Lead Forensics

Has Cinema Finally Shaken off its COVID Headache?

15 August 2023

Barbenheimer has taken the world by storm. Indeed, it’s been impossible over the past few weeks to go online or walk down the street without coming across explosions of hot pink or a fedora.

A timely show of strength

Hollywood has recently been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes have plunged the world’s biggest film industry into chaos, with many films currently in production now facing some uncertainty – at least in the short-term. The good vibes delivered in bulk by the runaway success of Barbenheimer is therefore timely.

Yep – if you needed any reminder of cinema’s enduring ability to provide zeitgeist moments, the opening weekend for Barbie and Oppenheimer arrived right on cue. The former generated a record £18.5 million in ticket sales, while the latter drew in £11 million. There hasn’t been a bigger box office weekend since Avengers End Game in 2019.

And momentum isn’t slowing yet. The two films have now pushed the box office beyond £20 million for three weekends in a row; not since The Force Awakens in 2016 has this happened.

A flash in the pan, or signs of rejuvenation?

So, is Barbenheimer a harbinger of sunnier days to come for the cinema industry? Or is it merely a shard of light piercing through an otherwise gloomy forecast?

Well, the forthcoming movie calendar makes a compelling case for the former. Dune: Part Two, Killers Of The Flower Moon, Gran Turismo, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds, and The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim are all pencilled in for a 2023 release. 2024, meanwhile,  looks just as exciting, with Beetlejuice 2, Wicked Part 1, Gladiator 2, Joker: Folie à Deux and the live-action remake of Snow White all slated for next year.

Assuming resolutions are found in the standoff between Hollywood production companies and the unions, Barbenheimer’s success could be the start of a huge year for the big screen. The latest AA/WARC Expenditure Report forecasts that cinema advertising will grow by 20.4% year-on-year in Q3 2023, with a further 10.1% of growth predicted for 2024. This would see cinema become the fastest-growing media channel in the UK.

Challenges persist

Such figures haven’t been seen since 2019, when that (then) record weekend for Avengers End Game contributed to a haul of £228.3 million in advertising spend by the year’s end. Then the pandemic hit, and sales plummeted by 80% in 2020.

With lockdowns blighting the market well into 2021, cinema’s recovery has been slow. Streaming platforms capitalised on stay-at-home orders to snare some of the biggest film releases for themselves – permanently rewiring distribution networks in the process – while the public has been trepidatious in rekindling its love affair with theatres. With many cinemas forced to close as a result of catastrophic pandemic losses, the future remains fraught with challenges.

A healthy cinema industry is great news for brands

But Barbenheimer has shown there are reasons to be cheerful. When marketed well – as Barbie in particular has been – cinema releases can mutate into cultural phenomena that have everyone talking. They become must-see experiences. And with research from Cinema First showing that 80% of cinema-goers are in their seats for when the ads start, big film launches are a great opportunity for brands to be a valued part of the occasion.

But it’s not just that cinema is a uniquely immersive experience that retains our attention like no other media; it’s also a great team-player, working with other channels – be it TV, social media, experiential or out-of-home – to amplify awareness and engagement. It creates an ecosystem, with the potential for brand partnerships adding an extra layer of cut-through for advertisers.

Roll on 2024

The media landscape continues to change at a great pace, but cinema’s ability to captivate remains a reassuring constant. With a plethora of exciting releases in the pipeline and renewed interest in movie theatres following Barbenheimer, brands would be well-advised to keep a close eye on the industry’s continuing recovery in the months ahead.

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