Asking the Audience: A look behind the scenes at NCM’s moviegoer poll

Cinemas Features

Since July of last year, Film Journal International has proudly collaborated with National CineMedia (NCM) on a monthly survey of frequent moviegoers called “Ask the Audience,” in which respondents reveal their likes and dislikes about the moviegoing experience. Stacie Tursi, NCM’s senior VP, affiliate partnerships, takes us behind the scenes of this valuable initiative.

How did you find the “Ask the Audience” participants?

“Ask the Audience” members are primarily recruited through an onscreen advertisement that runs in NCM’s “Noovie” pre-show. We get a lot of interest, so to make sure we’re getting fresh perspectives and making the most of our 5,000 panelists, we will periodically ask inactive members if they would like to leave the panel to make room for new recruits.

Do you ever convene them as a group?

Not yet, but maybe one day! At the moment, we encourage the panelists to interact via online discussions about movies or other industry news. We’ll also send them newsletters that let them know the results of recent surveys and some of the most interesting responses, so they can see the value of their feedback.

How enthusiastic are they about taking part in these surveys?

Are you kidding? It’s basically a party! Over 75% of members are active participants and engage with the five to six surveys we send each month. We often have the happy problem of expecting a sentence or two in response to an open-ended question and instead receive a five-paragraph essay. We help to keep them engaged by appealing to the movie superfan within them by sharing new trailers or behind-the-scenes content. Plus, we sometimes give them the chance to win movie tickets or other prizes, such as posters, which of course doesn’t hurt either.

What are some of the most amusing or most surprising responses you’ve received?

How long do you have? We’re constantly surprised by the results of our surveys, which is exactly why they are so valuable. One trend that continues to resonate with us is how much our panelists value the moviegoing experience and the escapism the movie theatre offers, as well as their attention to detail. We once asked a question that required us to list out the cast of a movie, and received a lot of feedback that the order we had listed them in was wrong.

When it comes to amusing responses, the list is long. Here are a few that made us laugh:

When asked for the strangest item they’ve seen snuck into a theatre:

“A Subway foot-long sandwich that this guy had in the leg of his cargo pants. It was held in place by a large rubber band around his ankle.”

When asked for the worst behavior they’ve seen in a theatre:

“Someone threw soda on a person for talking too much and yelled, "You just got juiced!"

When asked why they prefer luxury seating:

“Some movies are boring and rather than leave, just sit back and take a nap.”

Have you learned surprising things about a particular demographic?

When looking at results we can focus in on any demographic, but we tend to zoom in on Millennials most frequently. In addition to confirming some of the conclusions that have already been made about the generation, such as them being more budget-conscious than their older counterparts or that they’re more likely to be “cord-cutters”, we’ve also learned that they value the entire moviegoing experience, rather than just the movie. They’re more likely than other generations to want bars, Wi-Fi lounges…any amenity that will improve their experience and make their time at the theatre feel more substantial. They’re also much more likely than other generations to choose a movie based on friends’ recommendations, as well as digital public-opinion indicators, such as the Rotten Tomatoes score or social-media sentiment.

Do you find that exhibitors are making good use of this research?

Absolutely. Many of our partners have told us how much they value the research, and will sometimes reach out to ask to expand on a specific data point that they’re particularly interested in. The goal of the “Ask the Audience” series is to make business decisions easier for our partners, and so far the feedback we’ve received indicates we’re accomplishing that. Here’s where we offer the friendly reminder that if you’re an exhibitor looking for data on a specific topic, contact and we can get your questions in front of the panel.

What’s the most constructive feedback you’ve gotten from theatre owners or managers?

Since beginning the “Ask the Audience” series, we have learned that we need to be as specific as possible when discussing technologies. Since there are so many companies out there dedicated to improving the moviegoing experience through visual and audio technology, we have to be careful to clearly identify which technology brand we’re referring to.

How does this initiative benefit NCM and fit with your business plan?

We originally launched the “Behind the Screens” panel so that we could gather data that would help our advertisers build the most successful campaign possible. As we began to accumulate more and more information and develop insights that were incredibly helpful to both our business and our advertisers, we realized we could take it a step further. By sharing our research with exhibitors of all sizes, we provide the data that our partners need to inform critical business decisions. Our goal is always to provide the best customer service possible and make our partners’ lives just a little bit easier, and “Ask the Audience” is another way for us to accomplish that.