ANALYSIS: Front seat for cinema brands

Cinema marketers’ strategies are coming under the spotlight as the curtain rises on some of the biggest action the industry has seen for years.

Cinema marketers’ strategies are coming under the spotlight as the

curtain rises on some of the biggest action the industry has seen for


Remember the first time you were allowed into town with your friends to

see a film? Chances are this ‘coming of age’ took place in an ABC

cinema, complete with popcorn-encrusted carpets and middle-aged

usherettes showing you to a faded red seat by torchlight.

You’d have to be at least in your late 20s to have experienced this,

because the chain was taken over by Cannon (now MGM) in the mid-80s and

the name disappeared from our high streets.

But it emerged last week that the 60-year-old brand is on its way back.

Former managing director of MGM Cinemas Barry Jenkins is negotiating to

buy up to 90 MGM high street sites from new owner Virgin Cinemas. In

terms of sites this would create a market leader, with Odeon a close

second and UCI third. UCI, however, leads the growing multiplex sector.

ABC is likely to be back before the end of the year, the date by which

MGM has to disappear. Likewise, Virgin will have stamped its brand on

its own sites by then.

Virgin bought the MGM chain last July. So far it has only rebranded its

Dublin site, with Rochester next to take the Virgin colours. Head of

marketing Ian Grey says that, in typical Virgin style, the company plans

to bring a radical approach to cinema branding.

Grey is tight-lipped over details, but the company is understood to be

looking at translating some of its airline’s marketing ideas into

cinema. Those could mean ‘Club Class’ screens, and improved bars and


Virgin has also been toying with the idea of introducing multiscreen

cinemas, with up to 17 separate screens, which would ‘blow the

competition out of the water’, according to one observer.

Big screen action

There is much speculation in the industry that the emergence of the

Virgin brand, and the relaunch of ABC, will bring about a marketing war

in an industry that has traditionally been isolated from the need for

serious branding.

‘Traditionally, location has been the key issue in consumers’ minds when

deciding where to go to the cinema,’ says Odeon Cinemas marketing

executive Stuart Francis.

‘Virtually everywhere except London, people will visit the cinema

closest to them. We are not yet at the stage where the majority of

cinemas are in direct competition. When we are, personal preference, and

consequently branding, will come to the fore.’

A spokesman for UCI says: ‘We want to encourage loyalty to the UCI

brand, not just to a particular film. If this happened, consumers would

be willing to travel a bit further to their preferred cinema.’

Coming attractions

In addition to the current UK players in the multiplex sector (Odeon,

UCI, Warner, Showcase and now Virgin), at least two new brands plan to

capitalise on the 80% increase in box office revenues since 1989.

Cine UK, run by former managing director of Warner Cinemas Stephen

Wiener, is to open its first site in Stevenage in July, while the large

US chain AMC also plans to build 2000 screens across Europe, with a

sizeable presence in the UK.

‘In the past the race was to put multiplexes in place and watch the cash

roll in,’ says Karsten Peter-Grummitt, principal at Dodona Research.

‘The future will require skills, not only in choosing locations but in

paying more attention to marketing to fill them.’

Trailers for future films are one of the most important promotional

tools distributors have, but the mechanism for deciding which trailers

are shown, and when, is often left up to the projectionist.

Improving booking procedures is also a priority. UCI and MGM are

currently testing systems to improve the speed at which film goers can

call a cinema, check availability, and book by credit card.

UCI is also to set up an Internet site, with a credit card booking

facility, by the end of the year.

With improved facilities and levels of customer service, the cinema

industry to which ABC is returning has gone through something of a

‘coming of age’ itself.


Cinema circuit market shares 1993-1994


Company                    Admissions    Revenue

                             % 1994      % 1993

MGM                            24.2        25.6

National Amusements             8.1         7.5

Odeon                           7.7        18.3

UCI                            18.5        20,7

Warner                          7.3         5.8

Independents                   24.2        22.2

Source: Company accounts/Dodona Research



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