"If cinemas are to survive, they will once again have to change." We love cinemas at isobel. And as they open up this week, we've taken a closer look at what their future might hold.
Cinema Revolution. Coming Soon.
Growing up, we had a big TV. By that I mean the actual size of the TV box was big. The screen was small in comparison.
Watching “the latest movies” meant renting a VHS from the video store. Mum would let me choose three and I’d watch at least one of them back to back. That nostalgic mechanical churning sound of a tape rewinding, speeding up a gear, clicking into place and being automatically ejected is oddly comforting.
Then there was the cinema. The first film I remember seeing there was a re-run of Star Wars A New Hope. It was a small building with one screen that rarely had the latest films. It didn’t have a brand. It was just called Cinema. And it was run by mostly teenagers and film obsessed light technicians.
I was one of the last generations to enjoy that Cinema. It closed down, beaten by the rising out of town multiplexes. Huge temples of film with as many as 12 screens, arcade machines and a bowling alley planted next door.
What happened was a revolution in technology and viewing habits. Cinemas suddenly got more expensive, going up from £5 a ticket to near £17. But people didn’t seem to mind. These cinemas had many more showings — always of the latest films — and absolutely humungous screen sizes. Crick-your-neck-sized screens. The bigger the screen the better the film, right?
Things stayed like that for a time. But in the background, VHS became DVD, DVD became Blueray, Blueray became Netflix and TV screens became so affordable that I’ve somehow ended up with a small collection of flat screens I don’t use.
Nowadays, the home cinema experience has a lower entry point than ever. Especially in this new age of streaming. Cinemas find their customer base shrinking, as many more of us choose to go sparingly. Less frequent cinema trips lead to inflated ticket prices and thus begins a slow and painful decline from the days of multiplex dominance.
The pandemic has accelerated this decline and put immense pressures on cinema chains across the world. Worse, it’s laid the foundation for studios to go straight to TV screens, weakening the allure of the silver screen even more.
If cinemas are to survive, they will once again have to change. The draw of the latest films and bigger screens isn’t what it used to be. But there is a growing market of people thirsting for experiences.
Everyman and Picture House know this. They’ve built their brands around comfort and luxury and more “Grown up” cinema-ing. Cinema ticket prices are rising, yes, but there’s a growing appetite for the comfort of a sofa all to yourself, or the luxury of table service — gourmet food and maybe a pint with your film.
Going to the cinema, it seems, is no longer about seeing the latest movies — more and more you can do that at home. It’s about having shared experiences, treating yourself in the way you might treat yourself to a nice meal in a restaurant or a trip to an art gallery.
The shift to an experience economy is not new. It’s not even new in the cinema realm, with Secret Cinema taking the top spot for out-there memorable experiences. What is new, is the pent-up frustration felt by many who have been unable to have new experiences throughout the pandemic (excluding the new experience that we’ve all collectively shared since the 16th of March 2020).
There will likely be a surge in cinema demand as restrictions begin to lift. If the streaming industry continues its trajectory, this surge could be short lived. And, of course, any surge will depend on what films are out. Fingers crossed for DUNE.
But short lived or not, all this attention on cinemas is an opportunity for them to not just show consumers what they’ve been missing, but remind them why cinemas are better than couches.
Written by Alex Hamilton.