Silver screen strikes gold with megaplex sites

Bigger cinemas mean greater opportunities for advertisers as the megaplex heads an aggressive expansion drive across the country. Adam Poulter investigates the enduring appeal of a visit to the flicks. Adam Poulter is ceo of Carlton Screen Adv

Cinema has come a long way since the first advertisement was slide-projected onto the safety curtain at The Lumiere, Leicester Square, 100 years ago – the earliest known moving picture commercial was Dewar’s whisky. However, cinema-going remains a great source of entertainment and occupies a significant proportion of its patrons’ leisure time.

The most obvious development of the past decade has been the effect of the multiplex. UCI Milton Keynes opened its doors for business in 1985 and kick-started the rebirth of the cinema. The multiplex and, most recently, the development of the new megaplex sites takes its template from multiple retailing – the more choice that is offered to customers, the more they are likely to buy. This is demonstrated by the resurgence of cinema admissions from an all-time low in 1984 of 54 million to 123.5 million in 1996. The expansion programme for “plexes” means there will be 2,900 screens in the UK by the year 2000 generating about 180 million admissions.

This aggressive expansion programme focuses predominately on the major conurbations of the British Isles. Inadvertently, this has strengthened independent cinema operators’ franchise with their local communities and created a vehicle for even distribution of the media opportunity nationwide. The variety of film product catered for in the new era of cinema exhibition has provided a wider range of films for cinema-goers.

Compared with the rest of the world, the UK’s screens per capita – at 3.4 – and attendances per capita – at 2.7 – still show a vast potential for expansion before the US average of 10.6 and 4.7 respectively is achieved. In the next 18 months alone, 54 new sites and 680 new screens will increase the availability of what the cinema offers to a 30-year high, and continue to expand the penetration and frequency of the advertising. Significant volume growth has taken place over the past decade in the core area of 15- to 34-year-olds, but the most substantial proportionate growth has been in seven- to 14-year-olds and 35- to 44-year-olds.

The greatest contribution to advertising from “plexes” has been a new generation of audience. Unsurprisingly, under-24s, who have been brought up on an entertainment culture of television, video, computer and software games in-home, enjoy the experience of social interaction with friends at the movies as a pivotal pastime.

The new generation of mega-plexes being built at Trafford Park, Battersea Power Station and Crystal Palace, act as flagships by providing even more entertainment for a wider variety of cinema-goers.

Be it re-runs of vintage movies, dedicated art screen performances, cinema on demand or a straightforward 24-hour service, opportunities for advertisers are better than ever before. It remains to be seen if this will create a branded franchise for cinema owners that extends what they offer their customers.

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