Article: This Way Up 2022: Calling All Members

From This Way Up 2022 at DCA Dundee, Paul Gallagher writes for The Bigger Picture on the ‘Calling All Members’ panel where the latest methods that independent cinemas are using to attract new audience members were discussed.

Anyone who works in an independent cinema will be familiar with the question from audience members, “why don’t you have a subscription or ‘unlimited card’ equivalent that I can sign up to?”

I’ve certainly heard it many times and wondered myself if there could be an indie equivalent of the monthly subscriptions that the multiplexes offer, and what the model might look like.

As such, the Calling All Members session at This Way Up 2022 was of great interest.

It began with a presentation from Thomas Hosman, the CEO and co-founder of Cineville, an indie cinema subscription membership that offers unlimited access to a network of 60 cinemas across The Netherlands.

Thomas sketched out how the scheme began in a very small way in 2009 – inspired by a desire to draw more young people to indie cinemas – and has grown to 60,000 members in 2022, each of whom visits an indie cinema on average 2.5 times a month. Begun with no government funding but built on investment from each cinema in the network, Cineville is collectively owned by the cinemas that make up the network.

Thomas’s presentation gives a compelling picture of how this model works very effectively in The Netherlands, and has also aided independent cinemas in their recovery from Covid lockdown closures. The slides also give an outline of how the finances work and how the Cineville/cinema/distributor income split works.

Spirit of collaboration

Thomas noted that transparency in their finances was the main factor that got distributors on board with the scheme in the first place. It was also apparent that a spirit of collaboration across the network was a key to its success, and Thomas was also quick to note that “if you want to attract young people, [you need to] employ young people who can connect on their level”.

Following this, Ian Wild, Chief Executive of Showroom Cinema in Sheffield, offered his reflections on what a UK version might look like. Ian spoke about initial discussions he has had with both the BFI and other UK exhibitors and noted that he has found general enthusiasm to try a Cineville-type concept for the UK indie sector.

He is keen to hear from other UK exhibitors who would like to be part of it. The desire, said Ian, is primarily driven by exhibitors sensing a loss of market share to the multiplexes’ subscription schemes, particularly in younger audiences. The need to renew audiences and draw young people in is pressing.

On the flipside, there is some nervousness that a network-focused subscription could cut across individual sites’ membership schemes. For his part, Thomas noted that some cinemas in the Cineville network have successfully continued membership schemes alongside the network membership, weighting their emphasis on food and drink discounts and venue support, rather than ticket discounts.

Ian got very practical in his comments, which was great – he has clearly thought a lot about this prospect. He noted that the scheme would require an initial investment in marketing to build a brand, membership and support for key titles. There is a question over whether a venue would have to hit certain quotas of relevant titles to be able to join the network, or if it would be open to any independent venue regardless of programme.

Pricing would need to be pitched at the same kind of level as Cineworld and Odeon’s offers, which sit in the £15-£17 per month ballpark. From speaking with colleagues in Belgium who have recently followed Cineville’s lead and begun a subscription across their network, Ian quoted a rough figure of £150,000 as a minimum set-up cost, and raising more would help reduce initial risk.

There were a lot of audience questions via Slido, and the intention is for Ian to draw up an FAQ that can be circulated to interested parties. It was clear from all that was said that collaboration across the network would be a key, and Ian was not wrong to note that “we don’t have much of a track record of working together in the UK.” However, this was an excellent session, and exactly the kind of connection-building, ideas-pitching presentation that gets to the heart of what This Way Up is all about.

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