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Payments at the movies: cinemas invest in innovation and experience to keep streaming fans interested

With streaming services more popular than ever, how are technology and increasingly innovative experiences helping drive ticket sales for cinemas?

10 Feb 2020 04:30

February is here and awards ceremonies like the Oscars and BAFTA are in full swing. The past 12 months have seen cinemas showing blockbusters and critically acclaimed films. Some of the shortlisted films include Joker, JoJo Rabbit, Parasite, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 1917 and Little Women.

But what about all the films that never make it to the cinema? Research from the Entertainment Retailers Association has found that more than 80 per cent of entertainment spending is now on internet-based services. The research also shows that video streaming is entertainment’s fastest-growing sector, up 9.5 per cent in 2019 to £2.6bn. 2019 represented a milestone year for streaming services, with films The Irishman, Two Popes and Marriage Story enjoying a limited theatrical release and Netflix Originals receiving 24 nominations overall – more than any other studio this year.

As streaming services change the dynamics of the small screen, how are cinemas working to stay relevant and maintain their popularity?

Are we still going to the cinema?

Video may have killed the radio star, but UK cinemas are holding on – and, in many cases, thriving in the experience economy. That said, three years ago, things looked a little more uncertain, with one BBC report identifying a 35 per cent drop in box-office takings. Following this wobble, the movie business didn’t take long to recover – 2018 saw the best year at the UK box office since 1971. Statistics from the British Film Institute show there were 177m movie admissions, with films taking £1.387 billion collectively that year. According to Barclaycard spend figures, cinema spending was up 6.3 per cent year-on-year in 2018, with big releases including Avengers: Infinity War, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Bohemian Rhapsody and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. This growth took place against an economic backdrop where many other sectors saw a contraction in growth.

2019 also saw strong growth in entertainment, with big Disney hits including Toy Story 4 and the much-anticipated live-action remake of The Lion King in July as well as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Frozen II fuelling strong growth in ticket sales (+19%) in December propping up the whole of non-essential expenditure at 2.4 per cent growth.

Yes, streaming is an increasingly important part of the entertainment landscape, but it seems the cinema still holds an important place in our hearts.

Not a competition

One 2018 report conducted by EY found that the cinema and streaming actually complement one another; people who go to more movies in theatres tend to also consume more streaming content.

Streaming content and visiting the cinema is simply a different kind of experience. At a basic level, there’s something delightfully nostalgic about sitting down in front of the big screen with a bucket of popcorn. It’s a great day or night out,  for friends, couples and teenagers looking for something to do – especially as many cinema chains cut prices.

Seamless payments

Like most consumer sectors, seamlessness and convenience are massive drivers in the entertainment sector, particularly when it comes to paying. In your local multiplex, online booking, e-tickets and monthly passes paid for via direct debit are giving movie-goers the slick experience they want – so much so that we already barely notice them anymore.

Creating an unforgettable experience

Morning events suitable for babies, as well as dementia and autism-friendly screenings, are all improving the movie-going experience by prioritising inclusivity for all. If watching a film in 3D isn’t enough for thrill-seeking cinema-goers, you can also experience 4D ‘extreme cinema’, with scent, wind and water effects and strobe lighting.

Those seeking a more boutique experience can head to their local picturehouse, where many theatres have ditched the rickety, uncomfortable seats in favour of big, comfy chairs and artisan snacks and drinks – in many cinemas you can even get table service.

Sensory and immersive viewing is a huge trend in the cinema space at the moment, as boutique and pop-up theatres seek to offer fans an experience they can’t get anywhere else. With its trailblazing bespoke themed nights including audience participation, cosplay and immersive theatre elements, Secret Cinema is offering film nights like no other.

There are plenty more immersive cinema experiences; watch iconic movies along with a full orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall; experience aroma, texture and taste with mystery snack boxes tailored to the film you’re watching at Edible Cinema (boxes are numbered according to various moments in the films), and navigate the way to your seat through hidden doors and passageways at Backyard Cinema. If you can dream it; chances are that a cinema near you is doing it, with outdoor cinemas in hot tubs, on rooftops, on water, in caravans and accompanied by full orchestras.

As streaming becomes more popular, cinema is undeniably facing challenges in today’s market from the ability to access content in new and different ways. By innovating and creating a more unique live experience, along with showcasing crowd-pleasing big budget films, cinemas are winning the fight to keep the big-screen experience alive.