The Year of the Cinema Comeback: What You Missed at Cinema-Con and CineEurope

With another post-pandemic summer underway, you may be wondering what lies ahead for the future of the box office. Two annual conferences—Cinema-Con in the U.S. and CineEurope in Barcelona—are dedicated to all things cinema, and this year’s gatherings had a lot in common.

Chief among the parallels: cinema is once again poised for the spotlight.

The past three years have undoubtedly been the most transformative in cinema’s extensive history. Holistically, the film industry—like so many industries post-COVID—has been challenged to rise to the technological occasion amidst inflation, fixed cost increases, and film supply slowdowns.

At both events, the ambition for the future of cinema was palpable. And yet, hard questions linger, like how to bring more people to the movies and how to thrive long-term.

To this end we’ve compiled a collection of the biggest talking points from this year’s conferences (so far).

Marketing wins the day

The competition to win consumer attention is fierce. As a result, striking box office gold starts with a standout marketing campaign.

In addition to the star power and full-length film premieres at both conferences, extravagant executions abound, including life-sized Transformers at Cinema-Con and immersive tunnels playing 360° film trailers at CineEurope.

360° immersive tunnel at CineEurope

This is just a taste of the marketing campaigns coming to the wider marketplace this year, where studios will be doggedly fighting to entice viewers.

To create anticipation and must-see buzz, studios are producing experiences that do more than announce a premiere date. Those life-sized Transformers are wrapping up a world tour promoting the latest film in that franchise, while newcomer Barbie is in full marketing mode, which includes life-sized Barbie box photo-ops and more promotional tie-ins than you can possibly count.

These picture-perfect promotions not only engage in real life, they also create FOMO (fear of missing out) as photos are shared on social platforms.

Life-sized Barbie box to promote Barbie for Warner Bros. Pictures

Life-sized Transformers to promote Transformers: Rise of the Beasts from Paramount Pictures

Experience matters

Last year was the first that cinemas were able to operate without interruption since 2019, with year-over-year admissions growing 60% in the U.S. and 36% in Europe. And the growth continues into 2023 where, to-date, admissions have increased almost 20% over 2022.

While audiences are back, it is incumbent upon theaters to deliver a frictionless experience and the wow-factor moviegoers are seeking, especially as home entertainment abounds via always-available streaming content.

Here are a few of the ways cinemas are uncovering new ways to reinvigorate the experience of the big screen.

Return of the theatrical release

Studios and major distributors are reaffirming their commitment to exclusive theatrical releases.

The past few years have confirmed that releasing films exclusively to theaters first does indeed drive long-term outcomes, both by serving as an unmatched marketing platform and by ultimately affecting how streaming consumers judge a film’s quality.

Long live experiential

To attract moviegoers, exhibitors are doubling down on creating unbeatable experiences, including Premium Large Format screens that attract customers willing to pay higher prices.

Audiences are also showing up for immersive sound and picture quality, premium seating, and exclusive amenities.

Moving forward, hybrid experiences like dine-in cinema, dog-friendly screenings, or “knitting cinema”—which is exactly what it sounds like—offer creative ways of meeting the desires of diverse audiences.

Quantity and diversity

The quantity of released titles in 2022 climbed to its highest number since 2019 in both the U.S. (496 versus 910) and Europe (370 versus 480), pointing to the continuing recovery of cinemas post-COVID.

Top of mind for many execs is the need for a more robust and diverse film slate, deemed crucial for attracting both existing and new audiences. Whether it’s the latest installment in a beloved franchise or a title that appeals locally, cinema has the power to unite people from diverse backgrounds. It brings people together, transcending borders and cultures.

As Universal’s Donna Langley, recently promoted to Chairman of NBCUniversal Studio Group & Chief Content Officer, puts it, “We are going to bring you movies of all shapes and sizes…Not just quantity, quality.”

Various 2023 tentpole titles promoted at Cinema-Con

Greening the screen

Reducing their carbon footprint is an important goal for cinema exhibitors across Europe, and many are making concerted efforts to optimize their energy consumption and reduce waste.

Long-term strategies for waste management include testing reusable and compostable solutions, as well as alternatives that minimize unnecessary wrapping.

Laser projections are gaining popularity across Europe, due in part to their lower cooling requirements, enabling cinemas to reduce their energy consumption by over 50%. Additionally, smart energy management systems are also being deployed to turn off lighting, digital signage, and projection equipment when not in use.

Left unspoken

Largely unaddressed at both Cinema-Con and CineEurope was the ongoing writer’s strike in the U.S., which could deeply impact projects slated for this later this year and next.

Though domestic disagreements remain unresolved, the conventions cast a spotlight on where the cinema industry is today, and how theaters an improve moviegoing and drive profitability.

Maybe the biggest takeaway from the conferences is that every touchpoint for moviegoers matters, and those creating and screening films are hard at work raising the bar on what it means to go to the movies. From independent narratives, to regional stories, to large scale productions, cinema continues to be a platform for meaningful stories that reflect our global community.

As Lionsgate’s Adam Fogelman, Vice Chair Motion Pictures Group, said at Comic-Con, “People love great movies in the theater. Nothing can stop that communal experience.” See you at the movies!

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