During the pandemic a great many films were viewed – and still are – ob- viously online. EuroVOD, the association linking dozens and dozens of platforms specializing in European and quality cinema on the Old Continent compared the pay transactions in March 2019 and those in March 2020: they had increased fourfold. Members of EuroVOD experienced increases varying between 15% and 1 000%.
But, for spectators viewing the films is not enough: they want to reproduce the “cinema-going” experience. How do we know this? First of all from popcorn sales! In Ireland – a country where a survey has also been carried out based on 1 300 interviews showing how strongly the demand to get back into the movie theatres is felt – sales of the fluffy corn have increased by 63%!
Going to the cinema is much more than just watching a film: this is why there have been so many initiatives by exhibitors for recreating the theatre atmosphere.
In Hungary, Budapest Film, the second biggest operator in the country, with six sites in the capital city, has created the “Remote Cinema”: films for online viewing that can be paid for on the cinema website, scheduled at fixed times, introduced by experts and accompanied by a chat with and amongst the spectators. “When we thought up this ini- tiative,” explains Tamás Liszka, CEO of Budapest Film , “we had two objectives in mind: to let our audiences see that, even in such exceptional circumstances, we wished to continue offering them the opportunity to “go to the cinema” and also to motivate our staff at a time of great concern and frustration. On both fronts the response has been extremely posi- tive.” Similar initiatives – i.e. exhibitors who have succeeded in having their audiences turn to their own trusted movie theatre instead of a platform that was perhaps generic and lacked a particular personality – were also launched in other countries.
In the Slovak Republic, 22 cinemas joined together to create “Cinema on the Sofa”, whilst Kino Lumière in Bratislava, linked to the national film archives, together with three other cinemas offered screenings of full length features preceded by short films from the archives with an introduction by the critic and historian Miroslav Ulman and an exchange of opinions amongst participants.
In Italy, to quote just one example, Milan’s Cinema Beltrade transformed its daily, quality, screen-sharing programme onto its own platform.
France’s first virtual cinema is called “The Twenty-fifth Hour” and has organized screenings with the directors present “at a distance”. Members of the public who are interested can register online and, by means of geolocation, receive information and invitations from their nearest cinema.
Another formula that has taken root during this period of emergency is the drive-in, far easier to organize nowadays thanks both to the easy, “portable” or even inflatable screens and to the Bluetooth-connected audio devices provided for every vehicle on purchasing a ticket. Introduced – in their itinerant version – into Belgium and the Netherlands by a Kinepolis initiative, but also in Great Britain, Hungary and, for the first time, in Finland and Serbia, they have experienced an authentic boom in the Czech Republic.
The “classic” summer arena, highly popular in Italy and Greece, is also experiencing something new: in Mantua it is going green and is called “bike-in”. And so there has been a large demand for cinema on the big screen, both during lockdown and in this “trial” re-opening.
Confirmation comes from Carla Molino of IL KINO in Berlin: “My theatre seats 52 and I was afraid that only being able to use 19 seats wouldn’t make any business sense. And yet, I often find myself sold out – obviously with online sales. Up to now I‘ve screened the films from the Berlinale and those that should have been released in the spring. What’s going to hap- pen in the coming months, if we don’t get the films whose production or distribution have been blocked by the lockdown?”
A similar cry of alarm comes from Michael McAdam, a Northern Irish exhibitor, who has launched an appeal for U.S. productions to be released in Europe before their country of origin, still plagued by the pandemic.