CineEurope: Executive Roundtable – Engaging the Youth Audience

By | July 7, 2015 9:38 am PDT

This post is a transcription composed in real-time during one of the many seminars at CineEurope 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. As such we often paraphrase the presentations being given.

Retaining the youth audience, which has traditionally been one of the cinema industry’s most loyal customer bases, has become an increasing challenge for many European territories. This session looked at what is known about changing tastes – and what more the sector could be doing to ensure that cinema-going remains the key leisure choice – amongst this age group.

Paul Dergarabedian – Senior Media Analyst, Rentrak

“The timing of this CineEurope could not be more auspicious. On the back of ‘Jurassic World’ we are on track for a record year,” said Dergarabedian. “Just a few movies can make all the difference. In just the past week and a bit the cinema industry has turned around.”

Dergarabedian invited Johnny Woolridge to the podium to present a perspective on the youth audience. Bill Alberti delivered a similar talk at CinemaCon which was very well received.

Jonny Wooldridge – Director of Marketing, C Space (formerly Communispace)

“Jan Runge mentioned that the theme was ‘engaging audiences’ and I felt great about my presentation. Then I saw the other [last session’s] presentations and I have no video, no GIFs and no kittens,” Wooldridge began with a joke.

He then asked the audience to turn to the person seated beside them and tell them about a significant teen memory. This leads into the body of Woolridge’s talk titled “World War Generation Z”.

“This audience [Gen Z] is not your core audience now, but they will be your future audience,” Wooldridge declared. “The leading edge of change, this is an audience that we can study and learn from. There are lots of innovations in cinema but things that have not changed and stayed core are at conflict with these people. I’m going to set up our panel by telling you two stories, leaving you with four thought-starters and then we will solve it all in 45 minutes.”

“Most people here will know someone who is a Gen Z, whether their own children or nices or nephews,” he continued. “We will confirm some of your views [about them], and challenge others. We won’t solve everything in half an hour and you can take it back with you afterwards. I’m from a consultancy called C Space. We have a history of smashing together brands and customers.”

Wooldridge’s presentation then went over some of the same topics covered by his C Space colleague Bill Alberti at CinemaCon in April. He told an anecdote about Madeline Messer whose editorial in the Washington Post questioned why she was forced to play as a male character named Guy Dangerous in an iPhone video game, rather than a female character named Scarlett Fox, and why it cost USD $1 to play as the woman character.

Woolridge also relayed the story about Becky M, a sophomore in high school that Communispace met while doing market research. The last film Becky had seen before talking to Woolridge and his colleagues was “Remember Me”. She had watched the film on Netflix while doing homework with her friends, but here’s the catch, her friends were in a different geographical location. They simply started the movie on Netflix at the same time. More than once Becky and her friends would stop the movie to discuss plot lines.

The last film Becky had seen in theatres was “Into The Woods”. She had gone to see the film with her cousin after reading the book the film was based on. In contrasting the online and cinema experience, Becky pointed out that there was no place for her to go as a teenager before or after the film. The cinema didn’t provide such accommodations. (For the complete story about Becky M. please see our post from CinemaCon).

“Kids Today!” exclaimed Woolridge after wrapping up his examples. He list several fact about the lives of those in attendance and facets true of the generations they were raised in. Those same things are even more true for Generation Z today according to Woolridge. “When you talk about youth specifically, you think this is a problem that all generations have had and we make the fallacy of thinking that they will grow up and revert to behavior of previous generations that are now grown up.”

Woolridge highlighted a few ways in which Generation Z is different from those that came before it, especially when it comes to cinema going:

  1. Always On vs. Everything Off
  2. Instant Impact vs. The Waiting Game
  3. Finding Your Niche Crowd vs. Defining Cool
  4. A Never Ending Journey vs. The Credits Just Roll

“I’m not advocating that we need to throw out all of the marketing models in cinema,” he said. “But what problems are the solutions designed to resolve with innovation. Secondly, if you could throw away everything and start the cinema industry over from scratch, knowing what we know about this audience, would we design it differently?”

As Woolridge completes his talk a member of the audience asks what generation is being referred to when we’re talking about “Gen Z”. “I’m thinking people who are under the age of 20 but have independent spending or purchasing power and are decision makers,” answers Woolridge.

At this point the seminar switches to a panel discussion format with each panelist introducing themselves in turn.

Rodolphe Buet – President of International Distribution & Marketing, StudioCanal and Chairman of Studiocanal Germany and Studiocanal Australia/New Zealand

“We are facing a world that is so different from my father or grandfather’s,” said Buet. “Audience is going down but box office is growing. If you look at markets like China, their young audiences are going to the cinema. For them it is a way to share, communicate and discover different things.”

Eddy Duquenne – CEO, Kinepolis

“We run cinemas in Europe and have done a lot of surveys on young audiences and they go more to movies than young people did 30 years ago,” Duquenne reported. “But they behave differently. They are part of a community.”

“When I was 18 years old I had a couple of friends,” he continued. “The younger generation has more friends, decides in a shorter time and decides what to do. I would do dinner and movie, whereas they do 3 or 4 different things in one evening.”

“You need to be on their mobiles to inform them and interact with them,” explained Duquenne. “You can easily see if it is attractive to them. If they want to go to the movies they need to be able to buy right now. Don’t make them shut their phones off. When my kids brush their teeth their phones are on. If you make them switch off their phones for two hours, their world might have changed. They are already deciding during the movie what to do next.”

