Long live cinema: what the future holds for Australia’s first AV medium

As published in mumbrella Aug 11, 2021

The big screen experience is here to stay, argues Involved Media’s head of strategy and planning, Dan Hojnik.  

We have a tendency to oversensationalise things in advertising and media. Not that it’s always a bad thing, as it often comes with the job description, but sometimes it does more harm than good.

Our industry is so focused on preparing for the future and new up-and-coming formats, that we often forget to look back and see that things haven’t completely died… they’ve just evolved.

In reality, there isn’t a mainstream media channel that has completely died out. Our traditional media have evolved, and reach more people now than ever in the past.

Linear TV audiences have declined, yet screen agnostic AV reaches more people than ever (thanks VOZ)

Printed newspaper editions have less readership yet online news audiences are large and more engaged than ever before.

Ringing the death knell is dangerous rhetoric that can result in missed opportunity and comes at a real detriment to the client. I’ve noticed one channel, in particular, deserves a second look. It’s cinema, and it’s not dead, it is just evolving with the times.

The elephant on the screen: ‘Premier Access’ 

The on-again-off-again lockdowns that have hit Australia in the past year or so have really disrupted the cinema business. Often, films are going straight to streaming via one of the premier services, which comes at a cost.

Further to the $12.99 monthly Disney+ subscription, I paid an additional $35 to watch the latest Marvel film Black Widow during Melbourne lockdown 5.0. That is steep for our DINKs household, so I am also including my dog Johnny in the math to be kind to Disney’s Premier Access model. Here’s where I went wrong: I tried to replicate the cinema experience, only to fall flat. Short of having a large cinema room at home, the experience was nowhere near as immersive, or awe-inspiring as popping down to the local cinema.

Once out of lockdown (although short-lived), the first thing my wife did was book a cinema experience. Partly because it was a necessary dose of escapism from our own lounge, but also because it comes packaged as a whole experience: quasi-overpriced snacks, a cold dark hollow room, the inability to use your phone and booming bass. Hell, I really did miss it.

Watching a movie in your own home, regardless of if it is new or not, cannot replace the cinema experience and the escapism it delivers. I’ll say it again – cinema is not going anywhere, it’s just adapting to the pandemic.

What to expect next from cinema

Cinema to become the premier escapist experience for a COVID-19 affected Australia as it opens back up

Becoming a date night essential once again, people will turn to cinema as an easy and cheap way to escape. Pre-COVID, Roy Morgan research put cinema attendance at an average of four times per year for most Australians. Right now, there is a backlog of new release content, and as the country begins to see vaccination rates increase, the cinema will be ready to welcome back its patrons.

The rise of the cinema+ experience

LUX/Gold Class spend per head increased more than 30% as the nation started to come out of lockdown last year. People place a higher value on the experience cinema can deliver and therefore are willing to spend more on it. We saw the resurgence of the drive-in, moonlight open-air cinema during summer, and even the Mov’in Boat “floating experience.”’. Looking to the rest of the world, this is just the start of the cinema+ experience. We see trends such as Secret Cinema emerging, delivering so much more than just the experience on the screen with a cinema x interactive theatre hybrid. People crave more from the limited experiences they can have so it is only natural that we push the boundaries of what can be delivered with the medium.

Emotion combined with experience builds brands, so what better place than cinema?

Every exposure, impression or rating is not equal. There is something to be said in the emotional quality of advertising as well as reach, which powers growth for brands. In a world where people need the brands they use and subscribe to be an extension of themselves, more emotion driving media will be what delivers results and success for brands. Brands that align with the cinema experience will see significant emotional impact on their audiences and deliver long-term growth effects to their businesses. We must also acknowledge that cinema is one of the main media that doesn’t involve the distraction of mobile phones.

Cinema is not going out with a whimper; it is coming back with a bang

Pre-pandemic, global cinema attendance was at an all-time high. As Australia recovers with more of its population being vaccinated by the day, we can safely assume that cinema will pick up where it left off.

Looking at Australian cinema performance following every major global economic crisis over the past 40 years, we consistently see cinema delivering between 14% to 20% growth coming out of every crisis (source: MPDAA).

Like those before it (print, I’m looking at you) cinema won’t really die. In fact, its sensationalised death will only add to its appeal. The irony of the pandemic is that it has put a stop to cinema for now, but when it’s over, people will see the true value of the medium and the unmatchable experience it can deliver.

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Dan Hojnik