Article: This Way Up 2019: How cinemas can set themselves apart in the age of streaming?

This Way Up 2019, the annual UK film exhibition innovation conference, was jam-packed with discussions, talks and debates designed to enlighten, inspire and challenge.

Part of the weekend, saw a reverse panel of film students ask exhibitors questions about the challenges the industry faces and how it could change over the next few years.

Following the event, The Bigger Picture reached out to the panelists for their thoughts on the event. Film student Jess Partington, who attended the conference after going to a BFI residential course, decided to write about how the growth of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime has transformed the film-going experience for young audiences, and what cinemas need to know in order to adapt to the changing landscape.

With the recent release of Netflix-distributed films The Irishman and Marriage Story, it is certainly common knowledge that independent venues are being faced with competition from streaming services such as Amazon, Apple and Netflix. With these services on the rise, along with the release of Disney+ in the UK later this year, it is no shock that the marketplace for film exhibition has become extremely overcrowded.

From the talks I attended at This Way Up, I feel this is an important issue with a long-lasting impact.

While no one is going to argue against the growth of streaming sites – they have certainly widened the diversity and volume of film viewing – there is an ever-growing fight for distributers of the big screen to get more diverse films out there into viewership. The competition is no longer just from chain cinemas versus home-viewing of films. 

The idea to introduce a monthly subscription service in the independent cinema sector was an idea considered at the conference. Adopting a business technique used by chain cinemas and streaming sites, it was suggested that audiences would have access to numerous independent venues across the UK at a fixed rate. I believe that if this would be possible, it would be an excellent approach to take as it would hopefully increase viewership of non-mainstream works, as well as adding to the community feel that is created by independent venues.  

From my own experience of going to chain cinemas such as my local Cineworld, the social aspect at these venues is just not the same. The only people I discuss the films with, at least, are the people I have gone to watch them with. I am often quick to leave afterwards, as there are no other amenities, such as a communal café, drawing me to stay and socialise.

It is not just the improved sound and picture quality that makes cinema-going so great. It is the fact that going to the cinema becomes much more than just watching the film. It has turned much more into a social event. I believe independent cinemas have in fact enhanced the experience, with added events such as Q&As with film talent and social areas such as bars and cafes, that really get conversations going. Watching a film at home or at a chain cinema, in my opinion, is just not the same.

I believe that even though the exhibition market is overcrowded as of present, audience loyalty to independent venues across the country will remain. They carry with them a history of supporting arthouse, independent and foreign-language films. The expansion of streaming sites, especially Netflix and MUBI, in my opinion, has in fact expanded the viewership non-mainstream films. We have access to them in much more vast amounts. There is an ever-growing audience for these films, and those who wish to view them in a cinema environment, will hopefully find loyalty with their local independent venue.

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