What does the international box office and cinema landscape look like in an emerging post-pandemic world? That was the gist of an executive roundtable at CineEurope in Barcelona today. Among the key takeaways: the relationship between exhibition and distribution and a need for more collaboration in terms of reaching consumers. With so much content available in-home, the bar has been raised for returning people’s habits to the theatrical experience.
Andrew Cripps, Warner Bros President of International Theatrical Distribution commented, “We have to recognize how the world has dramatically changed… Getting the consumer out of the house to consume entertainment is a challenge, and God knows it was a challenge before. The bar is higher, and collectively between exhibition and distribution, we have to do better.”
He continued, “We have more data at our fingertips collectively than we have ever had. The data is available… We have to collectively act on that.”
Tim Richards, CEO of exhibition chain Vue International, said, “We’ve been to hell and back and I think the relationship with the studios is probably as strong as it’s ever been. We’re all in the same ecosystem and we all benefit from getting along.”
He allowed, “We definitely need to do a better job working together. We’re on the frontline, we know our customers. We need to share more data in terms of how to market and promote films, in terms of getting people excited.”
Anna Marsh, CEO of Studiocanal suggested, “Thinking about the consumer is our number one priority and brings us together. There needs to be transparency and understanding of what the consumer needs, what will get them over the threshold and tailoring stories for local markets. It’s no longer one size fits all. We have to think about the cinemagoer and anticipating what they are going to want to be seeing two or three years from now.” She added that in the UK and France, “the demographic is different than it was before, the older audience seems more concerned and slower to come back.” However, that trend may be changing as the latest Bond title, No Time To Die, demonstrated this weekend by bringing those folks back.
Paul Higginson, EVP of EMEA for Universal Pictures International, which handles No Time To Die overseas, called the business a “three-way partnership” between exhibition, distribution and the consumer. “The most challenging part of our relationship is with the cinemagoer, we’ve been disconnected intermittently for varying periods of time.” Exhibition and distribution “fully appreciate how important they are to each other,” Higginson continued. “We have always had different views about when and how to place films and share outcomes… I don’t think anybody takes any of these interactions personally because we absolutely need each other and we have to focus now all our efforts on getting as many cinemagoers back through the doors.”
Universal is “reaching for bigger and better movies and experiences,” Higginson said. “For the future, it is about the opportunity to cooperate much broader and much deeper to utilize the information we have to legitimately influence the consumer. What Netflix and the streamers have done in targeting their audience shows the way. We shouldn’t miss that opportunity.”
Mark Way, MD of Odeon Cinemas and President of AMC Europe, commented, “If ever an industry was set up to work in partnership, it’s this one. But it doesn’t always work that way. We get bogged down in detail and transactional issues.” Yet, during the pandemic, “We’ve all been reminded how much we need each other, rely on each other.”
Cripps pointed to the success of No Time To Die this weekend as well as Sony’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage and WB’s own Dune which crossed $100M offshore during the frame. “Consumers have decided they are ready to come back and see fantastic movies. The question is what other movies are they going to see.”
During the pandemic, there has been a shifting release landscape and Richards noted that historically, the “biggest impediment has been windows.” But Covid “forced us together and to come up with a new solution. This new window is going to make it so much easier for independent films to come on our screens, they don’t have to spend so much on marketing.” He predicted a “resurgence” of indie titles ahead.
November, Cripps pointed out bullishly, has “amazing art-house movies like King Richard, House Of Gucci and Spencer. Success begets success. Once you get people seeing movies, they’re exposed to materials… We have a great ecosystem that started with blockbusters as people have come out and hopefully that translates to people coming to se a selection of movies going forward.”
He intoned, however, that “mediocre is no longer good enough. We are competing with a ton of content,” that people can see at home. “We all have to up our game, marketing and distribution and the cinema side.” Recliner seats are a draw, but “it has to come back to sound and picture. We have to think higher and the bar has to be higher.”
During lockdown, Vue invested in in refurbishing and opening some cinemas and continued its ‘back to basics seats, sights and sound’ policy. Richards fervently believes in recliners: “They’re expensive and you’ll lose seats,” he told the assembly of international exhibitors today, adding, “it’s worth it. No industry in the world can be complacent, we need to continually be investing.”
Regarding 2019’s record-breaking global box office, Richards said, “We weren’t broken, as an industry we were doing very, very well and growing. That doesn’t mean we can’t improve. We’re about to embark on a big surge forward. I can see the record broken in the next couple of years.”
Added Higginson, “There was a $42B business out there before the pandemic came, and it’s still out there. Never has there been a time in the history of cinema when there’s been more community about what we seek to achieve. The name of the game is to win that business back.”
Richards allowed, “as an industry, we’re guilty of not focusing enough on pricing. All of us have not spent the time.” He referred to such concepts as discount Tuesdays and premium weekends, but “looking at inflation plus pricing, the only thing you do know is it’s not sustainable. When there are subscription services pitching monthly very low, it becomes even more pronounced. It’s an area we need to look at very carefully.”
Said Way, “Getting pricing strategy right is critical.”
Richards summed up, “When we came out of this epidemic we weren’t bruised, we were knocked down and bloody and the next 12 months are about rebuilding and surviving. It’s been really, really tough, but the fact that all of us survived is testament to the great business we have and will have in the future.”
As for innovation over the next few years, Way pointed to “premiumization” while the “big opportunity” is content, “There is going to be more than ever before in next few years. We are trying to find a way to bring that content to our screens.”