Key takeaways from CinemaCon 2023

May 3, 2023
The DX Team
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That’s why we’ve partnered with Jan Runge, independent advisor and our company’s consultant, to document some elements of the event and bring you the most relevant takeaways for cinemas. So let’s get to it! And see what Jan discovered during the 4 buzzing days, in his words:

Theatrical is back in business

The most important observation from CinemaCon 2023 was a genuinely upbeat and hopeful atmosphere underpinned by the recent box office success of Super Mario, Avatar: The Way of Water, Top Gun: Maverick, and others, which showed that all audience segments find their way back to theaters if the right content is released on the big screen.

All major studios presented many highly promising upcoming film releases - with theatrical release dates attached to their presentations. And while it was of course mostly a gesture towards those industry colleagues attending CinemaCon there was a stark contrast to the comparably thin slate presentations of 2022, as Holywood delivered the goods by bringing major stars to the Colosseum: Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Zendaya, Rihanna, Christopher Nolan, Melissa McCarthy, Vin Diesel, Timothee Chalamet - to name but a few and in no particular order.

It’s symbolic but adding some star dusk to studio’s slate presentations makes all the difference and changes the business confidence of all attending.

Watch this space as we will attempt to create a timeline of upcoming movie releases for you in the near future

Audience insights and the question of how best to engage with cinema goers in the future were key issues that many panels and presentations touched on…

Converting moviegoer intent into box office returns

In the Globally Speaking: A Look at the Global Marketplace panel, Jane Hastings of Australia-based EVT and Tony Chambers of the Walt Disney Company together with Julien Marcel discussed how to drive people back to theatres after the pandemic, amongst many other issues. 

Hastings was quick to notice that it was not a lack of audience interest the industry struggled with but a lack of content. Chambers underlined that there is often a strong intent to watch a film in the cinema many months before its release, so it’s important that cinemas become even better at making sure that intent is then converted into box office sales.

Hastings referred to the gold value that is hidden in the customer database of exhibitors, in that context. The speakers agreed that the industry had become much better at sharing customer insights though (not personal data points). 

Giving speciality films the air to thrive

Both Hastings and Chambers agreed that in order to maximize profits for the sector both exhibitors and studios would have to become better at ensuring that smaller and medium sized titles also performed well at the box office. It is these titles that add the extra 20 - 30 percent of box office returns, which will make or break a successful exhibition business. As marketing budgets for these films are usually smaller, innovative collaborations and creative approaches to engaging audiences are more important than ever.

In the Disney slate presentation, Searchlight also underlined the importance of giving speciality films the opportunity to unfold their audience appeal, highlighting that all movie sequels once started on the basis of an original box office hit.

Digital marketing for film and cinema

Another key panel, Movie Marketing: Welcome to the Digital Age, dove deeper into some of the challenges and opportunities when it comes to marketing movie releases and the theatrical experience. 

The speakers included: 

  • Danielle Bekas, Co-Executive Vice President International Marketing at Warner Bros. Pictures, 
  • Dan Green, Group Director of Digital at Vue International, 
  • Stephanie Mills, Director, Sales, Marketing & Content at Hoyts, 
  • Alex Sanger, EVP, Digital Marketing, Universal Pictures

While your CinemaCon reporter was not able to attend the entire session here are some intriguing take aways which he managed to note down:

  • Not surprisingly, TikTok is the platform for younger audiences. The speakers alluded to some nice case studies (for instance, Puss in Boots gave you Antonio Banderas voice to sync your own cat videos).
  • Yet, according to some of the exhibitor executives on the panel, it is still the “old” platforms like Facebook and Instagram that drive real conversions.
  • Fun fact: paid search is the no.1 exhibitor expense when it comes to film marketing on digital channels.
  • Audience reactions to the upcoming release of #barbiethemovie on social media, also powered by an online meme generator, were referenced several times — highlighting how user-generated content drives engagement on a whole new level. The fact that Greta Gerwig, Margot Robbie, and Ryan Gosling appeared on stage in Las Vegas to promote the upcoming release might have helped push that story a little.

Cinemas remain key to bringing people together and to driving footfall for highstreets

Warner Bros. Discovery's chief executive and president, David Zaslav, according to many gave the unofficial keynote speech of CinemaCon, ad-libbing most of his remarks while other executives are keen to stick to their script.

Not only did he underline the value of releasing films in theatres before they create value in other verticals, but he also rallied the industry to raise the bar to entice audiences to enjoy movies in theatres. 

He pointed out how cinemas are still at the centre of bringing people together and how the power of storytelling combined with the power of shared experiences tops everything else.

On that same note, because cinemas are key in getting people together in the same space, they’re also crucial in helping revitalize footfall in high streets and city centers (re-vitalizing retail and town centers is a major challenge we all face after the pandemic).

You can read more about this great speech here.

Continuing the topic of cinemas as spaces for community gatherings and community building, we must mention another great panel: Community building at your cinema through creative marketing which brought together — Luke Parker Bowles, Co-Founder and CEO of Cinema Lab, Eric Carr, SVP, In-Theatre Marketing at Universal Pictures, Gabriella Gomez, Managing Member, Department of Influence, LLC, and Michael Kustermann, Chief Experience Officer of Alamo Drafthouse.

The moderator kicked of the event by urging present exhibitors to ask themselves the following question when it comes to community building: 

  • Do you know your local demographics?
  • Do you know your local authorities?
  • Do you know your local businesses?

Not in your country, but in the community around you. This is how you make sure you’re building the #cinemaexperience for the right people.

And some great examples of how community, experience, and promotion go hand in hand were highlighted during their talks:

  • We learned about a new Alamo Drafthouse cinema opening in Staten Island, NYC, which will feature a kung fu-themed bar/museum called "Flying Guillotine", made in collaboration with RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan — who’ll be in charge of some of the martial arts film programming. Find out all about it.
  • There is an unofficial Mario Day for fans of Super Mario, on March 1st, not acknowledged by Nintendo. Universal launched ticket sales to Super Mario on that day and it created amazing engagement — which goes to show how fandom activation is a great avenue for promotion.
  • Alamo Drafthouse gives out micro-merch for selected releases such as fine grained bags of sugar for Cocaine Bear, mini magnifying glasses for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, etc.

Day four at CinemaCon was filled with meetings and a tour of the lively trade show. A perhaps small but interesting observation in terms of audience engagement was the sponsor’s presentation by Fandango before Universal’s slate presentation. Fandango is a partly studio owned ticketing platform in the United States that drives millions of film fans to theatres. It also owns the well-known Rotten Tomatoes. In his presentation, Fandango’s newly appointed executive underlined the important role the platform could play in re-engaging film fans for the movie going experience.

This is something that's always top of mind for us, at DX, as well, as we believe the technology you choose for your cinema management will affect your conversion potential.

All in all, CinemaCon 2023 was packed, as you can see, and we can’t wait for the next one, as we’ve learned about many insightful projects!

Until then though, we’ve created a cinema events aggregator with all the major events in the industry, to help you keep track of them.

Freely access it here and bookmark it, as we’ll keep it updated as we uncover more.

If you want to stay up to date with our latest news and insights on all things tech and cinema, subscribe to our newsletter below:

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