The Cinema Audience in 2017

Fritz Kohle reports on the latest findings from and trends in audience analysis from IBC 2017.

Every year the film and TV industry gathers in Amsterdam at the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) to discuss how technology is shaping content, production, distribution and exhibition. Past keynote speakers have included James Cameron and, and panel discussions are led by illustrious figures such as Andrew Neill. Topics are broad-ranging: a recent discussion was called ‘Understanding Generation Z: where are they, how do you attract them and how do you make money from them?’.


This year I attended the IBC sessions called ‘Who is your Cinema Audience in 2017?’ to discover how the industry is planning to exploit user data to make profit.

Beer, action movies and the digital family

Panel member Owen Geddes of Devicescape was excited about the potential to track audiences, made possible by software embedded in mobile phones: it was revealed to the audience that  we now know cinemagoers drinking in a pub after the film are 64% more likely to have seen an action movie, for instance. To Ben Johnson of Gruvi, user data is key to understanding audiences. He discussed how capturing user data can identify a digitally-active family on the move simply by cross-referencing the screening times of a movie against location of devices: the family is tracked shopping for food and clothes in town after a screening – with kids getting to buy their fashion items and games as a reward for good behaviour.

This way audiences can be specifically targeted in certain locations and certain times, and this knowledge provides valuable intel on potential social media partners exhibitors may want to partner with: Geddes claims that making use of this information results in staggering click-through rates (CTR) of 14-20% instead of the more typical CTR rate of 0.1% for media rich ads. It is not surprising that proposed data protection laws by the EU (General Data Protection Regulation GDPR) are seen as a threat to user data exploitation; making money this way is a threat to privacy.

Day-and-date, the cinema experience and audience data

Hossein Ghonouie of Everyman Cinemas thinks that day-and-date releases (where a film is made available in cinemas, on DVD and VOD on the same day) are not a threat to box office revenues, if the film promises a strong cinema experience. He mentioned that it’s not just content alone that makes the cinema-going experience. Michael Zink of Warner Bros. Technology added that technology is key: audiences expect high quality screens and surround sound systems. Stijn Vanspauwen, country manager of the family-run exhibitor Kinepolis, wants to draw in families by redesigning the cinema to include Snapchat corners for millennials.

Stine Paskesen of Nordisk films, aims to shake up exhibition: according to her, cinema has ‘closed in on itself’ and she is looking into chatbots and more digital channels to engage audiences. Rosalie Moorman of Vue Cinemas wants exhibitors to run their own social media campaigns admitting that social media is not necessarily making it easier to market films: plenty of online content is needed to engage audiences. There is no shortage of data for her to dig into: Vue’s movie pass subscription scheme offers plenty of opportunities to engage with audiences and exploit user data. 

Social media, millenials and participation

Laura Houlgatte, CEO of UNIC found that teenagers are online for three hours a day, and listed the ways that social media is transforming the cinema experience: Odeon is using a booking chatbot helping customers buy tickets, Pathé Netherlands maintains a strong Youtube presence offering behind-the-scenes (BTS) content for each of its releases, and Ourscreen makes it possible for audiences to promote a film until a critical mass of fans have committed to booking a show in their local cinema.

According to Houlgatte, cinemas stimulate dialogue around a range of issues in local communities, and millenials are a key target making up 29% of the audience. Her research shows that 60% of 20-25 year olds watch movies after 6pm and mostly on weekends. She also described how different age groups use the cinema-going experience: a 13 year old goes to the cinema looking to be dazzled, 15-17 year olds watch movies to socialise with friends, while 18-25 year olds want to relax in the cinema.


Sarah Lewthwaite of Movio found that the over-fifties in the US are a large and ever-growing demographic, and their viewing habits are inverse to those of millenials: older viewers tend to watch movies before 6pm, prefer arthouse films to horror, and are loyal to their ‘screen family’ (actors of their generation who they may have made a connection with) which leads to the success of films like Taken (starring Liam Neeson) and Sully (starring Tom Hanks). Lewthwaite thinks that over-fifties are an underappreciated market segment that deserves more attention.


Why does this matter?

Exhibitors like Vue, Warner Bros and Kinepolis are beginning to understand that exploiting user data is key to audience engagement and the cinema experience: we learn that millennials and 50+ audiences are almost diametrically opposed in terms of their content and viewing preferences, yet the cinema can be the place to bring the digital family, millenials and over-fifties together. These exhibitors talk about the importance of event cinema, and are discussing the future of augmented and virtual reality as extensions of the cinema experience.

At the end of the sessions I was left thinking that the way documentary producers have been organising community screenings could help exhibitors transform cinemas into high-quality community screening centres. However, an effective social media campaign encompassing all production value chain elements – beginning with development and going all the way to exhibition – requires producers, distributors and exhibitors to work together more closely: BTS content, for example, is not always made available for a social media campaign.

Community-building and audience engagement requires a consistent strategy to establish a central network position; while distributors such as Dogwoof have a strong social media presence, others depend on the production company or the exhibitor to develop and implement a viable social media campaign. It is probably easier to guard a sack of fleas then get all stakeholders in the production, distribution and exhibition to agree to a consistent social media strategy, especially in the independent sector. Still, audiences expect to be dazzled, want to socialise, relax and participate: and because of user data the cinema can be the place to bring it all together again. For profit. At least for now.

Further reading

You can download the Movio report on millienials and 50+ cinemagoers here:
Download from Movio

The UNIC report on Innovation and the Big screen can be found here:
Download from UNIC

Gruvi’s report on Winning your Audiences is available for download here:
Download from Gruvi

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