Cinemas are like airlines – they just don’t know it

Rupert Goodwins
Written by Rupert Goodwins

“Nobody knows anything.” That’s the opening line of Adventures in the Screen Trade, William Goldman’s fascinating, acerbic insider story of the movie business. As a hugely successful screenwriter, he should know – as should we, the poor bloody infantry at the other end of the Hollywood food chain.

I’m not talking about the product, although any business that keeps giving Adam Sandler money to make movies would be hard-pressed to come out ahead of an amoeba on University Challenge. It’s the new technologies that most clearly show up Tinseltown’s prehiistoric mentality. You might have thought the start of 2001, A Space Odyssey was a dramatic illustration of the dawn of mankind’s consciousness. No, it was Kubrick’s observation of Hollywood management: they ignore any new tech-driven opportunity as long as they can, then they throw rocks at it to make it go away.

This is the industry that tried to get video recorders outlawed, five years before the VCR practically doubled movie revenues. This is the industry which decided the best way to advance in the face of the Internet was to criminalise its own customers. This is the industry which thinks the only good mobile is one that’s turned off, in case you’re stealing its soul.

Guess what, guys. The monolith of mobile isn’t going away. Evolve or die.

But the monolith is kind. The monolith will teach you. Stop farting around in ape-suits, put your hand on your iPad, and learn.

First, mobile is social. Not as in Facebook and Twitter, they just happen to be there. Mobile means bonding with friends by actually meeting them, through supple, instant, spur-of-the-moment planning. What shall we do tonight becomes something you decide at 5:25 this afternoon. Mobile means thrill of the chase – hey, have you seen this neat deal I just found? Mobile means passionate addiction: take away 21st century Homo sapiens’ Samsung and you might as well cut off their hands.

Bonding. Thrills. Passion. Sounds like a hell of a plot. You could make movies out of that.

Don’t fight it. Feed it. And stop thinking about marketing a good time, start thinking about delivering a good time. Here’s the script.

It’s end of play on a working Thursday, somewhere in Britain. Pete snapchats Em and Jezza, saying yeah, it’s a school night, but WTF. Let’s go out. Meanwhile across town, the 6:30 showing of Wedding Vengeance 4: Veils Of Fire is only a quarter booked. Two hundred seats are empty. Out goes the bat-signal: six tickets for a tenner. Offer good for half an hour only. Twofers on popcorn. And if you’re the one buying the tickets, you get another ticket of your choice, free. Just press this button.

Ten quid the lot. Press the damn button already.

Em notices this. She’s got the app. Jezza’s suggesting Spoons, but here’s a better idea. “I’ve just got us into that new movie about ninja bridesmaids. My treat. We can do Wetherspoons after. You’re buying.” Bang. Ladies and gentlemen, the hero of the moment. The tickets are on her phone, and the evening is sweet.

Cinemas are like airlines. You’ll be flying those seats full or empty and full is better. Use technology to work out the best possible deals to pack out the quiet periods while still turning a buck and get people into the habit so they’ll pay top dollar later. Make it as easy and pleasant as possible (even Ryanair’s finally noticed that last bit). Understand why and how your punters use your service and give it to them, good and hot.

Of course, frictionless billing is part of that – a big part, especially if your target audience likes instant gratification, or counts the pennies more closely than the hours, or is just flexible enough to carpe the diem. Worry about that sort of detail more than social media or engagement or whatever trendy yada-yada someone’s trying to sell you.

Get the experience right, and your customers will do your marketing for you.

What you need to do, as William Goldman wrote in All The President’s Men, is so simple even Hollywood knows it: “Follow the money.”

photo credit: via photopin (license)

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Rupert Goodwins

Rupert Goodwins