What's added content? Different approaches in Europe and in the US
by Elisabetta Brunella
The digitization of screenings has given cinemas the chance to broaden their programming well beyond films in the traditional sense.
If this is well known by now, the type of content that is already offered or might be offered on the big screen in different parts of the world is less well known. For many spectators in Europe it has become normal practice to visit the cinema to watch a musical or theatrical event or to see so-called art-based films whose aim is mainly to give visibility to exhibitions devoted to the figurative arts.
The movie theatre has thus assumed the role of "multiplier" for the enjoyment of shows and events originally conceived for other spaces devoted to art, culture or entertainment.
The terminology commonly used in Europe for this type of content refers on the one hand to their "diversity" with respect to films and on the other to the mode of programming. Expressions such as "alternative content", or the broad French definition "hors films" lean towards the former.
Here at MEDIA Salles we use "added content", which may be considered a variation of the two formulas already quoted but which seems preferable because it suggests a complementary role to films and an added opportunity both for exhibitors and for audiences. The term "event cinema" has also become widespread, placing the accent not so much on the nature of the content, but on the mode of programming, generally concentrated in just a few days, if not one only for live events.
For years now, MEDIA Salles has been monitoring the market for added content in Europe, identifying the typologies and main indicators, such as admissions and box office. The results of the latest research - which takes into account the figures for 2022 in relation to those for the past decade - will be published shortly but some advance information has already been presented and commented upon in DGT online informer no. 211.
But what is going on outside Europe? In this respect it is interesting to take a look at the study carried out by The Cinema Foundation, the non-profit organization that the US exhibitors’ association (Nato) set up in 2022 with the objective of providing members and stakeholders with research tools on the market and its trends.
In the study entitled "Theatrical audience and growth opportunities", which involved around six thousand interviewees, it emerged that both those who are more or less regular visitors to cinemas, and those who do not visit it at all, show interest in added content.
The top preferences are television programs: interviewees declare they would like to see previews on the big screen. Some people may recall that at the dawn of digitization, in Europe too, this possibility was offered - particularly for a crime series in Belgium - but at present TV at the cinema does not come into Europe's preferences for added content.
Common to the top preferences on both sides of the Atlantic is music: concerts are the second most frequently quoted type of content in the American study and so-called visual music attracts diverse audience segments in Europe, from lovers of pop music to those who prefer classical opera.
The US classification continues with cooking lessons – in third place - followed by videogames, sport, (book readings, party games and e-sport competitions: these are categories that rarely make their appearance in European viewing. To find another point of contact we have to move on to the ninth place in the US charts, i.e. the theatre. On the Old Continent, productions by the National Theatre and the Comédie Française in particular play an important role in cinemas’ offers in the United Kingdom or in France, although not only there. Thanks to this type of added content, they manage to broaden and make more popular performances that are usually considered more for an élite audience.
The last item in the US top ten also represents a surprise compared to Europe: bets on sporting events.
Apart from showing how different audience preferences are in Europe and the US, not only in terms of more traditional cinema-going, this US classification reveals a chart of added content centering almost exclusively around the lack of any ties to film production. Not by chance The Cinema Foundation's research uses the expression "non theatrical", also very similar to the French "hors films" which, however, seems to include a more diversified range of content.
Indeed in Europe, although not all countries specifically report admissions for added content and those that do, follow non-standard criteria, not infrequently this type of content includes animated films, in particular Japanese anime, re-editions of classical or cult films or documentaries with an artistic theme.
There is instead harmony between the US and Europe when it comes to the spectators’ willingness to pay "a special price" for added content. Although the majority of US audiences would rather pay the same price for added content and films, a considerable proportion (19% of the overall total) would be willing to pay extra. In Europe, the fact that the average price for added content is higher – though varying in different countries – is now consolidated. And there is a precise reason for this: the relatively high incidence of events which - when seen at the theatre or the opera house - would command a very high price. On the big screen they cost more than a film but nevertheless not as much as a seat at the Scala or at the Royal Opera: the spectator knows and appreciates this!