from Ian Brown a) Cinema is 100% becoming more and more about the overall experience and not just films with coke and popcorn. People are looking for a better all-round experience. b) Streaming is not the competition to cinema, people still crave the out-of-home experience. c) Windows will slowly increase again on major titles (but not to the full windows). d) Marketing in cinemas, by cinemas needs to improve and become more targeted. Ian Brown, Founder and Group CEO, INDY Cinema Group
••• Industry response from Mandy Kean: “Hospitality in cinema is building and should be reflected in private hires – whatever can be done to improve the guests’ and organisers’ experience is key, whether it’s improved tech, via the booking and pre-event process or the experience for all on the day. Hospitality plays a part throughout”. Mandy Kean, Mustard Studio, cinema & film consultancy group [For more of Mandy’s views read this article]
••• Industry response from Peter Knight:
“Cinema Is Changing” – I’d agree completely with the statement – but I’m not sure that it has ever not changed…”
1. I think the location of the cinema is changing again, it is moved away from the high street for a while to out-of-time shopping locations. Many of these are now empty or not very busy and so many cinemas are now returning to in-town shopping centres. But beyond that, they are being used as key aspects of town centre restorations. Have a look at this article I commissioned by Rob Arthur on this subject: https://issuu.com/cinematechnology/docs/ct_sep22/50 to see what I mean.
2. Companies like the Really Local Group are also changing the way that the cinema buildings are being used and how they interact with the local community, again have a read of this article: https://issuu.com/cinematechnology/docs/ct_sep22/18
3. Cinemas are returning to venues that are more than just cinemas (see above), but also the likes of what John Sullivan is doing in Blackpool: https://www.liveblackpool.info/about/town-centre/new-imax-cinema-in-blackpool/
4. In the last few weeks we have also seen that many of the movie studios are beginning to realise that it is not all about streaming and that cinemas actually bring in a lot of revenue for them: https://celluloidjunkie.com/2022/11/11/cj-analysis-theatrical-releases-profit-as-streaming-losses-mount/
5. New technology like the GDC projector is allowing cinemas to be built in places that would not normally traditionally be able to be a cinema: https://issuu.com/cinematechnology/docs/ctdec21/24
6. Alternative designs Omar Cinemas: https://issuu.com/cinematechnology/docs/ctmar22/30
7. Equally technology in the auditorium like 4DX, ScreenX, and ICE Theaters to name just three continue to make impact on the audience, especially younger audience members.
8. Pop-up outdoor cinema has never been more popular or available in more outdoor locations. This is done on a variety of different technologies, including LED screens that allow for the ability to screen more movies per day which improves the ROI.
9. The current financial situation is having a big impact and will continue to have one – especially with the cost of energy as high as it is. Cinemas by their very nature are large places to heat and light. We have already seen a growing number of small independent cinemas that have closed in the last few weeks and it is likely that there will be more. I don’t know but I suspect a lot of them will be cinemas that are in older buildings that are now so easy to keep warm. Many cinemas will start moving over from Xenon to laser projectors as they are cheaper to run.
10. I think that there are other screening technologies that we are likely to see tried out in the cinemas in the future – longer term future this is, such as holograms and maybe even flying theatres: https://issuu.com/cinematechnology/docs/ctmarch18pages/52 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_theater. LED technology is continuing to develop and companies are looking to roll that out – there are pros and cons to this technology, but when these start to appear in auditoriums it is likely to make a difference to what is thought of as cinema, probably more so than anything else we have ever seen in its history.
11. I don’t have the data but at the UKCA conference earlier in the year there was a presenter who suggested that those people who were heavy consumers of streaming were also heavy cinema-goers as well.
12. 35mm and other celluloid screenings are now important again – retro is still cool – I’ve done two lots of projectionist training this year and there are still new prints that are being made to be toured. There are more 35mm screenings each week than 5 years ago easily (I don’t have data to back that up, but it is just the sense that I have). I think this will grow, and the number of 35mm projectors that are actually being reinstalled in cinemas is quite high.
