Celluloid Junkie has partnered UNIC – the International Union of Cinemas trade body for Europe and beyond – to highlight innovation in the European cinema sector. UNIC has just published a report called ‘Innovation and the Big Screen‘ (PDF link).
In the run-up to its print publication at the UNIC conference on innovation at the European Parliament on 8 February, CJ and UNIC will bring you interviews, excerpts and examples of what it is that continues to make cinema the medium that drives innovation in technology, experience, service and much more.
In our second post we talk to Eddy Duquenne, CEO of pan-European cinema major Kinepolis Group.
With multiplexes across Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Spain, Switzerland and Poland. Kinepolis has been at the vanguard of introducing many of the latest technologies and practices that exemplify cutting edge cinemas, even before the introduction of the first digits projectors.
Celluloid Junkie: Where in cinema do you see the most interesting examples of innovation happening right now?
Eddy Duquenne: At Kinepolis pushing the boundaries of the cinema experience has been part of our business DNA for a long time. But I think the transition to digital cinema has over the past 10 years truly unleashed an unprecedented level of innovation all across the cinema landscape. Operators all around the world are now experimenting with new technologies and innovative theatre design to further improve immersion and comfort.
There are massive improvements in new image and sound quality inside the auditorium, as a growing number of cinemas develop “Premium Large Formats” with extra-large screens, better projection and carefully designed sound systems to fully immerse the audience. Next to this, operators are for example setting new standards in terms of seating, retail and concessions as well as ticketing.
In some regions across the world – especially in emerging markets such as China – some innovations will be picked up more quickly than elsewhere. This is simply because the dynamics of innovating are very different when you develop a brand new site in a new market as compared to operating in a more established market where the circumstances of your own circuit as well as those of your competitors will be slightly different.
While operators in Western Europe and North-America of course also do all of the above some may be more advanced when it comes to innovation in audience development, marketing and customer service. It is today fundamental for exhibitors to get to know their audience and identify their changing needs and preferences. Exhibitors in Europe, for example, currently experiment a lot to better connect with their customers and engage with them in more personal ways. We are also witnessing fantastic changes in terms of content offering, as the cinema offer has increased and diversified over the years, adapting to evolving tastes and consumption habits.
CJ: How are cinemas embracing social media, data analytics and how do they generally engage with audiences in new ways?
Eddy Duquenne: Digital technology gave us the opportunity to better identify and understand our customers and their distinctive needs. Cinema operators have developed a variety of creative approaches to engage with their audiences in a more seamless and personalized way, making good use of the online tools at their disposal.
Cinema-going has become an ever more personalised, eventful and experience driven activity as operators have shifted many of their marketing investment and innovation efforts online. Operators have acquired a better understanding of customer trends by aggregating information from loyalty programs – such as unlimited cards – ticket and retail transactions, email newsletters, web booking, mobile apps and social media.
Through the use of data analytics, exhibitors can provide more personalised cinema offers by constantly and dynamically adapting not only their programme, but also ticket price and concession offers. Ladies at the Movies, Obscure Night for horror fans and Cinema Deluxe for a premium experience are just three of the many formats that we have developed at Kinepolis to attract specific audience groups. Cinema marketeers can then promote these curated events to individual customers via email, social media or text messages. I believe that this trend will continue to increase in the future.
CJ: Is the cinema space itself being redefined by people’s expectation and lifestyle habits?
Eddy Duquenne: The relationship between exhibitors and their audiences has significantly evolved over recent years. Our marketing approach is much more direct, as we are trying to get closer and listen to the wishes of our customers. As we look to increase cinema going frequency, we are spending more time raising awareness and making personalised suggestions for events or content to specific target groups.
Our programming strategy has become much more active, especially since the industry made the transition to digital technology. Operators have now the ability to find and promote content based on their audience preferences and can go beyond the films suggested by their partners from distribution. Cinema programmers have developed new skills to find content that could suit the tastes of their local audience.
A good example of this programming creativity are the successful screenings of foreign films that we have organised in our cinemas – such as Bollywood or Turkish blockbusters – which have attracted huge crowds and helped us build loyalty with entire communities, again through the organisation of tailored events.
The use of a ‘net promotor score’, which we introduced in 2010, is also an important tool for our programming teams. It indicates whether a movie is meeting the expectations of its audience and is as such a means to fine-tune our programming.
But the curating effort goes beyond the choice of content being shown on the big screen. We must also look into experience preferences. Cinema goers have very different expectations when they come to our cinemas, which can also vary depending on the film they come to see. A growing number of operators are for instance experimenting with the concepts of premiumization, offering high-end service to a group of film fans that want to enjoy a VIP experience when they go to the cinema.
But not everyone one is willing to pay a premium fee to come to the cinema, and we have to adapt to these varying pricing expectations. At Kinepolis, we have started to promote and educate our audience to the new technology and formats that are today available in our cinemas, making them aware of the different experiences that they can choose from.
CJ: What are some initiatives to expand the audience for cinema and particularly engage younger audiences?
Eddy Duquenne: Operators are conscious that they must adapt to new trends and habits if they want to engage more efficiently with younger audiences. We must make them feel more at home when they come to the cinema, which may also mean that we have to keep them connected and let them use their mobile when they enter our sites.
