Cinema is back with a vengeance – box office numbers are a good omen for recovery
A view from Karen Stacey

Cinema is back with a vengeance – box office numbers are a good omen for recovery

After a year of on-off isolation, people are immersing themselves in shared experiences once again, the boss of Britain's biggest cinema ad sales house says.

Looking back, the past 15 months for the cinema industry have been much like the plot of newly released horror film A Quiet Place II, in which the Abbott family face the terrors of the outside world and need to fight for survival in silence. 

The only medium to be fully closed for business, we have stayed silent for prolonged periods, facing the unknown fears of a global pandemic and an uncertain future.

But the UK public is getting back to the things it loves and, after just a few weeks of reopening, people have been swarming back to cinema.

Accurate point-of-sale data – delivered across our estate in real time from exhibitors such as Odeon, Cineworld, Vue, Picturehouse and Curzon – shows that our audience numbers hit close to 3 million admissions in the first two weeks, which is almost at pre-pandemic levels of capacity when current social distancing restrictions are taken into account.

This marks a huge milestone in terms of cinema’s recovery and proves that people still have an appetite for watching new content on the big screen.

After a year of isolation, people are immersing themselves in shared experiences once again. Pub revenues are up while UK holidays are being booked as the sun has come out. 

As reported by the Financial Times, the UK consumer confidence index, a measure of how people view the state of their personal finances and wider economic prospects, jumped six points to -9 in May, according to research company GfK, with fresh hopes of a summer boom in consumer spending.

At Digital Cinema Media, our mantra is “always looking forward” and, looking forward to the rest of 2021, I believe things for our sector will only get better.

Peter Rabbit 2 (pictured) has been leading the way so far, opening with a seven-day total of £4.6m at the UK box office and, as it is a family film, we’re expecting even greater numbers from the school half-term break.

As more major titles are released over the coming weeks and months, we should see admissions figures continue to grow. 

The cinema medium is finally back to deliver added value to media plans and advertisers are returning too, ready to take advantage of cinema’s unique, immersive offering delivering engaged and attentive audiences. We also have the best content for brands to align their brand messaging alongside.

Big cultural moments for the rest of the year include Fast & Furious 9, which opened in eight international markets and banked $162m, the best international launch for a Hollywood film since the pandemic began, which bodes well for its UK release on 24 June. 

The slate for the rest of the year is packed with other blockbusters, particularly strong for 16-34s, including Black Widow, Top Gun: Maverick, The Eternals, The Suicide Squad, Venom: Let There Be Carnage – and not forgetting James Bond’s next outing in September. 

No film grabs the UK public’s imagination like a Bond film and No Time To Die is expected to deliver huge numbers. I’d argue it is the biggest AV opportunity of the year. 

So I defy any critics who continue to predict the demise of our industry, which has shown extraordinary resilience, not only in the past 15 months but in the past century. 

Cinema has continued to thrive alongside TV, home video and, most recently, streaming platforms. 

The cinema audience is a mirror image of these platforms – it is young, affluent and light TV-viewing – and we’ll be offering even greater value for brands in terms of audience profile and targeting, especially as there are no commercial opportunities available for brands on the major streaming platforms. There’s still nowhere like the big screen to see a film or to screen an ad.

The best seat in media may have been closed for a short time but we’re back with a vengeance. 

We will deliver strong audiences, especially those young, hard-to-reach groups, while continuing to showcase the very best content on the very best screen.   

See you at the movies!

Karen Stacey is chief executive of Digital Cinema Media