Below are broad descriptions of the different functions that exist in many cinema companies.
Film programming is the process by which decisions are made on which films to show in a cinema each week. Programmers also often negotiate the agreement of ‘rental’ terms with the distributor of each film. Film programmers might book films for just one cinema or several or across an entire circuit if they work for a major cinema operator.
A film programmer needs to know and understand each cinema’s audience in order to be confident that they will book films that people want to see. At the same time, they may need to try to book as wide a range of films as possible to attract a broad audience and encourage people to watch films they might not ordinarily choose. Programming also needs to take account of what audiences respond to at different times of day, days of the week and even times of the year, with school holidays for example being particularly popular periods for younger and family audiences. The fewer screens there are to programme at a particular site, the more challenging all of this can be.
The role of film programming often requires the understanding of a good deal of data and statistics. Programmers look at the admissions numbers from the previous week to see which films they want to ‘hold over’, and which films to take off their screens in order to make room for new releases. They might also decide on the times of the film screenings, which screens they are shown in and which screenings will be subtitled or included in ‘family friendly’ shows for example.
Film schedules are typically confirmed on a Monday, So over the weekend or very soon afterwards, film programmers will look at the weekend box office figures to judge which films are proving popular with audiences, and then decide on their schedule for the forthcoming week (starting on Friday). Once a plan is in place, calls and emails will begin with film distributors to negotiate the booking of their films.
Understandably, each film distributor wants their film(s) to be kept on as many screens as possible to maximise their box office takings. Given these differing needs, film progamming is often a complex process of negotiation.
The person in charge of the operations function in a cinema is normally responsible for everything concerned with keeping the cinema up and running, from staff, opening times, health and safety, on-site customer service, heating and lighting to cleaning and maintenance.
Operations teams must be aware of everything going on across their organisation to ensure that new procedures and promotions are implemented. A larger multiplex chain would normally have a national operations manager and regional, or area, operations managers who work together with the general managers on site to oversee the running of their cinemas, cascade information from Head Office and feedback information from individual sites about their performance and any specific issues.
In a smaller company, these functions might be shared between a general manager and the owner.In all cases, whoever is in charge of operations will need to ensure that each cinema is ready for business, that the environment is comfortable and safe, that the building is clean and well-maintained, that there is enough concessions stock, that ticket machines are working and that there are sufficient well-trained staff on hand to keep the cinema running.
The operations function will also normally be closely involved in the development of new sites and ensuring that issues such as accessibility and relevant health and safety and fire regulations are met. Operations managers are normally responsible for acquiring the entertainments licences required by cinemas to operate. These specify a number of matters, including opening hours and often also permit the sale of alcohol and late night refreshments.
Marketing and promotion involves ensuring that each cinema engages with the widest possible range of customers. Cinemas need to understand what customers want at present as well as what they might want in the future. Marketing teams have a fundamental role in communicating clear messages about why people should choose to spend their time and money at the cinema and why the big screen experience remains the best place to watch a film.
Marketing in cinemas includes film, brand and retail marketing. As well as internal communications there is also a wide range of external communications which need to be managed via consumer and trade PR, local area marketing – particularly for site openings, and directly to customers through a variety of channels including social networking and mobile technology.
There are lots of reasons why someone may go to a particular cinema, from convenience factors such as transport links and parking, accessibility, safety of a locality to more subjective reasons such as pricing, offers, customer service, comfort and quality of the facilities. Marketing teams work hard to ensure their overall offer is clear to customers and the best it can be.
Cinema as a business is continually changing, now more than ever. Digital technology has brought major opportunities for cinemas to broaden their offer to customers, making it much easier to show a wider range of films and, with the ease of moving films around screens, making it easier to respond to audience demand.
Delivery of content via satellite has also enabled cinemas to show a range of so-called ‘event cinema’ such as opera, ballet, theatre, music and sporting events. These can be broadcast live to cinema screens, making national events much more accessible to audiences across the UK.
An increasing number of cinemas are now also offering VIP or ‘gold class’ tickets etc in an attempt to attract customers willing to pay more for arm-chair style seating or recliners, with more leg room and space for wine and nibbles, providing an altogether more premium experience. At the other end of the spectrum, customers seeking value for money can avail themselves of the MEERKAT MOVIES 2 for 1 cinema ticket promotion or a range of company-specific loyalty card or discount schemes.
It is the role of cinema marketers to ensure that customers know about the increasing range of benefits that cinema has to offer. Cinemas companies need to stay in touch with all their existing customers whilst constantly reaching out to potential new audiences. With the huge range of communication channels available in a digital world, cinemas need to have an understanding not only of what audiences want, but also how they access information. The aim is to equip people with all the knowledge they need to make an informed choice about going to the cinema.
Most cinemas will have a general manager whose role is to oversee the smooth running of that site. The general manager will ensure films, trailers, adverts, posters etc all arrive on time, will control concessions stock, arrange staff rotas, deal with customer enquiries and complaints, ensure that admissions, box office and other takings are all reported to the management team, and overall ensure that the cinema building itself is ready to be open to the public every day.
Essentially the role of the general manager is similar to that of the operations manager but on a site-specific basis.