Knowledge Is Power: New online hub Cineplace gives event cinema marketplace the tools it needs to succeed

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Film Journal International has written a lot about event cinema: its potential, its challenges, the way it’s grown over the last handful of years from the odd opera screening here and there to an industry that pulls in many millions of dollars per year. The audience is there. So is the content. So are the theatres. And now comes U.K.-based Cineplace, per its website “an event cinema platform, designed to grow the event cinema market.”

Cineplace was founded by Joe Evea, who previously worked in magazine publishing before moving on to work with Digital Cinema Media, which provides advertisements to U.K. theatre chains. “I was always fascinated by event cinema, because it’s an essential and yet almost undervalued part of the cinema world, in a way,” Evea says. “Over the last few years, we’ve moved from a society of people who like stuff to a society of people who are getting more out of experiences. Event cinema can provide that experience.”

And Cineplace can provide data on event cinema: on what content’s available, where fans of that content are located, and how best to bring that content to audiences.

A major difference between event cinema in the U.K. and the U.S., Evea explains, is that the former enjoys a much less diversified landscape. Last year, Fathom Events had 26 titles that grossed over a million dollars in North America. Of those 26, nine were collaborations with the Metropolitan Opera. The other seventeen fell under a variety of other verticals, among them anime, sports and faith-based content. The U.S., Evea argues, “has been able to attract new types of content,” whereas in the U.K. event cinema is still overwhelmingly dominated by the performing arts, like opera, ballet and theatre.

The problem is that, while the number of arts events has increased over the last several years, the number of people attending them has stayed more or less steady. You do the math: More screenings sharing the same number of guests equals a growing number of empty seats, which erodes the community aspect that makes event cinema so valuable. Says Evea, “If the cinemas are starting to empty because there’s too much content and not enough of an audience, then the whole genius of it is at risk.”

It’s a problem that Cineplace seeks to tackle by providing demographic data useful to theatres and event cinema distributors alike. This Smart Data tool, as described on the website, “uses a wide range of marketing data to cross-reference consumer habits against locations across the United Kingdom, with the intention of ranking cities by their potential reach to a target audience.” In other words: You know opera’s big, but you also know there are opera fans who have never been to an opera event at their local movie theatre, possibly because they don’t know about them. Cineplace’s data—a combination of demographic statistics; insight from social media about what people are passionate about; and information gathered through a partnership with Powster, a London-based company that designs innovative websites and online tools to connect studios and fans—can bring to light untapped audiences in specific areas across the U.K.

With Cineplace’s data, theatres can also move beyond U.K. event cinema’s opera stalwart. Music, animation, eSports, film (specialized documentaries and cult films, for example) and sports, all with their own sub-categories, are also represented in Cineplace’s Smart Data section. Knowing where fans of, for example, League of Legends (a videogame and absolute behemoth in the eSports landscape) are located can remove some of the risk factor of programming events tailored to those fans. Evea calls the data provided by Cineplace a “distribution roadmap” that can prove useful to everyone from independent theatre owners to managers of theatres owned by a massive company.

Having precise information on potential audience members—what they’re fans of, where they live, how many of them there are—helps ameliorate a problem that has always plagued event cinema: awareness. A theatre that programs a first-run movie has the benefit of a studio-run marketing campaign to help gets butts in seats. Event cinema distributors, particularly in the U.K., tend to be too small to have those kinds of resources. “You don’t necessarily have the marketing power that some of the big film distributors have,” Evea explains. That makes taking a risk on something new—something not opera, say—a daunting prospect. With data at your back, Evea explains, what theatre owners and managers are looking at is a “calculated risk.”

“When you think about it,” Evea continues, getting the word out about event cinema is in some cases easier than relying on studio marketing for major releases. For example, “I know how many Manchester United fans there are in Manchester. I don’t know how many Fast and Furious fans there are in Manchester, or how many The Shape of Water fans there are. So if I was to put on a football event for Manchester United, I would have a rough idea how to reach those people and tell them about it.”

Of course, a hypothetical theatre owner knowing that an eEports event might play well in their town doesn’t do much good if they don’t know what eSports events distributors have on offer. That’s where Cineplace’s events database comes into play. “The original concept…was to digitally connect cinemas and distributors,” Evea says. “With film, most cinemas have their own film bookers. That isn’t the case for event cinema. Often there isn’t much information freely available to either cinemas to find out what’s available, or to content owners to find out about cinemas where they should put their content.”

Evea stresses that latter point: Cineplace is for those who make content and those who show it alike. “You want some of these content providers to start understanding the value of cinema,” he argues. “For a lot of them, cinemas aren’t the first thing that come into their minds. A lot of these content providers think: TV, bars, online. But there’s some amazing content out there that’s perfect for the big screen. You’ve got to start getting the content owners to think differently about it.”

Evea stresses that Cineplace doesn’t have “all the answers—but we’re here to make people think about [event cinema] a bit differently and make more relevant decisions.” Event cinema, after all, is a relatively new thing in the overall scheme of distribution; from theatre managers to theatre owners to content providers, everyone’s still figuring out what works. That includes Cineplace itself, which has gotten in on the event cinema distribution game with, among others, the concert film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!, the latter in collaboration with Fathom Events. “[We wanted to] walk the walk rather than just talking the talk,” Evea explains, “so that we could get a real perspective on how the industry works.”

A huge part of that is knowing how to craft the optimal event cinema experience. It’s not one-size-fits-all, which Cineplace makes clear with downloadable guides tailored to different types of content. Evea holds up eSports events as an example. “These guys are there for six or seven hours. They don’t want to sit there in the dark. They want the lights halfway up. They want to move seats. They want to get up and do something in the foyer. They want to buy concessions. It’s a completely different environment—one which can have real value to cinemas. If someone’s there for six hours, they might make three trips to concessions if they feel welcome.”

Currently, Cineplace has data on the U.K. and Germany. Following its official launch in April, Evea notes, the plan is to “gradually cover the rest of Europe and then move beyond, so that it can be used by the entire industry.” Theatres and distributors in more and more countries, over the course of time, will be able to use Cineplace—the information, knowledge and concrete data it provides—to navigate the growing world of event cinema. In doing so, audience members will benefit.

Says Evea, “The beauty of cinema is that you’ve got a screen the size of a double-decker bus, amazing sound and a community environment. That’s very, very difficult to replicate. If you’re a content owner who is producing content for an audience who loves it, cinema is still an amazing place to showcase that. And that underpins the whole theory of what we’re doing.”