Despite a plethora of different ways, both legal and otherwise, to watch films these days, the UK’s cinema market has proved resilient and the prospect of watching a film on the big screen continues to draw in crowds. However, the cinema environment has evolved considerably.
Increasingly cinemas are polarised between larger format screens, often with a comprehensive food and beverage offer attached and equipped with the latest technology to give a full, multi-sensory watching experience, and an increasing number of smaller establishments – some of which are independents, others arthouse chains – focused on providing a more intimate, personal viewing experience.
Dominating the former category are Odeon and Cineworld, both of which enjoyed a rise in admission numbers and revenues last year. Cineworld in particular is set to continue expanding in 2016, adding another 13 sites to the 18 it opened in 2015 – top of its wish list are sites big enough to accommodate cinemas of over 50,000 sq ft.
At the other end of spectrum, smaller, boutique cinemas are also performing well. Focused on comfort, often by offering higher quality food, alcohol and larger reclining seats, and holding special screening events, these cinemas typically appeal to demographic that differs to that of their multiplex cousins.
Picturehouse and Everyman, which are chain operators (Picturehouse is owned by Cineworld) but have successfully retained an arthouse vibe, are also set to grow. Everyman has recently announced that it intends to have opened or be committed to up to 25 new sites by 2021, while Picturehouse opened a new seven-screen flagship on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue in 2015.
However, a third category of film screening has started to emerge: event cinema. Mirroring trends in retail, people are prepared to pay significantly more for a unique, bespoke film experience – particularly one that lends itself to be shared on social media. Just how much more can be seen in the runaway success of Secret Cinema, which sold more than 100,000 tickets at over £50 each for its four-month run of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back over the summer of 2015.
Other events, such as sing-a-long screenings, outdoor showings, or even floating cinemas, allow audiences to engage with a film on a new level, while allowing cinema operators to add a premium to ticket prices.
The experience of the cinema-goer today is very different to that of 30 or even 15 years ago, but one thing remains the same: the lure of seeing a film on the big screen, whether it’s the latest in a superhero franchise or a Palme D’Or winner, shown at your local high street cinema or against the backdrop of Somerset House, remains undimmed.