Cinemas: Continued success through innovation in a mature market

A recent visit to the Everyman cinema in Leeds led me to consider recent changes in the industry.

The cinema industry can be considered a mature industry in the UK: films were first shown to paying audiences back in 1896 with picture houses (cinemas) widespread by 1914. 

Although cinema attendance has certainly fallen since its hey-day in the 1940s and 1950s, the most recent figures for UK cinema admissions indicate that over 157 million cinema tickets were sold in 2014.

While this figure is lower than that for 2013, despite the recession that followed the 2007 financial crisis, annual cinema admissions have remained relatively stable since 2007, exceeding 170 million in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

The fall in popularity in going to the cinema between the 1950s and 1990s has definitely been stemmed. For four successive years, cinema box office revenues have exceeded £1bn.

So what accounts for the continued popularity of going to the cinema, even in times of recession, when the alternatives for watching films at home have multiplied in recent years too?

Ultimately, cinemas have innovated. First, in recent years cinemas have, to popular acclaim, broadened their offerings to include National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Old Vic, Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Royal Ballet productions as well as pop concerts.

This has had a significant effect on box office revenues, with the revenues from these screenings amounting to £18.7m in 2013. The screenings of theatre productions were most popular, making up 38.3% of these revenues, with opera screenings second, with 25.7% of revenues. 

Smaller innovations include the introduction of loyalty schemes, upgraded seating options, reduced price screenings for children and older audiences, and increasing the range of food and drink products available, such as selling alcoholic drinks as well as hot beverages from well-known coffee shop franchises within cinemas.

The number of multiplexes in the UK also grew by over 28% between 2002 and 2013. Nevertheless, multiplexes made up only 39% of cinema sites in 2013, highlighting the importance of smaller cinemas including independent cinemas. 

Independent cinemas have also been innovating. For example the Everyman Cinema in Leeds offers sofa seating, a great selection of food and drinks that can be consumed watching a film, even waitress service. This is just one of the independent Everyman cinema group’s cinemas, with plans currently to open another Everyman cinema in Harrogate.

Further afield, there is the recently opened Home, incorporating the former Cornerhouse cinema and Library Theatre Company in Manchester. Even if you do not fancy a trip to the cinema in the next few days, you could alternatively try checking out the online Yorkshire Film Archive. This contains footage dating back to the 1890s and there is sure to be something of interest to everyone.

Ultimately, technology has developed dramatically since the first cinemas opened in the UK over one hundred years ago, but faced with declining demand at the end of the twentieth century, cinemas have overhauled their offerings and the cinema going experience to ensure that demand remains buoyant.