13. The sluggish start in the box office is largely down to the movie releases from the studios, but as a Stage article stated the other day, cinema has had a stronger return than the theatre, post-pandemic: https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/theatre-audiences-slower-to-return-to-pre-pandemic-levels-than-film Peter Knight, Moving Image Specialist
••• Article: “Quentin Tarantino: In the Near Future, Boutique Cinemas Will Thrive While Big Chains Flounder”, Nov 2022: An article from The Hollywood Reporter where Tarantino also questioned if a Netflix film counts as a “movie” or if streaming marks it as TV show of some kind. Link
••• Industry response from William Dever: “Cinema is in the middle of a paradigm shift, a time to increase its impact on society and reduce the unnatural growth that occurred during the real estate boom. It is imperative that there occur a decentralisation of cinema in the exhibiting of movies, the production of movies, and the definition of what cinema is”. William Dever, Chief Creative Officer at Harena Data Inc
••• Industry response from John Sullivan: “The multiplex cinema age has come to an end”.
“The model originally rolled out over the past 30 years across the USA and then internationally relied on long exclusivity windows and assurance of high volume of production of premium films to fill those theatres from the studios.
This model is now irreparably broken
The big multiplexes with 10+ screens will need to readapt or close.
The model also relied on minimal dwell time and maximum sale of high margins on sweets, popcorn and cola – customer tastes have changed and there is now a preference for quality food and longer dwell times – ie social places – almost a reverse to the Golden Age of cinema – the cinemas themselves have to step up and be a designed place that inspires and delights.
It’s going to take a while but the new models of cinemas will either be adapted into existing multiplexes with a repurposing of excess screens and or new builds will take on these dinosaurs and those megaplexes/multiplexes that do not do this will start closing”. John Sullivan, Founding Director The Big Picture (Cinema Advisers) Ltd
••• Article: “Peter Greenaway Says Cinema Hasn’t Changed Since Chaplin: ‘It’s Time to Think Big, and Desperately’” The director Peter Greenaway sees little development in the last century, and believes cinema needs to start “thinking big, and desperately,” in this Dec 2022 article from IndieWire
••• Industry response from Rob Arthur: Rob runs Paguro, a leisure, entertainment, and cinema consultancy. He chose to quote from Nostradamus Report: Transforming Storytelling Together: “Theatrical exhibition used to be a relatively uncomplicated business. Its struggles in the last decade are a result not just of competing against streaming services and piracy, but of being in competition against the entirety of the experience economy. Five years from now, there will be no place for lazy exhibition. To pick the right business model, and design appealing and meaningful experiences around them, it will be necessary for every kind of cinema to understand very deeply their specific audiences, their interests and their needs” And for the article Screen Time? Cinemas and Town Centres, read Rob’s views on this link.
••• Article: Electric Dreams: shock waves through the cinema exhibition sector: A plea to support the indie cinema circuit from Anna Navas. “…cinema touches us like almost no other artform. There are times when a film touches every electric nerve in your body”. Read the article here. Anna is Director and Film Programmer at Plymouth Arts Cinema
•••Article: The Arthouse Crisis, Solved! Here’s the 5 Easy Steps: “If arthouse theaters want to survive the current moviegoing apocalypse, they need a collective strategy” writes Eric Kohn, on IndieWire.com
••• Article: The Future Is Now: 6 Key Trends That Will Transform the Cinema Industry in 2023: By Julien Marcel, author of Hollywood Année Zéro and CEO of The Boxoffice Company. Forecasts for changes in Exhibition & Distribution, as well as Sustainability, and Ticket Pricing. See link.
••• Article: What Singapore Can Teach the World About Cinema’s Future. Patrick von Sychowski, Editor at Celluloid Junkie, shares his experience of re-visiting Singapore’s cinemas and how they are adapting to a specific problem that faces many other countries. Read the article here.