New Study Suggests Exhibitors Can Profit From Latent Demand

By J. Sperling Reich | April 22, 2022 10:33 am PDT

On the even of every major cinema industry trade show it is quite common for our inboxes to overflow with meeting requests, sales pitches, product updates, market research and other event related info. These missives come in from companies far and wide, of all shapes and sizes from manufacturers to studios to service providers and, at least in our case, publicists. So it’s noteworthy when a message manages to get our attention before a conference like CinemaCon, which takes place next week in Las Vegas.

Such was the case last week when an email arrived from Mark de Quervain, the Director of Strategy and Client Services at Showtime Analytics, with the subject line “Latent Demand.” Given the reputation Showtime Analytics has built over the last seven years specializing in exhibition-centric analytics and data, one would expect the email contained some sort of industry research worth skimming ahead of a conference, if only to look smart when referencing its facts and figures with colleagues. Instead, what we found was details of a survey the company had completed in early April (so the data is fresh) that generated results leading to actionable steps exhibitors can take to increase attendance at their theatres using something known as “latent demand,” which explains the subject line.

At a time when cinema operators are looking innovative ways to rebuild their business after the residual effects of COVID closures decimated the industry with high churn, we thought that exhibitors who have been forced to be more innovative in how they attract audiences back to the big screen, might benefit from some of the guidance Showtime’s report outlined. We asked if we could share it with the industry at-large and, while this kind of intelligence is usually a product Showtime offers clients, they generously agreed.

The survey was designed to help identify what the exhibition community can be doing to get people of all ages back into a habit of moviegoing in what is, arguably, a much different landscape in regards to post-pandemic consumer behavior. “Relying on tentpole releases and studio marketing efforts to drive admissions is no longer a viable strategy,” said de Quervain. “We must look at other ways to rebuild our audiences’ love for cinema.”

Mark de Quervain, the Director of Strategy and Client Services at Showtime Analytics
Mark de Quervain, the Director of Strategy and Client Services at Showtime Analytics presenting the company at the UK Cinema Association conference in April of 2022.

First Showtime set out to understand why moviegoers weren’t returning to theatres in the same numbers as they did pre-pandemic. What they found was a common response among both avid movie goers and infrequent visitors, who said, “I really wanted to see that movie in the cinema but I missed it.” This sentiment was true even for occasional cinema-goers, whose desire to see a film in theatres is more easily pushed down the to-do list than with those who love to go.

The survey was conducted in partnership with Movies@, an Irish cinema chain with 5 sites throughout the country, including a new 13 screen multiplex in Dublin. Showtime found that, of the over 2,000 participants in the study, 33% of customers who want to see a given film cinemas fail to convert. Assuming the responses would be the same globally, it begs the question of how exhibitors can capitalize on customers who actually want to see a movie in theatres, whether avid moviegoers or those who don’t prioritize a trip to the multiplex, and start converting some of this latent demand into additional admissions during a film’s primary release window.

Think of latent demand as “low-hanging fruit” that needs to be picked, or in this case, converted into real admissions. These are patrons who don’t need to be convinced to see a film in a movie theatre. And, if people have already decided they want to go to see a specific release, it’s now down to exhibitors to help make it easier for them to remember the film they want to see, why they want to see it and when they can do so.

“If opportunities to entice such moviegoers are overlooked, they are more likely to visit less frequently over time and potentially become less engaged with the cinema-going experience,” said de Quervain.

Why Moviegoers Fail to Show Up at the Multiplex
Based on customer survey and social media outreach, Showtime found, the top reasons a potential customer did not seeing film they wanted to see in a movie theatre were:

  1. Things got in the way / I was too busy (46%).
  2. “Covid Concerns” was the second highest cited reason, accounting for over 25% and proving the pandemic is still posing a big problem in attracting audience back to cinemas. On the plus side, this figure is down nearly 10% from another survey Showtime conducted in February.
  3. I could not find a convenient showtime.
  4. Only 12% of respondents said the reason they didn’t go was because it was “too expensive” meaning price and promotional offers are not necessarily the way to drive people back. This figure is likely to increase should cost of living pressure increase and inflation rise. Moviegoing has been inflation resistant in the past but Showtime believes offer targeting and segmented price offers may prove important.
Things got in the way / I was too busy46.8%
Covid Concerns25.8%
I could not find a convenient showtime17.7%
Too expensive12.6%
Not at cinemas long enough11.0%
Could not organise a group to go with7.1%
I forgot6.0%
Poor reviews3.4%

