Cinema admissions in UK reach 48-year high despite rise of digital entertainment

The number of people watching movies on the big screen last year was the highest since 1970.

Until a few years ago, movie theatres were unarguably the most dominant method of watching films. Missing the theatre run meant that people had to wait for the DVD release to watch from the comfort of their home. Even the entertainment giant Netflix began as a DVD rental agency which was struggling during its initial years. There was nothing that could truly compete with movie theatres; until digital entertainment began to surface.

In 2010, Netflix went ahead with the introduction of its streaming-only subscription plan, a move that would completely shake the entertainment world. It also eventually began creating its own shows and movies. By the end of 2018, Netflix had approximately 1,000 original titles.

The rapid rise and success of Netflix led to the emergence of other streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. Even the behemoth Disney has decided to launch its own streaming service called Disney+. The advent of original digital content had corresponded with a steep decline in cinema admissions. However, 2018 saw the highest number of people watching movies in theatres since 1970 (193 million) at 177 million, 3.7% more than 2017. 

Image credits: Pixabay

According to official figures from the British Film Institute (BFI), cinema admissions in UK touched 177 million for the first time in 48 years. Netflix began its original content with House of cards in 2013, and figures clearly show a sudden decline in cinema admissions during that period. The admissions began rising again 2015 onwards, which could be  down to a few possible reasons.

BFI data
Based on BFI data – Infographic by: Anweshak

The average ticket price had consistently been increasing since 2001, reaching £7.50 in 2017. It was dropped in 2018 by 26p to £7.24. While the significant drop might have played a hand in the considerable increase in cinema admissions, UK box-office ultimately made a profit in 2018 compared to 2017.

A huge chunk of the digital entertainment viewers still choose to also watch movies in theatres. A study by National Association of Theater Owners showed that regular moviegoers are more likely to watch online content than those who watch one or two movies in theatres a year.

According to NATO’s director of media and research Phil Contrino: “The message here is that there’s not a war between streaming and theatrical. People who love content are watching it across platforms and all platforms have place in consumers’ minds.”

Another major factor is the role of Public Relations (PR) and social media in film promotion. Contemporary film PR agencies have been using increasingly rigorous tactics in ensuring the promotion of films they handle. These agencies heavily utilise social media to reach a wider audience.

Even actors and directors have started to extensively promote their films using social media. Promotional posters and trailers go viral on platforms like Facebook and Twitter months before the actual release of the film. All this has made it easier for audiences to be more aware of upcoming films than before.

Pankti Bhatt, a PR student in London, feels the role of PR in film promotion has definitely increased in the last few years. “With social media in the picture, the PR for a film is not confined to the period before the release. PR agencies can now become involved from the very start,” she stated.

She also thinks that the advancing quality of the content in films has allowed PR agencies to be much wider with their approach. “It’s no more solely focused on getting people to the movie theatres, it now has the potential to talk about social and political issues and target a bigger audience.”

On how much of the strategy changes according to the film, Bhatt said that a lot of it remains the same. Press releases, interviews and specific promotional tactics are incorporated in every campaign. “Other strategies change depending on the tone of the film, target audience, location and such.”

She added that while PR does assist in the promotion of a film, it’s impossible to tell how much of it translates into actual numbers. “There are a number of factors involved in people visiting theatres and PR is just one of them. It also depends on the acting, film reviews and interest, among other factors.”

Joel Lees, another UK student who’s extremely enthusiastic about films, thinks that the emergence of streaming platforms has definitely made it much easier to watch films for the audience. On whether he’s been watching more films in the recent years, he said: “Yes, a lot more! Definitely due to how easy it is to watch films at home now. Mainly Netflix.”

Even though Lees watches more movies online, that’s not necessarily what he favours. “I prefer watching movies in theatres but I tend to watch more at home because it’s cheaper.” As a young student, he falls into the demographic which is most indulged in social media and therefore the primary target of agencies who choose an audience for promotional ads.

Lees, too, comes across such social media posts and promotions on a regular basis. He feels that making the audience aware about an upcoming film goes a long way. “I think that if you see an amazing trailer, you are likely to go and watch the film.”

There is no evidence that the rise of digital entertainment necessarily means the end for movie theatres. If anything, the latest figures show that there’s a possibility for the two mediums to co-exist.

The introduction of internet laid the foundation for streaming platforms. Ironically, it’s this very internet that has allowed PR agencies and others to use social media and raise film promotion to a level which wasn’t possible before.

More content is being produced than ever before. There is no reason why the constant success of digital entertainment has to decisively end conventional cinema. For viewers, it’s the golden age of entertainment where both mediums are thriving and could do for the foreseeable future.

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