Tuesday, 7 December 2010

"Let it snow!": How the Snow Effects UK Cinema Exhibition

Last week much of the UK, including here in Brighton, was covered in snow. Schools were closed, buses were cancelled and middle class suburban homes everywhere were left without their weekly Ocado delivery. But how did it affect the British film exhibition business? I asked a few people in the know at different East Sussex based cinemas to see exactly what they made of the bad weather.

Apparently it isn't always bad news according to occasional Splendor Cinema podcast guest James Tully. James is the marketing manager of Brighton's biggest cinema - an Odeon near the town centre - and he suggested that the snow can in fact have a positive effect on business for the chain depending on the target audience: "If the weather is bad, then the schools are closed so if you are one of the few businesses still open then there is a good opportunity to make money. We see a rise in family business during the day as parents have nothing to do with their kids. But films for a mature audience suffer as older people will not want to risk going out onto snow & ice just to see a film."

Likewise, podcast co-host Jon Barrenechea, manager of Brighton's Duke of York's Picturehouse, says that his cinema can also benefit from the snow. But whereas the multiplex takes advantage of kids off school eager to watch 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One', the Duke's unique atmosphere gives it an advantage in attracting older crowds: "During the Christmas holidays the whole place just feels like a cosy front room in an eccentric’s house. Mulled wine, fairy lights, the Edwardian architecture, it’s the perfect setting for when it snows, so we tend to get busy in times like this, especially recently as people haven’t been able to drive anywhere, they’ve been walking down to the cinema."

The Duke of York's not only has the advantage of a large, loyal and local customer base. It is also based just on the edge of town and sat on two main roads - which are generally usable even in snowy weather, as the fire station next door needs constant access - whilst the Odeon, being in the centre of town, is also accessible to a lot of people. It is a different story for a cinema based in a more remote area, like the Uckfield Picture House. Manager and owner Kevin Markwick told me, "snow has a devastating effect on our business, particularly in a semi rural area like this. People simply can’t get here on country roads. For some reason no one seems to want to walk here either. ['Harry Potter'] business has dropped by 65% since the snow hit on Tuesday [November 30th]." The Odeon's James echos Kevin's concerns saying, "I think it's a tough time for independent cinemas who are programmed weeks in advance, as if their big hit film falls in that week [of bad weather] then their profits fall through the floor."

Time of day is another factor in people's decision to come out to the movies in blizzard conditions too. Whilst day time shows can receive a boost in attendance, James noticed that evening business "declines as guests do not know what to expect by the time their film has finished. If for example you are watching an 8pm 'Harry Potter' that finishes at 11pm, you could emerge to find another foot of snow has fallen, transport cancelled etc." Jon also sees a drop for certain shows. Notably the National Theatre and MET Opera screenings, which are broadcast live via satellite and regularly sell out: "The only times it really affects us is when we have special events like the Operas when people are driving in from out of town."

Another concern is for smaller films with niche appeal. Again James Tully provided his view of what can happen to such films at this time of year: "it's a tough time if you are a distributor of a small film as the film will not get held-over if it doesn't perform well. I hope that 'Monsters' manages to find an audience... It would be a shame after such an excellent marketing campaign to see the film fail at the last hurdle." Customers are unaware of how film distribution works, which creates a problem for the smaller films says James, "People also assume that a film will be playing indefinitely and that if it snows, and they can't go out, then they will see it next week. Unfortunately the reality is that the film probably wont last another week."

All pictures taken by my girlfriend and I whilst snowed-in in Patcham last week.

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