Magazine article Marketing

Media Analysis: Big Screen, Little Growth

Magazine article Marketing

Media Analysis: Big Screen, Little Growth

Article excerpt

If cinema is to recover from a box-office slump, it must look beyond the mainstream family movie, writes Jeremy Lee.

The UK cinema advertising industry is pinning its hopes on Harry Potter weaving some of his famous magic in his latest movie to rescue what has proved to be a disappointing year for the medium.

Despite having a strong start, with cinema advertising revenue increasing by 8.9% in the first seven months of 2005, year-on-year box-office admissions are down and ad revenue is now expected to be, at best, on par with last year. The biggest-grossing film so far this year has been Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, which took dollars 39.2m (pounds 22.8m), well below the dollars 48.1m Shrek 2 grossed in 2004.

It is a far cry from 2002, when cinemas enjoyed their highest admissions since the 60s, with films such as Ocean's Eleven and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers boosting attendance. The Cinema Advertising Association (CAA) is unwilling to speculate on exact numbers, but by the end of this year admissions are likely to total about 170m. In 2002, they stood at 176m.

Stalled growth

Why, after a period of consistent and rapid growth, has UK cinema attendance suddenly hit such an impasse? One argument is that the films on offer have not been up to the highest standard. The year's biggest blockbuster, Star Wars: Episode III, which was released in May, did not perform as well as previous installments of the George Lucas franchise, while Ocean's Twelve proved to be a disappointment and the big summer releases, such as the long-awaited Batman Begins and Disney's Herbie: Fully Loaded, failed to draw the expected audiences.

But this is only part of the picture. While the box office is at the mercy of the film producers and distributors, other factors are also at play when it comes to admissions. The type of films on general release this year has not been as varied as it was in 2004 - Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, which opened at the end of last year, attracted unusually high numbers of women, for example, broadening the audience's demographic.

This year's biggest releases have been more mainstream and this has attracted the corresponding traditional cinema-going audience - families with young children, and young men. The latest adaptation of JK Rowling's wizard novels, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which went on general release last Friday, is one of a number of family films scheduled for release over the Christmas period. The first of a planned series of Chronicles of Narnia films, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is out on 8 December, with Peter Jackson's King Kong due to hit cinemas a week later. While the CAA is optimistic that these releases could help shore up the year's box-office figures, they will not be bringing new audiences to cinemas.

The spread of multiplexes - cinemas with five screens or more - has also slowed, with only Vue, formerly Warner Village Cinemas, announcing plans to open new screens. Part of the reason for this is that UK cinema ownership has been undergoing a period of consolidation. This has also resulted in a change in cinema advertising sales contracts.

Market divisions

Following the acquisition of the UK's two biggest theatrical exhibitors, Odeon and UCI, by private equity group Terra Firma, ITV division Carlton Screen Advertising (CSA) has risen to primacy, with a 75% share of the cinema ad sales market. …

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