With many western economies teetering on the brink of recession due to inflation and high energy costs, the worry is that belt tightening is going to impact cinema attendance in 2023. People looking to save money can forgo a trip to the restaurant or the latest Marvel film, but not milk, bread or heating. With a full slate of films throughout the year, this would come at the worst possible time for exhibitors as they struggle to climb out of the deep hole that COVID dug for them.
As of yet there is no reliable data to point to conclusive trends, but we are getting the first surveys indicating consumer intent. One such survey was carried out in January by Bain & Co in Central Europe’s biggest cinema market. Ominously it was titled, “Poles will significantly reduce spending on going to the cinema and restaurants.”
The numbers did not make for happy reading. “More than a quarter of respondents intend to limit going to the cinema, and a fifth to concerts.” Uh-oh!
A closer reading of the data, however, revealed a more nuanced or even optimistic picture. A total of 42% of respondents “had already reduced spending on traditional and digital forms of entertainment last year.” So 25% is only a small sub set of the bigger entertainment spending reduction and the biggest cutback might already have taken place in 2022, when there were fewer films to attract people to the cinema. While breakout numbers are not provided, it is likely that streamers were the victim of consumer belt-tightening.
Significantly the same survey revealed that “almost 60% percent of those surveyed predicted that they will go to restaurants less often this year.” A further 40% will look for cheaper places to eat out and 39% will reduce their use of food delivery services. Granted, people go on average more often to the restaurant than to the cinema in a year, but it seems that cinemas will suffer less than restaurants and Deliveroo.
In a separate MIDiA survey “The Great Movie Reset” by Tim Mulligan (thank you Rob Arthur for highlighting) confirmed that “cinema attendance is now the most popular monthly IRL [in real life] entertainment activity, eclipsed only by going to eat at a restaurant.” So restaurant visits win out but cinema is not far behind. For cinemas that offer dine-in options (the topic of this past week’s CJCinema Summit) there is a further opportunity to lure away consumers from restaurant+cinema by offering both options in one place.
It is the belief of your’s truly that consumers will look at reducing fixed monthly outgoings rather than one-off treats. As such they might decide they don’t need four or five streaming services, but can make do with two or three, or trade down to an advertising-supported plan. For one-offs, they are likelier to forgo an expensive holiday, rather than a chance to see Tom Cruise at the multiplex. Mostly cinema schemes like the Unlimited could be the biggest theatrical victim, but for this we don’t have the data.
Cinemas need to lean into offering customers cheaper options, such as targeted discount, family specials or reduced-price ticket days. At the same time they must remember that it is the experience as much as the film that makes it an enjoyable and affordable mini-luxury. Hollywood is delivering a full year of films in every genre, so it is up to cinemas to remind people that whatever else bad is going on in the world, they can offer refuge and escapism for two hours at a relatively low price. As the MIDiA survey notes, “Movie-going taps into the post-COVID need for shared communal experiences and content consumption.”
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Celluloid Junkie is the leading online resource dedicated to the global film and cinema business. The Marquee is our newsletter focused on motion picture exhibition; keeping industry professionals informed of important news, the latest trends and insightful analysis