Event Horizon: Alternative attractions continue to show big growth potential

Technology and New Products
Cinemas Features

In 2018, the event cinema industry continues to generate good business as a solid ancillary for the shrewd exhibitor who is acutely aware of the value of his real estate, the technical prowess of his auditoria, the loyalty of his customers and the potential rewards in his extensive database. 

We have seen wonderful examples of how the exhibitor, in partnership with dedicated event cinema distributors, is continuing to evolve the business model, especially in markets like Brazil, Argentina, the USA, Canada and Italy. The U.K. is a mature market now and arguably places an overreliance on the arts to keep its revenues consistently high—a short-term problem as long as this is addressed now, given the aging demographic that attends in such numbers—but in other markets we are seeing reinvention and innovation. Playing around with release dates and encores, along with the principle of scarcity vs. flooding the market, have all been at work recently, gaining the attention of customers and, more importantly, keeping it.

At our most recent ECA (Event Cinema Association) Conference held in London in February and attended by 250 industry professionals from all over the world, a panel on event cinema’s past ten years and future prospects considered aspects as varied as promoting multiple encores from the moment the tickets go on sale to 100-percent dedicated event cinema screens, something which Brad LaDouceur of Canada’s Cineplex has introduced so successfully the circuit is increasing the number from 12 to 30 this year.

In the last 12 months, we’ve seen success with sport, anime and gaming. Standout hits were the Mayweather-MacGregor fight, for which Vue Entertainment in the U.K. secured exclusive rights from Sky, and a well-timed and cleverly marketed global outing of anime hit Pokemon—I Choose You! that won a gold medal at our recent ECA Box Office Awards ceremony for admissions in excess of 500,000 worldwide.

The sense from the conference was that emerging markets are where the growth lies, and that the U.K. is both saturated with both arts content and providers of it. The key to future growth is connecting the dots to ensure that other industries see the excellent marketing exposure that a release in cinemas can offer them. The exploitation of data—a hot topic given the imminent implementation of the GDPR data-compliance standards across Europe in May—was a key point raised. Richard Robinson of Cambridge Analytica pointed out that while complex and laborious, the pursuit of deep, detailed data on individual buying habits is an essential component to understanding your audience.

Echoing this development, we have seen in the last year an increasing range of membership enquiries from China, Peru, Brazil, India, Indonesia, France and Germany, in addition to many more from the U.K., so the appetite for information and education in this area shows no sign of abating. Our mission to promote and support the industry means our remit is the same but the scope is larger than ever, and every territory has its own demands, idiosyncrasies and audiences. But that keeps the ECA continually evolving and on our toes. We have been canvassing our members to ensure that in 2018 our mandate now remains as relevant and vital as it was in 2012 when we launched.

In June last year, we hosted a fascinating look at China for the first time and invited ECA member Citylights Events from Shanghai to showcase what the landscape is looking like for distributors of content in this complex and problematic territory. The rewards will be large, but the obstacles are too, and while there are ways around the censorship issue, it will take time and a deep collaboration with exhibition and homegrown distribution companies to allow the huge potential in this market to grow.

What does the future hold? The sector is polished and well-established in key markets, producing a body of consistently good-quality work on a regular basis, provided by a small number of seasoned, passionate professionals who understand the risks of this business but stay committed anyway, sure in the knowledge they are providing their audiences with something rare and valuable—a true shared experience that can’t be replicated on a laptop, a smart TV or a tablet.

We are encouraged that in Southern Europe Giovanni Cozzi is hosting film festival Mallorca Arts on Screen in April this year, an industry first and a celebration of event cinema on a beautiful Balearic island. Supported by the ECA along with Unique Digital and featuring a large number of event cinema distribution companies based all over the world, this festival alone shows what strides have been made, how far we have come and how much potential there is to achieve in this exciting and increasingly vital area of exhibition.

Melissa Cogavin is managing director of the Event Cinema Association.