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UKCA Conference on Growing Audiences for the Big Screen Experience – 5-6 March

On 5 and 6 March, the UK Cinema Association hosted a conference on "Growing Audiences for the Big Screen Experience." The event took place at the British Film Institute and gathered colleagues from across the UK cinema sector and beyond for a dynamic programme of presentations and panels.

The first day of the conference started with an opening address from Phil Clapp, Chief Executive of the UK Cinema Association, and a box office update by Nena Loncar from Comscore.

This was followed by a presentation on "Mapping the audience multiverse" by Ruth Hinton from Vue International on the current landscape of cinema-goers and how cinemas can tap into relevant mindsets and preferences to get people to visit more frequently and for more diverse content, as well as opportunities to grow new audiences.

Rhianna Dhillon from Into Film brought four young members of the Into Film’s Youth Advisory Council on stage to discuss young audiences’ cinema-going habits – what motivates them, what the barriers are and their thoughts about the theatrical slate. The conference continued with a presentation from Phil Guy,MUBI, showcasing their recent film promotion campaigns addressed to young adults. The session on Repertory Cinema brought case studies from Park Circus, Prince Charles Cinema, Watershed and The Light Cinemas on how classics and cult films can attract new audiences and targeted demographics with dedicated film cycles and special events. 

After lunch, the conference put a spotlight on an audience engagement initiative from Denmark, the Danish Cinema Club. Lykke Lind Thomsen presented this nationwide scheme launched in 1995, which counts now about 250,000 members who can watch a carefully curated selection of 10 newly released films per year at half price in all Danish cinemas. This project not only attracts new cinema-goers but also increases the frequency of the existing audience. Afterwards, a series of short presentations by the regional hubs of the BFI Film Audience Network brought practical examples where small investments and active grassroots engagement have stimulated audience appetite for films. The following spotlight focused on an innovative marketing strategy from South Africa. AB Moosa from the Avalon Group and CineCentre Cinemas explained the impact of the custom-designed rewards programme introduced for cinemas launched in May 2023. 

Alex Lewis,Warner Bros, presented the studio’s marketing strategy around the releases of Barbie and Wonka, including digital marketing, outdoor advertising, cinema events and user-generated content.

The afternoon continued with a session led by Lauren Greene from Movio and Tom Linay from Digital Cinema Media titled “Looking back to look ahead: using 2023 insights to engage the 2024 audience”. They dove into key insights and analysis from 2023’s cinema-goers looking at learnings from the success of ‘Barbenheimer’, most attractive titles to the Gen Z and trends in audience spending habits. It followed an overview of less-known titles which could be box office hits in 2024.

The last session of the first day focused on event cinema, with a panel discussion moderated by Grainne Clarke involving British event cinema producers and distributors exchanging on successful 2023 titles and take-aways for the upcoming shows.

The second day began with an executive roundtable moderated by Sharon Reid of Cinema First, with senior representatives from Disney, Warner Bros, Cineworld, Vue International and Savoy Cinemas. The panellists discussed the state of the sector, the impact of the US strikes on the film slate, evolving business models and the changing nature of film marketing, as well as the need for greater collaboration between exhibition and distribution.

This was followed by a Spotlight from “We are Parable” a British company focusing on exhibiting and distributing films and film events on Black Cinema. Showtime Analytics then presented a new strategy to increase film discovery, allowing customers to actively contribute in the decision-making process of film selection and programming of their favourite cinema.

The following session was titled “How can cinemas embrace marketing innovations across social media?”, featuring a panel of social media expert from exhibition and Tik Tok, moderated by Michelle Stevens of Powster. The discussion revolved around tips for a winning social media strategies, successful Tik Tok trends in cinema entertainment and do’s & don’ts on social media for cinemas. 

The conference moved to a focus on accessibility with a presentation by Built for Good, showing their new closed caption AR glasses for deaf or hard of hearing audiences, which will be soon rolled out nationwide. This was followed by an update from Medicinema, a charity which builds, installs and runs state-of-the-art cinemas in hospitals, giving patients and their families the magic and joy of the big screen experience.

Afterwards, Malcolm MacMillan from The Boxoffice Company shared practical advice on how cinemas can use technology and marketing to drive ticket sales and alternative revenue streams through websites and other digital channels.

The conference came to a close with a final update on the UKCA’s project in collaboration with Zero Carbon Forum to put in place a Road Map to Net Zero for the exhibition sector, with the goal of supporting the Association members in reducing their carbon footprint and environment impact.

A huge thanks to the entire UKCA team for a great event and we’re already looking forward to the next one! You can find the full programme here.

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