How the cinema industry can boost occupancy to 71%

by: Lucinda Southern on 03 March 2015

The cinema industry seems antiquated in todays’ subscription-based digital models, and this is undoubtedly part of its charm, but as we’ve seen examples of in the past, it must adapt in order to survive

A sobering statistic is that that occupancy rates for cinemas over 12 months is 15%. Ourscreen is boosting this to an average of 71%.

In the UK, the success of events like Secret Cinema, where thousands of people attend a themed event where the film is screened, shows that the cinema experience is one under flux. But there is still very much a need for social participation in this instance, and it is having an effect on the product and the distribution tactics on offer.

“It is undeniable that products are changing,” Kurran Malhotra, director of operations at Ourscreen, tells 12ahead, “the public are the ones dictating what they want.” And there are increasing numbers of cases where filmmakers are letting audiences chose what they want, such as David Cross's recent directoral debut film HITS, which documents viral YouTube fame in America. Its release epitomises a more democratic way of fundraising projects, and then charging for them through a trial pay-what-you-want system. Cross is letting fans choose what they want to view the film, as little as $1, with 90% of the profits going to payback actors and producers. 

Ourscreen offers a more ‘people powered’ cinema experience, where members of the public choose which films to they want to see and then organise a screening.

A sobering statistic is that that occupancy rates for cinemas over 12 months is 15%, and with rates this low it is an industry that slow to adapt. Ourscreen is boosting this to an average of 71%.

The company’s longer-standing competitor most notably is Tugg, which allows lets people chose their own screenings, although it works on a voting system, rather than a commitment model that Ourscreen opts for. This, as well as a more robust user experience, makes the booking and attending a screening through Ourscreen more integrated and streamlined.

Cinemas sign up for free and release their down-time slots that they are keen to fill. Audiences organising a private screening decide how many people they want to invite and the cinema calculates how much the ticket price comes in at. Once that threshold is met the payments are taken, or if they aren’t met the cinema has a week before the scheduled time to fill the seats in more conventional ways, making the process risk free for all parties, Ourscreen’s three stakeholders; the event hosts, cinema venues and rights holders.

Malhotra explains how Ourscreen worked with digital agency Rockpool to design and build the platform, bringing together digital specialists and cinema-industry experts. Malhotra says the idea began to take shape in early 2012. Having previously worked with big clients like Sky where budget restraints were less of an issue, this project required more agile methodologies.

“We knew we needed to maximise time in an innovative way,” explains Kurran Malhotra, director of operations at Ourscreen, explaining the team began work September 2013. “We had a two month scoping and discovery time where we looked behind the motives of the project, rather than what the solution should be, so we made sure we kept to the high level objectives.”

Weekly sprints and full-day workshops, developments signed off in the morning and next steps decided on in the afternoon, meant that the team stayed on time and on budget, going live in March 2014.

Malhotra outlines that the most successful films on Ourscreen had previously been rejected by cinemas for wider release, but after having been made public on the platform and garnered success, the cinemas were keen to re-release.

Northern Soul was is an example of this in action, ¾ million people saw the film bringing back to wider release, showing the power of targeting and tapping into a niche and engaged audience.

It’s active in 27 UK cinemas, while there is no reason why it can’t be available in all cinemas nationwide, and has over 12,000 subscribers and deals with all the major rights holders standing it in good stead for future growth, as well as receiving press attention and several awards.

“The industry is slow to change, but it has to change, the model needs to prove itself,” explains Malhutro, “There needs to be an impetus, there needs to be a drive for all of this to be able to happen.” The drive here is people, and the industry is starting to catch up with handing over some control to audiences, a move that will result in increasing the bottom line.