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Entertainment Entertainment Marketing: Movies, TV, Music and Gaming Cinema

Flicks & mortar: They’re under fire in the age of content, but cinemas will never die

By Alex Wilson, Executive creative director



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March 26, 2024 | 9 min read

The reports of physical cinemas’ death are greatly exaggerated, says Amplify’s Alex Wilson for The Drum’s entertainment deep dive. The home of immersive entertainment won’t go down without a fight.

A still from John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

In a sea of troubles, cinema's endured the slings and arrows of streamification and a global pandemic / Lionsgate

Since the Lumière brothers first projected moving images to a paying audience in Paris in 1895, cinema and movies have evolved with technological advancements and audience expectations.

Brick-and-mortar cinemas themselves have been seemingly under threat for a while too – since at least as far back as the introduction of digital media. Recent global events had many claiming the final nail was soon to be hammered into the coffin of the silver screen.

IRL’ll be back

Covid-19 wasn’t the first time the medium had come under threat. The Spanish flu over a hundred years ago hit cinemas around the globe in a similar fashion. Broadcast television, hard media and now streaming (the latter now making up 38% of all TV usage) have at one point or another throughout history spelled ‘the end’ of cinemas. And yet; they endure.

There are approximately 1.8 billion streaming subscribers globally (with Netflix alone making up over 230 million of those worldwide). But there remain few places in the world that better serve up the combination of exclusive content and a unified, shared experience than the humble movie theatre.

2023 saw a lot of brands return to physical experiences, and 2024 shows no sign of the experience renaissance slowing down.

The streaming experience

One exciting space is the intersection of IP and experience. UK attendance to brick-and-mortar cinemas in 2023 increased 5.5% on the previous year. Box office takings were 4% higher, sitting just shy of £1bn. Globally, admissions rose from 5.7 billion to 7.1 billion, with 2024 looking to surpass that figure once more.

Netflix continues to lead the charge in the streaming wars with its continued push to innovate and reach wider audiences. In 2025, it plans to launch physical spaces called ‘Netflix House’ featuring retail, dining and live experiences – arguably something the likes of Alamo Drafthouse have been doing for years, but the power of the Netflix proposition is the owned IP it can leverage. There’s a line to walk between ‘themed’ experiences and ones that are expansions and worldbuilding opportunities of their most loved titles.

The irony that Netflix is creating its own physical spaces, when it was arguably the final nail in Blockbuster’s coffin, is not lost.

Cinema in the age of content

“The cinema has always been much more than content, and it always will be” – so said Martin Scorsese himself in a 2021 essay.

During the last century’s major wars, picture houses were considered an essential tool for ‘public well-being’. They kept people calm, out of the pubs, and clear-headed. They also played a key part in propaganda, community, and thus the war effort.

There are scientific studies on audiences’ emotional shared responses while watching a movie together. The medium triggers emotion and encourages viewers to reflect on themselves and their lives. It’s literally contagious. When you watch a great movie, you are not being treated as an algorithm or a consumer. You’re experiencing a point of view on the world, not simply ingesting and ‘liking’.

But for cinemas to survive they may also need to evolve and react to what they are projecting onto the silver screen.

In 2023, Taylor Swift changed the game for how film distribution can operate, releasing her Eras tour film direct to AMC cinemas, avoiding the standard route of studio distribution. The result was box office takings of over $123m. Studios, who have had suffocating power over movie distribution to this point, will be taking note.

No less an authority than director Christopher Nolan said that the studios missed a trick by not picking up the Eras film: “This is a format, this is a way of seeing things and sharing stories, or sharing experiences, that’s incredibly valuable. And if they don’t want it, somebody else will.”

Experience this

It wasn’t just Swift’s strategy in getting her tour on screens. Her fans then ripped up the rule book of how to experience it. Rows of cinema seating were ignored as they stood in the aisles and in front of the screen to dance. Videos have emerged of audiences doing the same thing at Larry Charles’ 2023 cult hit Dicks: The Musical and the recently re-released Talking Heads documentary Stop Making Sense.

Are we soon to see cinemas and theaters do away with fixed seating for certain performances?

Maybe. Innovation will surely play a bigger role, certainly around more enhanced audio technology. And no doubt filmmakers will soon look to augmented reality to expand storytelling opportunities.

Meanwhile, food, beverage and seating have all been given the ‘premium’ treatment in multiplexes. Operators, as well as leveling up the basics in audio and visual technology have invested in menus, alcoholic drinks, and more comfortable seating.

Larger complexes have also leaned more heavily into ‘event screenings’ for tentpole releases, while mid-tier and independent movie houses have celebrated more niche communities and fandoms, tying in experiences with screenings more directly, such as Alamo Drafthouse offering audiences free hotdogs with 2022’s Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Personally, I’ll never forget attending a ‘Movie Maths’ night at the Prince Charles cinema in London, where a triple bill made a narratively and aesthetically balanced equation: Robocop + The Raid = Dredd. With an audience as in love with movies as I am, I got to see on the big screen flicks I’ve only ever experienced on a television set.

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Now that’s what I call content!

People can access exclusive content anywhere and anytime. 81% of users identify ‘ease of use’ (and 79% ‘availability of content’) as a key consideration. Easily-consumed content is designed to be ingested in those formats. Temporary. Disposable. Engineered to trigger a reaction and illicit a like or share and quickly as possible.

Cinema is not that. Movie theaters offer us an escape from our black mirrors. It’s a connection with an audience and with a creator whose vision deserves 90+ minutes of your attention.

In a world where The Godfather, a Super Bowl commercial, a cat video, and Mr Beast burning millions of dollars in cash are all unceremoniously collated under the banner of ‘content’, cinemas give us something that can transcend that moniker. The last bastion of experience and narrative moving image will never die.

Love games, movies, TV, music, and podcasts? Us too. Head over to The Drum’s dedicated entertainment focus week hub.

Entertainment Entertainment Marketing: Movies, TV, Music and Gaming Cinema

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