As the digital age allows new technology to usurp once popular and longstanding forms of entertainment, there is one medium that appears impervious to the unending march of technology: cinema.
A few years back it seemed that cinemas might sink into the carnage that digital technologies were creating. Many independent operators shut their doors. Most of the largest operators have stayed a float since then, and have now gone on to prosper.
Most recently, we have seen the opening of the GU Film House in Glenelg, and over the next 18 months, at least two new large cinemas are expected to open their doors in Prospect and Hindley Street.
But what is driving the success of this medium in a rapidly changing media landscape? How have local cinemas successfully fought o the barrage of online streaming services, pirated content and home cinemas?
Dr Peter Pugsley, a film researcher and the Head of the Media Department of the University of Adelaide, says that the success of cinema can be put down to a few factors, including its unique social and experience-based aspects and, of course, the content of the films being screened.
“Cinema creates that closed environment to fully experience a film,” Pugsley says, noting that few people can replicate cinema conditions in that “you can easily just pause the film to make a cup of tea, or maybe answer the phone” at home.
Likewise, expanding sets of genres are making cinema more accessible for people from diverse areas of life.
“A lot of screens around Adelaide will set aside a screen for a Bollywood film these days,” Pugsley says. ” there’s also a sub-genre aimed at older people, where light-hearted films with older characters bring in that new audience who might not otherwise attend the cinema.”
Picadilly Cinema remains popular with a broad section of Adelaide audiences
There is also a shift in established genres like action-adventure, which have traditionally featured stories surrounding the lives of men, opening up to strong female characters, Pugsley says, noting the strong female leads in blockbusters such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road.
These explanations are corroborated by those working in Adelaides’ cinemas, too. Bob Parr, Wallis Cinema’s Program Manager says that the social side of cinema is stronger than ever.
“There is no doubt that the need for people to socialise has kept cinema as the number one form of entertainment,” Parr says. “More people go to the cinema each week than any form of sport.”
Parr also notes that the success of movies such as the two Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films, The Lady in the Van and 100-Foot Journey have seen increasing numbers of mature customers walk through Wallis’ doors, while family and action-adventure films remain incredibly popular with mainstream audiences.
Yolanda Sulser, of Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas, agrees on these points and explains that cinema business escapes being ravaged by the expansion of home cinema and streaming by improving customer experience.
“As the world of film becomes more accessible and home entertainment is expanding, cinema is moving more and more towards being an experience,” Sulser says. “Studies have shown that even during a depression, cinema doesn’t su ffer, as it’s a more a ffordable form of entertainment or escapism that people can justify, or find value in.”
Improvements in customer experience at cinemas can be seen through the supply of more varied food and drink, including alcoholic beverages, and seated dining services and discounted ticketing clubs.
“It’s the experience people have here that essentially incentivises people to want to come and enjoy a film in cinema, rather than at home or on a laptop,” Sulser says.
Improved food and beverage options now complement the modern cinema experience
Technological advances are also enhancing customer experiences in the cinema, with better projection and sound systems than audiences could expect at home.
“Dolby Atmos is a new system giving an audience an immersive experience of sound,” Parr says. “Laser light is being developed which will further enhance the quality on screen with much brighter screen light, improving colour rendition.”
On the subject of consumer trends, like the popularity of 3D screenings, there is a little consternation on whether these systems work to enhance the experience or increase ticket prices. Parr looks forward to further improvements in the system, while Sulser is proud of the “Eximax – Adelaide’s largest screen”, but the jury is out on whether this will remain a core part of the business to come for cinemas.
“3D hasn’t taken off in a big way,” says Pugsley, “maybe the story is more important than all those effects.”
Amid this speculation, it appears that cinema will continue to play a strong role in the entertainment landscape in coming years.
Palace Nova Cinemas expects to launch a new cinema in Prospect in early 2017, while Event Cinemas expect to re-open their Hindley Street operation in the near future and Wallis Cinemas is currently negotiating new sites for their continued growth in South Australia.