How theaters are going beyond studio marketing to attract moviegoers

A Regal Cinemas movie theater stands at night on 42nd Street in New York, U.S. on Tuesday, October 6, 2020.

Amir Hamja | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“If you build it, they will come.”

Universal’s president of domestic theatrical distribution borrowed the iconic line from “Field of Dreams” during the studios’ slate presentation at CinemaCon on Wednesday to describe how moviegoers are returning to theaters now that there’s a constant stream of content available.

Domestic ticket sales for the first four months of the year could be down around 44% from 2019 pre-pandemic levels, but theaters are seeing significant gains from last year.

Hit titles like “The Batman” from Warner Bros., “Sonic 2” from Paramount and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” from Marvel-Sony have driven a 338% increase in ticket sales from 2021, reaching $1.95 billion, according to Comscore data.

Operators are thrilled with the new titles and were reassured by studios throughout CinemaCon last week that they will continue to receive a slew of theatrical exclusives in the future.

For the most part, the day-and-date pandemic experiment is over and studios have used their time at the annual convention held at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas to tout their biggest and boldest tentpoles as well as showcase a variety of content.

Exhibitors, however, won’t rely solely on studios to draw consumers to theaters. A lack of product during the pandemic and a slow start to 2022 has led theater owners to be more aggressive in their marketing strategies, more innovative in food and beverage offerings, and more flexible in the type of content they broadcast on the big screen. .

A bold reminder for moviegoers

For major channels like AMC, Regal, and Cinemark, the focus has been on adding live event streams, like concerts, sports, and even Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, and upgrading its theaters with state-of-the-art projectors and audio systems.

Last month, AMC announced it was investing $250 million to bring Cinionic’s laser projectors to 3,500 of its U.S. auditoriums by 2026. Laser is widely seen as a step up from digital projection, offering brighter images and, therefore, a sharper image. The bulbs also don’t need to be replaced multiple times a year, meaning maintenance is much easier for theater operators.

Cinemas large and small have long partnered with IMAX and Dolby to bring large-format options to consumers, but updating digital projectors ensures that even those unwilling to pay extra for premium options will always enjoy a quality experience in cinemas. The hope is that this experience will inspire moviegoers to continue to leave their couches and return to the cinema for future film releases.

AMC went so far as to launch its first-ever ad campaign last September featuring Nicole Kidman with the tagline “we make movies better.” The company has invested approximately $25 million in the campaign.

“We wanted to make a bold and direct statement to remind moviegoers of that immersive, community-based, multi-sensory experience you can only get by seeing a movie in a theater,” said Alicia Cook, advertising director at AMC Theaters, during from a CinemaCon panel hosted by CNBC on Tuesday.

Traditionally, movie theater owners have relied on studios to promote movies and drive moviegoers to their local theaters. At the time of the announcement’s launch, AMC CEO Adam Aron said the company will no longer depend on “what has always worked before,” noting that the pandemic has pushed the industry into “waters unexplored”.

“We do crazy things”

Smaller chains with less access to major capital continue to invest in the theater experience by upgrading seating, projectors and sound equipment, but are increasingly using digital and social advertising to target their local communities.

“We’re more nimble than large organizations,” said Rich Daughtridge, president and CEO of Warehouse Cinemas, during Tuesday’s panel. “I think our superpower is in hosting events, but also creating those experiences around going to the movies. So we do some crazy stuff.”

Daughtridge said promotions range from offering margaritas with movie tickets to special “daddy-daughter” nights. Amid the pandemic, Warehouse Cinemas capitalized on the release of Solstice Studio’s “Unhinged” by hosting a car smash event during the film’s fifth week in theaters.

Customers who bought a ticket could swing on an old car, which would lead to a 2% increase in ticket sales compared to projections of what the film would have done if Warehouse had not hosted the event, has he declared.

Events at Reading Cinemas in Australia and New Zealand are a little quieter, according to Ben Deighton, the cinema chain’s chief marketing officer. A surprisingly popular event at one of its cinemas is a knitting club.

“We’ve just started knitting sessions…and the knitting clubs come in to watch a movie and knit,” he said during Tuesday’s panel, noting that the idea came from a local patron.

Starting this month, Cinepolis has launched a program called Self-care Sundays, which gives customers gold under-eye patches and a little popcorn with any ticket purchase.

“One of the things that we’ve naturally noticed over the years is people coming into our theaters and practicing their own care,” said Annelise Holyoak, senior national marketing and loyalty director at Cinepolis, during the panel. tuesday.

Each screening also includes a 10-minute mindfulness meditation to relax consumers before they enjoy their film.

“I think as marketers we tend to say ‘this movie is playing,’ ‘this movie is playing,'” Daughtridge said. about engagement let’s talk a bit more about why going to the movies is a good thing to do…I think the message we’re trying to get to create that engagement is more about why going to the movies makes sense than just the movie being played.

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