As an industry that relies on footfall, the cinema was among one of the many to suffer acutely at the turn of the decade. Just as the box office was bouncing back, rising in 2022 and in 2023, one of the largest providers of international money-makers went on strike. First, it was the Hollywood writers, who went on strike for 148 days, and then Hollywood actors followed suit. The faces of so many of the most popular films each year went on strike for four months.
So, the remaining cinemas were just about building back to 2019 levels – and even that was a time of streaming seemingly eating away at audiences – and then the source of their offerings just stopped working for months. It’s put huge delays on several projects, resulting in some being pushed back, and others being released seemingly unpolished. Can cinema survive another hit like this?
An upswing at the box office
In 2019, box-office revenue in the US and Canada – the coveted domestic market of Hollywood – sunk slightly to $11.32 billion. This was a dip from a 30-year peak of $11.89 billion in 2018, and it revealed continued, but relatively quaint growth, from the $11.13 billion made in 2016. At this time globally, the $42.3 billion made at the box office showed consistent growth, up from $41.8 billion in 2018 and $36.4 billion in 2014.
Of course, 2020 hit distinct lows. For the US and Canada, that low was $2.1 billion, and globally, revenues went down to $11.8 billion. In 2021, both shot up to $4.48 billion domestically and $21.3 billion worldwide. In 2022, the US and Canada jumped to $7.37 billion and are expected to clear $9 billion when 2023’s official numbers come into play. In 2020, online streaming really took off with people staying indoors.
Common thinking is that this hindered cinema’s comeback. However, now there’s been a change of thinking in Hollywood. As explored by Fortune.com, investors were demanding an all-in battle in video OTT services, but they now realize that companies need to make money on their productions. With streaming platforms being so cagey about viewing figures, the only logical move was to make real record cash at the box office again. Still, even they can’t decide to screen or stream a film that’s not written yet.
Cinemas need to find their own boosts
The first port of call for cinemas looking to claw back more of the audience should be a marketing technique that’s not even used by streaming platforms, and that’s often ignored by some cable and satellite television providers. Loyalty programs and bonuses for customers can go a very, very long way. Bonuses.com showcases that exclusive promotions are a huge draw in iGaming, listing 200 providers with offers. Most online casinos need to offer a new customer bonus and run a stream of promotions. Cinemas could do very much the same with a truly appealing loyalty program.
On iGaming platforms, players essentially get free time on games. For cinemas, this could take the form of points or a ticket to stub multiple times that can be converted into free tickets. Alternatively, free drinks and popcorn – even though they’re the real money-makers – could be earned through repeat attendance. Maybe even offer exclusive early screenings to those who save enough stubs.
Many theatre chains are looking into other ways to make the experience even better. The NYTimes.com relays that heated lounge chairs, fully reclining chairs, moving chairs that flow with the film, blasts of air to align with windy movie scenes, and even side screens are being experimented with by some. Others are adding more beverages and even sushi to the offering. The thinking seems to be that the cinematic experience needs to be more distinct and immersive than the home viewing experience.
However, customers just want to be entertained and get as much as they can for their money. Of course, the core of it all is the movies. Variety has to be the aim while the so-called franchises become dull. Barbie, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and Oppenheimer are the highest-earning films of the year. Speak nothing of the immaculate Godzilla Minus One, which we reviewed at RunPee.com, and its surprise haul purely because of word of mouth.
More films from other cultures and more indie hits brought to the fore in a similar way to what A24 is doing will help tremendously, but so too would something like a strong loyalty scheme.
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