As we approach the end of 2016, Pakistani cinema finds itself immersed in multiple challenges. With only a couple of films doing outstanding business (Sultan and Actor in Law), be they imported or local, the year is pretty much summed up, irrespective of the ongoing India-Pakistan situation or the forthcoming distribution calendar.
Pakistani audiences (which in the case of Pakistani films boils down to youth-based entertainment hits such as Ho Mann Jahan, Actor in Law and Janaan) have made a defining statement this year, one that can be best termed as ‘value for money’. This is a much-needed insight about the overall performance of the local film industry, as only three out of 10 notable releases presumably (actuals awaited) crossed the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) of 150 million and only one crossing 200 million on the domestic box office. A market that initially benefitted from launching campaigns on the hashtag ‘Made in Pakistan’ has moved beyond mere slogans.
Audience behaviour is deep rooted in their involvement with cinema as a whole experience and is perhaps directly proportional to the rising cost of going to the movies. The average ticket costs Rs 500, add to that popcorn, drinks or any other refreshment and one ends up pushing the envelope to Rs 1,000 per person. The writing is on the wall; cinema audiences are becoming both conscious and careful. There is no denying the fact that Salman Khan still dominates Eid while local film producers battle it out to dominate each other and in doing so have found out ‘which’ Fahad Mustafa works best at the box office and when.
It is logical for brands to build on their relationships with audiences, taking engagement a step further. It does not matter where a particular film is made. Box office receipts are demonstrating declining footfalls and the cause is most likely to be younger audiences. The majority of 16- to 24-year-olds will probably cite cumulative cost as the reason for their declining attendance, despite the fact that they are ardent movie buffs. They are also an audience that brands find especially difficult to engage with.
The age groups 16 to 24 and 25 to 34 go to the cinema at least twice as much as 35- to 55+ year-olds do. They are the difference between success and failure at the box office.
The current scenario provides an excellent opportunity for both brands and cinema managers to bridge the divide between demand and cost. Brands looking to engage with younger demographics have an outstanding opportunity to do this by tapping into their involvement. Movie going is still at the top of the activities (if not affordable anymore) that young people choose to spend their money on – and more importantly, it gives rise to the social experience of sharing a happy moment with friends – one of the reasons why cinema is still so popular. The age groups 16 to 24 and 25 to 34 go to the cinema at least twice as much as 35- to 55+ year-olds do. They are the difference between success and failure at the box office.
For most moviegoers the experience is becoming even more premium as theatre operators invest in better technology and seating. As cinema evolves (technically and format-wise), it is likely to gain more attention from brands as they realise the power of the medium to reach a captive and receptive audience. In fact, Pakistani cinema has undergone huge investments in recent years, and a boom in big screen advertising underlines its power to connect with audiences.
Moviegoers offer almost unparalleled opportunities to engage with specific audiences and clear trends are already emerging. Be it in the lobby, restaurants, online, mobile or on the big screen, these touch points add scale and frequency to a brand campaign, fostering multiple opportunities beyond a film- specific promotion. The prospects for brands to better understand and target moviegoers are also growing. Today audiences can book and order their ticket for Actor in Law on their mobile phone via app-based services and we are just at the beginning of that journey, perhaps reinforcing the investment of brands like Samsung at Pakistan’s most advanced theatre, Cinestar IMAX. Film may be the main event, but it is the overall experience that makes cinema an advertising medium like no other.
As advertisers explore supplementary ways to capitalise on the opportunity, mobile-based scans and QR code ticket promotions are a natural progression. The mechanism is simple: targeted audiences who buy a particular product or take specific action are rewarded by the brand with a cinema ticket. Sponsors can choose what to offer, depending on the audience. Companies can partner with a specific theatre to target a particular audience, or they can widen their appeal, giving consumers the choice of which film they watch.
Audiences, especially young ones, are most likely to respond positively to such promotional opportunities fostering a positive association with brands and driving sales.
The film industry today is more receptive to offering higher discounts to bulk buyers in the wake of a promising, yet largely disappointing, year followed by a period of uncertainty and reruns. Where companies can continue to add value is by offering free cinema tickets to reward specific customers and maintain a connection. An offer of a pair of tickets coupled with a popcorn combo is a valuable incentive for a memorable night out, tapping into audiences’ appetite for cinema beyond affordability. Most importantly, it keeps the ball rolling for all stakeholders.
Asim Qureshi is CEO, ARY Sahulat.