How cinemas go beyond studio marketing to lure cinema-goers back

A Regal Cinemas cinema stands at night on 42nd Street in New York, USA, on Tuesday, October 6, 2020.

Amir Hamja | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“If you build it, they will come.”

Universal’s president of domestic theater distribution borrowed the iconic line from “Field of Dreams” during the studio’s board presentation at CinemaCon on Wednesday to describe how cinemagoers flock back to cinemas now that there is a constant stream of content available.

Domestic ticket sales for the first four months of the year may have fallen by around 44% compared to 2019 pre-pandemic levels, but cinemas are seeing significant progress compared to last year.

Blockbuster titles such as Warner Bros. ‘”The Batman”, Paramount’s “Sonic 2” and Marvel-Sony’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home” have led to a 338% increase in ticket sales from 2021 and reached 1.95 billion, according to data from Comscore.

Operators are happy with the new titles and were assured by studios across CinemaCon last week that they will continue to receive a large number of theatrical exclusives going forward.

For the most part, the pandemic’s day-and-date experiment is complete, and the studios spent their time at the annual convention at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas to showcase their largest and boldest tent poles as well as showcase a variety of content.

Exhibitors, however, will not rely solely on the studios to drive consumers to theaters. A shortage of products during the pandemic and a slow start to 2022 have made cinema owners more aggressive with their marketing strategies, more innovative with food and beverages and more flexible in the type of content they place on the big screen.

A bold reminder to moviegoers

For big chains like AMC, Regal and Cinemark, emphasis has been placed on adding live event streams, such as concerts, sports and even Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, and upgrading their theaters with advanced projectors and sound systems.

Last month, AMC announced it was investing $ 250 million to bring Cinionic’s laser projectors to 3,500 of its US auditoriums by 2026. Laser is largely seen as a step forward from digital projection, which offers brighter images and therefore a sharper image. The bulbs also do not have to be replaced several times a year, which means that maintenance is much easier for theater operators.

Large and small cinemas have long partnered with IMAX and Dolby to bring large format options to consumers, but updating the digital projectors ensures that even those who are not willing to pay a premium for premium options will still have a quality experience in cinemas. The hope is that this experience will inspire cinema-goers to continue to leave their couches and return to cinemas for future film releases.

AMC went so far as to launch its first ever advertising campaign last September with Nicole Kidman with the slogan “we make movies better.” The company invested about $ 25 million in the campaign.

“We wanted to make a bold, straightforward statement to remind moviegoers of the immersive, shared, multi-sensory experience that you can only get by watching a movie in a movie theater,” said Alicia Cook, director of advertising at AMC Theaters, during a CinemaCon panel hosted by CNBC on Tuesday.

Traditionally, cinema owners have relied on studios to promote movies and drive cinemagoers to their local cinemas. At the time of the ad’s launch, AMC CEO Adam Aron said the company would no longer depend on “what has always worked before,” noting that the pandemic has pushed the industry into “uncharted waters.”

‘We do crazy things’

Smaller chains with less access to large sums are still investing in the theater experience by upgrading seats, projectors and audio equipment, but they are increasingly using digital and social advertising to target their communities.

“We are more agile than the larger organizations,” Rich Daughtridge, president and CEO of Warehouse Cinemas, said during Tuesday’s panel. “I think our superpower is eventful, but they also create experiences around going to the cinema. So we do crazy things.”

Daughtridge said promotions range from offering margaritas with movie tickets to special “father-daughter” evening shows. Mid-pandemic, Warehouse Cinemas took advantage of the release of Solstice Studios’ “Unhinged” by hosting a car smash event during the film’s fifth week in theaters.

Customers who bought a ticket could swing by an old car, leading to a 2% increase in ticket sales compared to forecasts of what the film would have done if Warehouse had not hosted the event, he said.

Events at Reading Cinemas in Australia and New Zealand are a little more tame, according to Ben Deighton, general manager of marketing for the cinema chain. A surprisingly popular event in one of his cinemas is a knitting club.

“We’re just started knitting sessions … and knitting clubs are coming in and watching a movie and knitting,” he said during Tuesday’s panel, noting that the idea came from a local patron.

Starting this month, Cinepolis has launched a program called Self-care Sundays, which offers guests gold patches under the eyes and a small popcorn with every ticket purchase.

“One of the things we naturally noticed over the years, people came to our theaters and practiced in their own self-care,” Annelise Holyoak, senior national director of marketing and loyalty at Cinepolis, said during Tuesday’s panel.

Each performance also features a 10-minute mindfulness meditation to relax consumers before enjoying their movie.

“I think we as marketers tend to say ‘this movie plays,’ ‘this movie plays,'” Daughtridge said. to do … I think the messages that we’re trying to do to create this engagement are more about why it makes sense to go to movies, compared to just what movie is being played. “

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