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Believe it or not, coronavirus could be the best thing to ever happen to cinema

The Drum 27 Aug 2020 11:15

Tom Jarvis, founder of the Wilderness Agency, believes that movie marketing is a relic of our analogue, VHS past. For better or worse, its reinvention comes now. Here’s how he would do it.

Imagine if Tesla spent millions of dollars selling you the chance to drive a car once. And then, three months later, spent the same money to sell you the same car, but this time you could take home and keep it.

Madness. But this is how movies are sold and promoted across the world.

It’s a relic of the advent of home video players, and an industry that didn’t want to relinquish control. So we have a situation where films are marketed in the cinema first and exclusively – the ‘theatrical window’ – and then resold via streaming/DVD some weeks later.

AMC and Universal in the US recently announced that they’re shortening the theatrical window from 75 to 17 days. But this is still 17 days when the cinemas can sit back and hope that punters come in, paying for the ‘experience’.

Films have been promoted in the same way for a century. We’ve been sold the ‘magic’ of cinema. But the standard experience of cinema hasn’t felt magical for many years. It’s time for a change.

But both as a marketer and as a cinephile, the current situation is a disaster. And the Covid-19 crisis could accelerate the change that movie fans and theatres all over the world deserve.

There should be no more theatrical window. Films should be released on all channels at the same time. Then studios might not churn out quite as many explosive thrillers/reductive superhero franchises. And cinemas can focus on getting people to actually, truly, want to be there.

It comes down to what really can be magical about the cinema – the experience of communal viewing.

The big multiplex cinema chains simply don’t react to events. Many of them don’t serve the communities around them. Many also have the privilege of being a ‘first run’ chain, which means they get the big releases before anyone else. So that’s the model they run with: get the big films in first and simply wait for customers. Meanwhile, the smaller chain and independents get the second and third runs, but work harder and more creatively to get people through the door.

In fact, Secret Cinema is an important example. Some of the biggest innovations in cinematic events in recent years have come from events and hospitality. It’s not just about Secret Cinema. We’ve seen outdoor film screenings all over major cities and even the resurgence of drive-in movies. Huge screens in bars, on rooftops, at historic venues. Were the 2016 Olympics or the Euros or the World Cup the biggest recent cinematic events? You could watch these on huge screens in venues in any city with groups of like-minded fans.

There are many in the cinema world who would like to suggest that sitting in the dark with a bucket of popcorn and 100 other people is a sort of quasi-religious experience. It isn’t. In fact, a lot of the time, a standard trip to the cinema can be disappointing. But a truly communal viewing experience can be life-affirming. Let’s level the playing field and give people a real reason to go back to the cinema.

Last month, The Drum interviewed top cinema companies about how they are returning to business.

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Tom JarvisWilderness AgencyTeslaSecret CinemaAMC
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