One solution is to create lounge areas where young cinema goers can charge their phone, use the local cinema app, etc. Some are even going further, suggesting that we should let them use their mobile inside the screening room. It will be interesting to see what comes out of the recent Apple initiative to have a “theatre mode” on their next software update, giving cinema goers the possibility to use their phone inside the auditorium without causing too much disruption to the audience around them. Exhibitors must remain responsive to these technical changes.
Younger audiences are much more aware of the content currently available in cinemas, as they are constantly active online and will know in advance when and where a film will be released. They will also efficiently promote it to their friends, using social platforms and rating websites and apps to share their preferences with the world.
In a way, it is easier for exhibitors to engage with young film fans in the digital era. But we are today confronted to the challenge of aging populations in Europe, which has a significant impact on the market share represented by younger audiences.
CJ: Which cinema operator – excluding yourself – would you like to congratulate for their cinema-going offer?
Eddy Duquenne: There are so many ways in which one could consider that question so I will have to give credit to a few of my colleagues and competitors. I think that Paul Donovan from Odeon and UCI Cinemas achieved something truly remarkable by changing the trajectory of the group over only a few years and by successfully facilitating the take-over by AMC, including its commitment to invest into upgrading the cinema experience for the entire group.
I’m also very impressed how Ellis Jacob and his team at Cineplex in Canada have diversified what to be honest is no longer a simple cinema going offer through the introduction of the Rec Room and the hugely successful programming of Event Cinema. When it comes to premium offers I am impressed by what Electric Cinema in the UK propose to their customers. It’s certainly something operators on the continent – including Kinepolis – should take a good look at.
Finally, I’m really pleased by what my team and I have achieved over recent years. Kinepolis is known around the world for being a pioneer in terms of upgrading the cinema going experience and pushing the technological limits in the auditorium to the benefit or our audiences. We have over the past five to ten years also transformed the company into a truly customer-centered organization and today reap the benefits for the change programmes we implemented.
CJ: Do you see trends in innovation for cinema across Europe or are there regional differences?
Eddy Duquenne: Yes, there are big regional differences in terms of innovation as investments into change have to be managed differently depending on a variety of factors. I to some degree already referred to this before when comparing the innovation trajectory of the sector in emerging Asian markets to that in mature markets such as Western Europe or the USA.
First of all, when you build a cinema from scratch – as is often the case in new markets, including Central and Eastern Europe – it is obviously easier to embrace a variety of new solutions than when you are refurbishing or upgrading an existing offer. That’s one of the reasons why PLFs (Premium Large Formats) and immersive motion concepts are more prominent in some emerging territories.
However, that’s not the only factor that will influence how a cinema operator decides to innovate. The profile of your potential audience – cultural preferences, disposable income and age – to name but a few characteristics, will influence investment decisions. Each of these variables changes from country to country and in fact from location to location. Let me give you two short examples: piloting new concessions and retail offers in the Netherlands differs completely from introducing food and beverage offers in France, where there is generally still a huge potential to grow spend per head.
On the content side, Kinepolis Group has been amongst the first operators to introduce active programming strategies. We today offer diverse Turkish and Indian films to big ethnic communities living in the catchment areas of two of our Belgian sites, for example.
CJ: Do film makers and their creative partners have different expectations from the big screen experience than from other distribution platforms?
Eddy Duquenne: I think that the big majority of film directors and actors will continue to invest themselves into making feature films that audiences want to see on the big screen, together with their friends and family. They trust theatre operators to provide unparalleled cinema experiences to film fans. At Kinepolis, we honor this commitment by continuing to invest into ground breaking projection and sound technologies and by continuously upgrading our cinema offer to the benefit of our customers.
The vast majority of films – whether they are big international titles or more specialized local films – really benefits from an exclusive and sustainable theatrical release. We provide these films with an incredible launch pad that will also enhance their success on subsequent home entertainment platforms.
In the future, in collaboration with our technological partners, exhibition has to become even better at showcasing to the creative community how the cinema going experience has changed over recent years. Such closer collaboration will help ensure that creative remain committed to the big screen experience.
CJ: Which innovation are you personally – as a cinema fan – missing so far?
Eddy Duquenne: I would personally like to see that we as an industry continue to push the boundaries of developing more differentiated offers. When compared to other sectors – take for example the car industry – we are only scratching at the surface of what is possible. Different target groups should be able to choose different options, in terms of experience formulas, seating, food & beverage, technology, content, etc.
The cinema experience is not a ‘one fits all’ but is becoming increasingly personalized. That is why, at Kinepolis, we introduced for example Cosy Seats and alternative experience formulas such as ‘Opera in the Cinema’ or ‘Cinema Deluxe’. Another example are the ‘Soirée K’ events for teens in France. The customer journey ca be further enhanced before and after the film viewing experience and we should take a good look at the hospitality and retail sectors for inspiration.
On another level we can still make huge strides when it comes to booking and payment processing and customer service. As a cinema goer myself I want to enter the venue and enjoy what is on offer – including the gastronomy or retail offer – without having to authorize or make a payment. It should all be managed by my smart phone, which ideally stays in my pocket. In turn, staff don’t have to help administer my visit. They host me and my friends or family and provide expert recommendations and guidance with regards to film choice and food and beverage selection. Think “film sommelier” rather than “usher”. This vision may take some time to implement but we are actively working on it at Kinepolis.
CJ: We can’t wait to try it. Thank you for talking to us.