Cinema booms as Britons seek escape from reality

The downturn and the growth of 3D-digital movies are driving a revolution, says James Thompson

Cineworld yesterday provided further evidence that the recession has only deepened the British public's love of the big screen. The listed operator of 77 cinemas in the UK and Republic of Ireland said that its box-office revenues – the number of admissions multiplied by prices – soared by 10.9 per cent over the 43 weeks to 22 October. This was despite it being up against a strong third quarter last year, when hordes of women were singing along to Abba songs in the blockbuster musical Mamma Mia!

Cineworld's two main rivals, Vue Entertainment and Odeon, are also thought to have also enjoyed robust trading during the recession. According to analysts at Nielsen EDI, box-office sales in Britain and the Republic of Ireland have grown by 6 per cent to £838.4m in 2009 and are on track for a record year.

Tim Richards, the chief executive of Vue Entertainment, said: "If the industry keeps going at this rate, we are comfortably going to pass £1bn at the box office this year [for the first time in the UK]."

Recessions have often been kind to cinemas. Mr Richards said that after the US stock market crash of 1929, box-offices receipts in America soared by 35 per cent in 1930. As in previous recessions, British families have flocked to cinemas this year, because they provide value-for-money entertainment and escapism from the grind of everyday life that shops and restaurants struggle to match. This year, cinemas have also been boosted by "staycationers" – the hordes of Britons who chose to take their summer holidays on these shores. James Wheatcroft, an analyst at Evolution Securities, said: "There is a halo effect of people wanting to stay in the UK, especially if it is bucketing down with rain."

However, the tectonic plates appear to be shifting more powerfully during this recession, which can only be partially explained by a series of quality, popular films from Slumdog Millionaire to Star Trek in 2009.

Lucy Jones, the director of client services at Nielsen EDI, said: "It is widely accepted that cinema-going remains robust during a recession, but the levels we are seeing now are far in excess of those recorded in previous downturns. During the recession of 1990-91, only 100 million cinema tickets were sold per year; in 2008, almost 165 million tickets were sold, and 2009 is on course to be another blockbuster year."

A key factor during this recession has been the growing phenomenon of the three-dimensional digital movie, which offers a far superior viewing experience for customers.

"This is the first real year of digital 3D. It has been around since the first quarter of 2006 with Chicken Little, but this year we will have 13 to 14 releases and next year we will have 19 – and that is a very big part of the revitalisation of the industry," added Mr Richards.

This year, cinemas have shown Ice Age 3, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, and Up in 3D-digital. But in December, cinemas will show the first adult 3D-digital film, Avatar, an action movie by the director James Cameron.

Cinemas benefit from 3D digital movies because they can charge a higher entrance free for them. Cineworld charges an extra £1.50 for 3D movies, which includes the cost of the glasses required to watch the film. Richard Jones, the chain's finance director, justified the extra cost by saying: "We have to invest in digital projectors and the movies cost more to make themselves."

Mr Wheatcroft said: "Generally, 3D is driving more traffic and a higher prices into cinemas and our view is that that will continue into next year."

Cineworld cinemas have 144 3D-digital screens out of a total 775, and it will open a further 15 this week. The operator said it would soon open a 10-screen multiplex in Aberdeen and a five-screen cinema in Witney, Oxfordshire, which will be the first in Cineworld's estate to have digital projectors in every auditorium.

Digital technology is set to transform the movie industry in other ways. At present, the latest releases are still delivered to cinemas in canisters of 35mm film – as they have been for about 100 years – but with digital they can be transmitted by satellite or hard drive.

Mr Wheatcroft believes digital will provide cinemas, which are expensive to run, with far wider opportunities to generate revenue. He said: "Niche markets showing music, such as live opera and sports, will be a further catalyst for driving people to the cinema."

However, as with leisure activity during a recession, the price of cinema tickets is still critical for consumers. Mr Jones said: "It is still a good value night out. People are not going away as much in this climate and they need to get out of the house and forget about their worries."

While the average admission price, including children's tickets, has gone up from £5.21 in 2008 to £5.40 so far this year, this represents a small rise from the 2004 average of £4.58.

That said, cinemas have kept their finger on the price button in the downturn, by continuing to offer discount days, loyalty cards and weekly promotions. Mr Jones said: "We always offer bargains and discounts at off-peak times. You have to encourage people to come at different times, otherwise everyone would come at 8pm on Saturday and many would be disappointed."

Odeon, Vue and Cineworld still offer Orange Wednesdays, where the mobile phone operator's customers get two tickets for the price of one. Cineworld also has a loyalty card, where film buffs pay £13.50 a month outside London and £16.50 inside the capital to watch unlimited films. City analysts have also been surprised by how well retail spend, largely popcorn, drinks and ice-creams, has held up during the recession. One said that this was partly because cinema-goers were not going out for meals beforehand and are gorging themselves on comfort food at the cinema. Yesterday, Cineworld said its retail revenues had jumped by 5 per cent in the 43 weeks to 22 October.

However, it is not all plain sailing. A key area of concern continues to be slumping advertising sales, although Mr Wheatcroft believes that may have now bottomed out. Cineworld said that its other income, largely advertising, was down by 26.9 per cent over the 43-week period.

That said, next year looks set to be another bumper year for the cinemas, driven by a strong release schedule and the growth in 3D digital films. Even recent tragedies, such as the death of the pop singer Michael Jackson, appear to be working in their favour. At 4am this morning, Vue Cinemas began screening This Is It – a documentary about the last days of Jackon's life – as part of a worldwide release. Overall, it's fair to say that after a bumper past 12 months, British cinemas are likely to look back on the credit crunch with fond memories.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Development Manager - NW London - £58k + 15% bonus

£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own