Miguel Mier – COO, Cinepolis

“I represent Cinepolis (“with a C”),” joked Mier referring to the cinema chain Duquenne represents. “We are based in Mexico so I can give a perspective form non-European market. Forty nine percent of our tickets sold last year were sold to the 18-24 year old age bracket. We need to be in their world and their pocket. We need to think about technology, to get into the world they live in – we have 7 million ‘likers’ of our Facebook page, and in segmentation, for instance we operate a theatre in Orange County, CA and a value cinema in Padna in India, so we need to span those two different worlds.”

Dergarabedian: How do you reconcile with leaving phones on and shining in auditorium?

Duquenne: Maybe ask them to put mobiles in silent mode and dim their screens. We are putting WiFi into all our screens. If they are in theatre they will share. What about “Mad Max” in 3D Dolby Atmos – it is so intense that you cannot tear yourself away.

Buet: My kids CAN pull themselves away from “Mad Max Fury Road” to tweet about it. Maybe not for “Immitation Game” but that is not for young people, but definitely for “Hunger Games”. “We can’t tell kids what not to do. Think about what happened to the music industry. Napster showed the way and music is now fully digital. We need to remember that if we create the right films then kids will go and see them.

Mier: We need to educate our audience that the way to get a full immersion is to enjoy the big screen and not have small light screens pop up throughout the movie. Immersion happens in a dark room with light on the big screen. It is a bit like meditating. Putting your mind at rest. They way to engage with the story and characters is not to be distracted by tweets. We know we cannot fight this trend.

Dergarabedian: Interesting what Johnny was saying about end credits, but maybe you can take the post-movie conversation and harness that. Think about TV news with the crawl on the bottom, maybe we should get used to distractions.

Wooldridge: I personally don’t want bright screens popping up, but maybe we can facilitate that before and after. Maybe have a WiFi sign light come up just like the exit lights, that prompts people know that now is OK to tweet. If all cinemas say that people should go home now, but maybe there should be an area in the cinema with props from the film, etc.

Mier: Traditional marketing is no longer having an impact. Mobile and social media is what is working. So we thought about competitions on social media for “Mad Max”. Get people to post picture of themselves before and after. The award was free cinema for a whole year. Hashtag the cinema and Mad Max. The winner had 2.3 million ‘Likes’. Imagine how that can impact with the rest of the audience. Then we held a competition for attending red carpet premiere of “Dragon Ball Z”, so the guy with the most ‘Likes’ was sent there and he recorded the experience on the red carpet and posted that, which then amplified the experience.

Dergarabedian: We all check the phone the moment the film ends. We all do. Maybe if we give permission for that then kids will do it and if we can drive them to a social space where they can gather.

Duquenne: You have to ensure that they can share experiences. And something they cannot have on the Internet. Cast visits help. Or doing movie marathons. All those things that really help. They need to share what they are going through. Word-of-mouth is very important to them. We also need to partner with the brands, with Coca-Cola and others.

Dergarabedian: Maybe we are not giving youth audience enough credit. It is a bit like listening to vinyl on a really good stereo, going to cinema is the best way to enjoy movie. Vinyl is a small market but booming. Maybe cinema is the same way. Young people embrace old technology.

Buet: (dismisses of the vinyl notion) We need to work with distributors on the social media experience in the theatre. At some point we need to start much earlier on global strategy. We are thinking global, they are thinking small. We need to address small communities and audiences and make them part of marketing. They don’t want us to push content on them. We want them to bring ideas and be involved in the marketing. We are working on “We are your friends” [movie] so we are working to build up the electronic music appreciation, as it is a music genre where things change every two months. We want them [youth audiences] more involved.

Dergarabedian: Jonny, you taked about the girl who was upset that she had to pay extra to play a female character. In films cinema audiences are increasingly female. Sixty percent were females under 25 years old. Females have powered a lot of the big box office success over the last few years. Previously studios coveted the young males.

Wooldridge: I do think that a lot of the innovation that is going to work is audience understanding. “Temple Run” was actually made by a couple and the lead designer was a woman who just assumed it would be played by men and actually 60% of players were female.

Dergarabedian: It is the same as horror movies that actually play stronger to female audiences. Don’t you have to factor all of that in when engaging ALL audiences? Because when you look at “Jurassic World” because it plays to all four quadrants and it is hitting USD $1 billion today after 11 days. What can you do to further enhance the interactive experience before and after the movie if not during?

Wooldridge: There is mass marketing for “Jurassic World” but otherwise targeted to smaller niches. What if “The Talented Mister Rippley” came out today you would pull out aspects of the film that are different and target that to different audiences.

Mier: (Says his 11 year old daughter Sophia has watches “Inside Out” three times already.)

Duquenne: We find women come slightly more to movies than men but they also make the choices of which film to be watched when going as a couple or family.

Dergarabedian: When my nieces and nephews talk about a film I know it will be a hit, but if my mom talks about it then it still might be a hit, but she is not on social networks talking about it. This panel has been incredibly cognizant in terms of embracing youth trends.

Wooldridge: This is an audience that is very willing to get engaged, but do it in less research ways. But they won’t give you a packaged solution.

Mier: We need to get closer to them and I don’t have the perfect solutions, but we have acknowledged that they love micro-bloggers. If talent comes to the country where we operate then you would find that some micro-bloggers are so engaging that they matter more than Hollywood stars that come to town.

Duquenne: We don’t have all the answers or we would not come to CineEurope. But we need to be part of their world.

Buet: We need to know their vision. We talk about “Jurassic World” but we must not forget the small films like “Fault In Our Stars”.

Patrick von Sychowski
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Patrick von Sychowski

Patrick was a Senior Analyst at Screen Digest, went on to launch the digital cinema operations of Unique and Deluxe Europe, then digitised Bollywood at Adlabs/RMW, and now writes, consults and appears on panels about cinema all over the world.
Patrick von Sychowski
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