How Exhibitors Can Increase Conversion
It’s all fine and well to know that there are potential moviegoers out in the wild whose latent demand is not being addressed because they aren’t coming to see releases in which they have an interest. And it’s nice to know the percentage of such potential patrons (33%), but how can cinema operators identify such customers in order to coax them back into theatres? That is a more difficult problem to solve and there is no direct answer. However, in reporting their survey results, Showtime also outlined several ideas their data has shown can help exhibitors increase conversation rates. In their own words, they are as follows:

  1. Film Leaving Soon Alerts: 54% of respondents said that receiving an email saying a film is soon to leave the cinema would help them not miss the films they want to see.
  2. Set up specific film alerts. Over 22% of those surveyed said receiving notices about a specific title would encourage them to visit the cinema. Try notifications at different periods from midway through a release to its actual last week. Test sending these messages and notifications on different days of the week to see which are most responsive.
  3. Set up a reminder to choose a date or set up as a specific date so they can see when the film is and can plan accordingly. Over 22% of respondents said having the ability to add a film to their calendar from a website would help them not to miss the movie while it is still in theatres.
  4. Set up pre-sales campaigns for upcoming releases. The second highest response with over 27% was that if they had more notice before a film is released they would be more likely to book tickets. Such a campaign for “No Time To Die” achieved a 23% increase on pre-sales versus previous James Bond releases even with a 60% capacity restriction due to COVID regulations.
  5. Give customers the ability to share desire about a film with friends to help create and organize attendance. There are numerous platforms available that do this. Encourage customers to share why they want to see a movie and how much they want to see it. Over 7% of survey respondents said the reason they didn’t go to a film they wanted to see was because they could not organize a group to go with.
  6. Offer more personalized and relevant communication which makes use of existing data and apply that through more optimized customer relationship management (CRM) tools. New film-specific algorithms and services can be utilized to provide predictive and relevant information about customers even without having their purchase history or being a member of a loyalty program. Over 16% of respondents said they would like to get email communications relating only to the films they are interested in.
  7. Pricing can be a useful tool to convert latent demand into action, however only 2.5% of respondents said price offers, deals or incentives would encourage them to book cinema tickets. Because pricing is cited as such a low barrier to entry there this can lead to an issue of offering discounts to people who don’t need it.
  8. Bring back recently released films to the big screen, even one evening per week, close to or to coincide with a streaming release, which makes it more of an event. Ticket price margins might be higher should film rental on such titles be lower. Small uplifts in big numbers can make a real difference.
Which of the following would help you not miss films you really want to see at the cinema?
Email saying a film will soon be leaving theatres54.6%
More notice before film is released27.5%
Be able to add film to your calendar from exhibitor website22.5%
Sign up for specific film alerts22.30%
Get email with only the films you are interested in16.30%
Invite friends from cinema website5.10%
Price offers, deals or incentives2.50%

Latent Demand Rankings
When conducting their survey, Showtime asked respondents which recent releases they most wanted to see in a movie theatre, but missed for various reasons. Jennifer Lopez will either be ecstatic with the results or upset that her film “Marry Me” came out on top with 56% of those surveyed wanting to see the film, but failing to do so before it left cinemas.

FilmMissed %
Marry Me56%
Death on the Nile44%
Sing 220%
Spider-Man: No Way Home16%

Forecasting Intent To See
The Showtime survey also asked what upcoming releases respondents were most looking forward to seeing in theatres. “Understanding your audience through surveys like these is a powerful way to gain insight into what will drive conversions not just for the long tail movie marketing but for pre-sales of upcoming releases,” de Quervain said, going on to explain that having such knowledge will allow exhibitors to implement awareness campaigns with calls to action. If conversion is tracked properly and optimized, it should help exhibitors drive additional revenue from titles that have a high awareness and potential latent demand. The results below are from the first week of April and, once again, it looks like a “Jurassic World” sequel is going to take a big bite out of the box office:

FilmIntent %
Jurassic World: Dominion44%
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore43.2%
Top Gun Maverick42.3%
Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness41.4%
Downton Abbey: A New Era32.5%
Minions: Rise of Gru22.9%
DC League of Super Pets10.4%
J. Sperling Reich