According to Arthur C Clarke's character Frank Poole in 3001: The Final Odyssey: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
In 2010, it was 3D technology that brought more magic to the UK cinema industry. Cinema revenues grew by 6 per cent and admissions continued to peak as consumers looked for value, entertainment and escapism during recessionary times. US figures suggest the box office has boomed in six of the past eight recessions. Recognition should also be given to leading UK cinema operators such as Cineworld, which have invested significantly in the quality and variety of the cinema environment as well as HD digital.
While the 2011 film slate looks encouraging, the jury remains out on 2011 revenues: anything between par to +3 per cent is forecast. DCM's capture of the Vue ad sales contract will increase market share to approaching 80 per cent. The sales house will need to concentrate on what it does best by promoting and innovating in the sector, rather than playing a heavy hand with campaign pricing.
Brand count was up in 2010, but with dependence on telecom, car and drink sectors. Perhaps the real conundrum for 2011 is how advertisers and agencies view cinema's role within the overall media matrix. Cinema offers high production values, glamour and the ability to showcase new messages.
Cinema Advertising Association research suggests cinema may also be eight times more cost effective than TV, with TouchPoints confirming it as the powerful mood enabler delivering higher recall than other media. Few media result in consumers making an extended physical journey to actively engage with content. Cinemas are often key focal meeting points in communities, with film being an important social currency. Film is often pre-researched through reviews and trailers, with audiences socialising their cinematic experiences. Twitter and Facebook logs show increased use after film launches.
Reel in digital
A more valuable emerging opportunity for advertisers will be the digital reel, which will result in more flexible lead times and better value production. The incentive for advertisers centres on the ability to communicate across specific timeframes, regions, days and dayparts, as well as multiple copy opportunities. It is at this point that current cinema trading mechanics will be re-evaluated and refined.
Digital advances will speed up the move towards a better cinema break ecology, preor even post-reel - a captivated audience will stay for five minutes more if given good content. Cinema optimisation will ultimately facilitate short-term and limited-budget campaigns as well as more bespoke regional packages that could be integrated with other localised media.
The holy grail
Perhaps the holy grail will be cinema data, where all bookings are made online or through the use of "Oyster"-type entertainment cards where pre-, midand post-cinema journey advertising can be deployed.
A looming challenge is the theatrical to DVD release window (currently averaging four months). Disney's decision to narrow the window for Alice In Wonderland in 2010 is indicative of a potential loss facing both cinema exhibitors and advertisers as consumers wait for release on DVD or download. An even greater, perhaps unthinkable, risk is the development of an "E-Cinema" platform where blockbusters are released on to platforms or TV apps (Sky or LoveFilm) or YouView in tandem with opening weekends.
Live and direct in 2011
Cinema owners are extending auditoria use to showcase alternative entertainment such as live sport, comedy and gaming. In the US, this has given rise to brands such as Cinema de Lux, which are combining live entertainment and fine dining. Perhaps a niche UK opportunity but extended non-film use offers increased potential to engage with passionate consumers in non-cluttered environments.
Interactive technologies are fast evolving, as shown by the roll-out of interactive floors in foyers and on-screen audience interactive participation through gaming (Volvo and O2 have made use of audience-controlled gaming). Mass smartphone penetration will provide considerable opportunity to engage with digital foyer screens (perhaps with iris/gender/age recognition) or, indeed, a "turn on your phone" promotion to download local or national offers.
Audiences always want to be entertained and incentivised - this can be fulfilled through interactive downloads in cinemas. Take this one step further to "4D" cinema with multiple senses (smell, water, wind, temperature). Additionally, if TV is likely to have programme apps, there is nothing to say that cinema could not have film apps that control film content or advertising choice.
In the meantime, foyers, particularly in larger cinemas or multiplexes, have much greater potential for personal and promotional engagement. With dwell time estimated at between 12 to 15 minutes in foyers, it is understandable that sampling and trial-based experiences continue to be popular.
Despite technology advances, standard SMS advertising should not be dismissed in favour of augmented reality and all-singing, all-dancing apps. SMS can be effective for reaching lots of people - it is one of the few standardised functions across all handsets.
Groundhog Day for 3D
So what about 3D? It failed in the 50s due to poor quality and audience motion sickness. However, 3D with high-quality production has resulted in a re-evaluation and reinforcement of cinema's popularity. Advertisers such as Sky, Lego and Panasonic have successfully embraced new interest in it but full 3D creative uptake has been partly suppressed by higher productions costs and available 3D film genres. But 3D also allows film producers to re-release movies to further driving audience supply, as well as currently having the unique ability to inoculate the industry from piracy. 3D has been a great catalyst for both film investment and admissions but is likely to become another standard viewing option.
More than a feeling
Cinema is more than 3D. We should not underestimate the power of the communal experience in a cinematic environment, which directly appeals to our gregarious nature. It offers an audience that is fully committed, that is unlikely to be popping off to the loo or multi-tasking (unless, of course, on a date). Demand for ever-efficient media deployment will never cease but advertisers should be brave and embrace cinema's unique ability to amplify impact through excitement, escapism and providing a social catalyst.
Despite operating in a highly competitive environment, cinema can, and should, grow as a medium. It should showcase the best creative. However, the sector will need to avoid an over-reliance on 3D or HD imaging.
We will need film-makers with immersive storytelling ability and cinema sales teams with stronger integrated brand engagement solutions to ensure enough magic can be created to avoid cinema's own future Judgment Day.
John Davidson is the head of trading at Starcom MediaVest Group.