Millenials and the Future of Cinema

By Irina Kobzeva-Pavlovic | June 25, 2015 4:19 am PDT
MPAA 2014 Per Capita Attendance By Age

The following editorial has been adapted from a post written by Irina Kobzeva-Pavlovic, Director of Marketing and Business Development at TK Architects International which was published on the company’s blog.

One of the common themes at the CinemaCon in Las Vegas this year seemed to be addressing the issue of decreasing cinema attendance of the young generation, often referred to as millenials.

It has become a challenge for filmmakers and exhibitors to involve those born right before and after 90’s due to various reasons.

According to 2014 Theatrical Statistics Summary (PDF) by Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the share of moviegoers under age 50 has slowed down. The number of tickets sold for ages between 18-40, as well as per capita by the same age, has continued to decrease over the years as well (see chart below).

What may be contributing to these alarming trends?

The first reason of a possible decrease in movie attendance is rapid technology development. The millennials are constantly bombarded by technology, and seem to be living in an almost virtual digital world, surrounded by social media and mobile phone apps, where any film, games, communication and other entertainment options are readily available at just a tip of your fingers.

They can access anything, anyhow at any time. They are learning faster, they are multi-taskers… It’s an ‘always-on’ generation.

The millennial developed in the middle of a technological age and that makes them far different than the Boomers and even Generation-X. A filmmaker and exhibitor should understand these differences and make certain adjustments perhaps in how a film is presented and to which target groups.

A second factor a cinema exhibitor may need to pay attention to would be financial influences. The millennials were born and raised during years of recession, and have learned to be more careful with extra spending money. A lot of them have been struggling with unemployment and extremely high education loans, leaving them cautious about spending their extra funds on entertainment and cinema-going, especially with so many internet and technology options readily available in the latter years. Some millennials choose alternative film watching options or other forms of entertainment, such as at-home movie and television streaming.

We hear that TV still plays an integral part of the media mix for promoting a film and no one can refute the scale of its reach to general consumers. However, the evolving relationship between this all-important millennial audience and the TV in their bedroom or living room means that the big screen and second screens are increasingly proving their worth ahead of their allocated media spend and as a critical part of the media mix.

MPAA 2014 Trends In Age Group Tickets Sold
Source: MPAA

So what can motivate one to get off of his or her couch and move on to viewing a film on a big screen?

This is where spectacular design comes into play.

A general advice we heard at CinemaCon was:

Partner with them [the millennial generation] – move incrementally towards them. When you get to know this generation, work with them, they will share the experience they want to have. Listen for possibilities. Co-create an experience. It’s good business practice.

Multiplexes offering a variety of entertainment options beyond movies may be the latest trend that most cinema owners are going with. Arcades, gaming and entertainment seem to be well accepted especially by younger audiences who come to theaters to socialize and for recreational purposes. From bowling to photo-booths, indoor amusement machines, racing simulators, seem to keep the customer satisfaction higher, allowing a tenant to spend more time and money at the facility, as well as increase returning customers.

In-theatre dining, is yet another option. It works for young families limited on time and cash, who often have to choose between a dinner and a movie or seeking an alternate activity together with their kids. So, why not have both available at the same place and location. A variety of options, from in-theater dining with food brought directly to patrons in the auditorium to upscale gourmet restaurants and bars or cafes, there are a variety of choices that can be offered to a young movie goer right on the cinema premises.

And then, of course, being in tune with the developing technology is yet another strong trend. Many younger moviegoers come to the cinema with friends to socialize before, during and after the film. A lot of times movie goers prefer to stay in groups, and are constantly connected to a larger web of friends through digital devices, smart phones, social media and applications. A typical cinema, however, risks becoming an alienating experience for this generation just by asking them to turn off their electronic devices and sit quietly without interaction during the entire length of a film. So, perhaps not only social media (such as instant responses on Twitter), but cinema phone applications become an excellent way to keep the modern audience engaged and connected, while becoming a useful tool for providing feedback to the exhibitor regarding the audience’s likes, preferences and desires. It is important not to turn the younger tech-savvy generation away and keep them engaged and included, while not sacrificing the general movie going rules and regulations, which may be a challenge of its own.

A good example of a successful application to this approach employed by the theater chain Cinemark which offers users rewards in exchange for their promise to turn off their phones. This was executed with help from the Cinemark App/CineMode during a movie. This app is a good way of getting younger movie goers to stay more engaged without obvious technological disruptions during a movie.

Virtual reality, a combination of new technological tools, and new unique experiences, such as 3D and 4D, which are not available at home or elsewhere, may be other ways of attracting younger audiences to the cinema.

Millennials and the post-generation Y know what they want, when they want it, and where to find it. Along with online and mobile viewing of social content, it is also important to look at the role that cinema plays in the social lives of millennials as a regular fixture in their calendar.

“They like to be told stories, stories that make a real impact and stories that they can pass on and talk about to their peers. This applies to all their media consumption, but is especially relevant when it comes to cinema…

This is something we need to tune to.

All of us involved in the cinema industry should stay connected to the audience and learn to adjust to new desires and expectations. And there is definitely hope that the upcoming brand new generation of post-millennials will breathe the life back into the movie-going attendance statistics. The MPAA is pleased to see the positive increase in the total share of young moviegoers under 18. This fact promises a positive outlook at the future of cinema going.

All of us in the movie industry need to be alert and prepared to the wishes and preferences of the younger audiences to stay current. After all, nobody knows what trends the newest generation will adopt.

Irina Kobzeva-Pavlovic
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