How a local cinema keeps growing through programming and community-building

March 31, 2023
The DX Team
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Anita Borrmann Skoglund started her career in 2002 working in marketing for Kodak in Oslo, Norway in an office of over 300 co-workers. By the time she left Kodak three years later, the staff had dwindled to 12.

Of course, it wasn’t marketing that caused the decline of Kodak, at one time the world’s largest film and camera manufacturer. The century-old company faced challenges on two fronts — heavy competition from Japanese rival Fujifilm, and the technology revolution that would make digital photography the dominant form. 

But the experience made Anita realize that perhaps corporate marketing wasn't the career for her. 

It also taught her a valuable lesson – listen to what your audience needs.

What follows is a story of a cinema manager uncovering new opportunities to enhance the cinema experience and creating a community-driven space, for those experiences to be shared:

Powering the Cinema Experience through Cultural Happenings

Anita found a new opportunity with a kulturhus — one of many community-centered venues throughout Norway that often include multiple businesses that present cultural programming and experiences. 

Featuring amenities like coffee shops and libraries and events like concerts and theatrical performances, cinema is typically just one segment of a kulturhus’ programming. 

She quickly learned that this was the right place for her. 

With this move, Anita went into the business of creating great experiences for audiences instead of creating marketing materials for international business conglomerates.

For seven years, Anita worked as a manager at Ål Kulturhus, located in Ål, a sparsely-populated area between Oslo and Bergen, while earning a Master's degree in Public Leadership. 

The venue offered cinema, live performances, and other cultural programming, and Anita quickly discovered in her role that her love for cinema and the industry made managing a kulturhus a much more satisfying professional fit.

But with a population of less than 5000 in all of Ål, Anita, drawing on her marketing experience, realized that Ål Kulturhaus would need a unique element to bring customers from outside the region to the venue. 

After all, Anita already saw firsthand how tough competition and lagging behind innovation could bring down a once-strong business.

Anita turned her marketing eye toward what opportunities Ål Kulturhus could offer that were different from what other cultural venues in the region were offering and how that could help boost the cinema experience. 

After researching different use possibilities, Anita discovered that Norway was lacking production stages for dance — so Ål Kulturhaus built a visually-appealing stage for dancing that soon was attracting dancers from all over the world to the small community.

Building a production stage for dance may not seem like it has much to do with cinema, but any new initiative that introduced audiences to Ål Kulturhus would benefit the cinema by increasing recognition of what the venue offered. 

And it worked — despite the small population of Ål, Ål Kulturhus sells over 25,000 cinema tickets per year (for comparison, the average Norwegian visits the cinema once a year and she managed to bump that to around 5 times per year). 

Joining Panorama Kulturhus and a New Film Programming Challenge 

In 2021, Anita started a new job at Panorama Kulturhus in Sundet, Norway, located in the Eidsvoll municipality, which has five times the population of Ål. Nonetheless, Eidsvoll is a small town surrounded by several more significant areas that offer cultural programming of their own. 

As a result, the larger population of the region had not translated into success for the kulturhus' cinema — before Anita's arrival, the cinema only had screenings on Sundays, the venue suffered from budget cuts and the moviegoers were used to traveling to other places in the region for their film and cultural events. 

Simply getting people to come through the door was a key challenge.

At Ål Kulturhus, Anita saw how a much smaller population could sustain a full slate of cinema and cultural programming, if marketed properly. She agreed to take the job at Panorama Kulturhus under one condition -- that she would be able to create programming to bring people back to the space. 

"We need good films, several days a week, and provide a whole experience,” she explains.

Building a Film Community at Panorama Kulturhus

From the beginning, Anita took a hands-on approach. 

She frequently checked in on ticketing and made sure she was visible to audiences if they needed assistance, welcoming direct contact to resolve any questions or issues (Anita even moved her off-site office into the venue).

Here are just some of the tactics she used around marketing, community, and experience-building:

  • Press and Political Influencers. Petitioning local political leaders for monetary support for programming at the kulturhus, including new cinema equipment so that the venue could screen films three times a week as well as subsiding tickets for teen audiences to encourage them to go to the cinema.
  • Media relations. Working with the local newspaper to promote the upcoming programming.
  • Community marketing and segmentation. Seeking out local groups, such as senior groups, to find out when they would most likely go to the cinema and programming around that availability.
  • Cross-collaboration. Connecting to other businesses within Panorama and setting the goal to make this a real cultural center with a library, cafeteria, cinema, and connect it all together through shared programming.
  • Social media marketing and word of mouth. Increasing the social media presence of the venue – though their channels still have room for growth, Anita understands how important a lever social media is. People have even recognized her from posts and have approached her to say hello. “Audience and people living here have done a great job marketing this place,” she shares. “They push each other to use it.”

Perhaps Anita's most important initiative in the revival of Panorama Kulturhus was getting audiences to visit even if they were not paying customers. She invited youth groups and volunteers to use the on-site facilities for free. 

It not only helps build community, but it allows Anita to show off what everyone was missing at Panorama and encourages them to treat it as “the place to be” in town for not only their cultural interests but for a meeting place for the community.

In just one year, Anita has helped Panorama's cinema admissions increase from 1,500 in 2021 to 8,000 in 2022. Based on her experience at Ål Kulturhus, she knows those numbers could be far larger — and she is determined to keep pushing forward, while facing staffing challenges and other new issues that arise.

But perhaps even more importantly, Anita has significantly increased activity at the cultural center for the residents, reestablishing Panorama Kulturhus as a vital part of community life. 

What Cinemas Can Learn from Norway’s Kulturhus Model

While the kulturhus model is not as popular in countries outside of Norway where cinemas, live theater, and concert halls are usually separate venues, Anita’s approach to building community enthusiasm for Panorama Kulturhus is a great example of how local cinemas can shape engagement and great experiences:

  • Community engagement – finding out what programming speaks to the local community, and when is the best time for them to visit.
  • Local support - making outreach to community leaders to see how they could provide financial or promotional support for the cinema.
  • Creating connections – offering the cinema facilities to community organizations to get more people to experience the venue.
  • Offering experiences beyond cinema - Come for a movie, stay for the coffeehouse.

Anita has positioned Panorama Kulturhus as a source of community growth to various segments of the local population, and they are starting to notice her hard work. Even when the cinema is not running, patrons are visiting the coffeeshop and other amenities on site. And every moment that there is an audience in the kulturhus, there are opportunities for branding and marketing to get them to come back to see a movie.

Great experiences in the cinema can provide a tremendous boost to a town or city of any size. 

While Anita knows that there is more work for her to do, she can proudly say that she is playing a significant role in restoring Panorama Kulturhus’ important place in her community.

We’re proud to be the solution supporting Anita’s work both as part of Ål Kulturhus and Panorama Kulturhus’ cinema experiences.

If you want to find out more about how we can help your cinema power great experiences, contact us here.

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