It’s been a little while since I last wrote something on the blog – so long in fact, that I don’t want to actually look at just how long it’s been out of sheer embarassment. But during what can only be described as truly unprecedented times, I felt it was time to break the silence and talk a little about our experiences since being quarantined due to the coronavirus.
Firstly, something that will come as a shock to absolutely no one, the effect on the film industry has been huge, perhaps even catastrophic, with major film releases being either postponed or delayed indefinitely. Cinemas around the UK have been shutdown, and we simply don’t know when they’ll be back up again. So, when you have a business model like ours that depends on a steady stream of new cinematic content being available, as well as having access to venues which can house and display said content, it starts to become a challenge to see just how you might make it through when COVID -19 has gouged such a massive hole in our industry.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen the theatrical window (that is, films that are released in cinemas for at least 90 days before moving to Video On Demand platforms) almost disappear, with Universal (one of the biggest supporters and protectors of this approach to distribution), releasing films on streaming platforms days after they were out in cinemas, before the pandemic’s impact was felt. With many more distributors seemingly about to follow suit, we’ve seen digital strategies in our industry go from a “nice to have” to an absolute essential strategy that could be the difference to whether you’re here or not when things eventually go back to normal.
So where does that leave a company like ours, one that focus so much on the physical, communal experience of cinema to create immersive moments? It is without a doubt a question we wake up every morning asking ourselves. Right now, it means providing our audiences with value; in the same way that we would create value with an event like Queen and Slim or Black Panther. But now, more than ever, we need to understand that what value means for our community is built around providing them with useful online experiences that will get them through this tough time.
For example, one of the first things we did was to partner with online streaming platform MUBI, promoting a model which offered our loyal followers a three month subscription to their service. We wanted our base to know that, although the cinemas were closed, you could still enjoy great films that perhaps you might not have watched, from the comfort of your own home. At the time of writing, we have had almost 800 of our followers sign up to this service. In fact, you can have access to this offer by going here for more details.
We’ve also followed up with distributors that we previously worked with on campaigns. For example, just before the lockdown, we completed work on the Toni Morrison documentary, “The Pieces I Am”, which releases around 10 days prior to the Government’s announcement. This simply was not enough time to get any traction behind the film, especially when you factor in that people were starting to stay away from cinemas before quarantine and social distancing came into our collective consciousness. Therefore, we’re currently working with the team who are responsible for getting the film in front of audiences, and they’ve made the film available to stream on digital platforms, less than a month before its release.
For a business like ours, we’ve had to be agile and think about how we can not only reach our audience, but provide value for them in a meaningful way. This is something that we’ve always tried to do, but we’ve had to make the switch to digital and ensure that when we communicate to our base, we do it authentically, and for a reason. One thing I’ve noticed during this time are companies I’ve hardly interacted with over the last few years emailing me and telling me about their response to Coronavirus. It’s admirable, but I wonder how much these companies have really communicated why they’re contacting me and instead, have just focused on being part of the conversation.
These are truly unbelievable times. There can’t be one company or one industry who isn’t affected by this pandemic in some way. But, despite changing how we interact and engage with our followers, the reasons behind why we do what we do remain as crystal clear as ever. Being authentic, useful and valuable to an audience will always be at the forefront of what we do.