This is the process of showing a film to an audience, mainly referring to a cinema
environment, but with the advent of new digital projection equipment and DVD
players, screenings in schools, colleges, art centres and outdoor venues are future
The Role of the Exhibitor
After viewing the film from the distributors for release, the exhibitor/film booker will
discuss the release pattern and the financial deal to rent a film from the UK
distributor. This is based on projected ticket sales for a film, that is, box-office
The cinema programming is scheduled by a film booker. Some cinema chains,
multiplexes and multi-screen cinemas operate from a central point or a Head Office
with a booking department. The smaller cinemas have an in-house film booker
responsible for programming specific films or film seasons. The film booker working
for each cinema chain is the person responsible for the films which play in each
cinema. The brief for a film booker is to find films which will attract an audience for
their cinema and reap a good financial return from the box office. The exhibitor pays
the rental fee back to the distributor which is determined by the price of a cinema
ticket within the cinema. It is up to the exhibitor to work hand in glove with the
distributor in marketing the film to the widest possible audience.
Most mainstream films are booked from three to six months in advance, and some
major US blockbusters can be booked up to a year in advance of their UK release
date. By July most film bookers will have scheduled the slate of films to be released
The cinema building
The exhibitor will have posters and advertisements as well as the date and times of the
screenings of current and future films outside their cinema for the interest of the
general public. This is an attempt to draw the attention of the public to their cinema. A
passer-by who may not have the opportunity to read a newspaper or check the internet
will perhaps be encouraged by this publicity to go and see one of the films.
The foyer is the first area in the cinema that the audience experiences. Distributors vie
for space in the foyer to display posters, standees and other film publicity material and
merchandising. It is the cinema manager's job to make sure that the publicity is
current and relevant to films showing at their cinema.
The exhibitor/cinema is the 'shop front' where the film industry 'sells' films to the
audience. The foyers are committed to publicising the films with posters, standees and
concession promotions which all advertise the film. Once you are seated in the
auditorium, before the main feature, 'teaser' trailers and trailers are shown advertising
films that are soon to be released all aimed at attracting a future audience.
The exhibitor's role is important in promoting a film at a local level. The distributor
and exhibitor work together to maximise the audience for a film. The cinema manager
draws up a marketing plan which includes press advertising, local promotions and
Conversely, cinema managers receive marketing information which keeps them
abreast of the distributor's efforts to promote a film. This document tells the cinema
managers what is happening and ensures that a film is, at any one time, efficiently
promoted at a local level by that cinema manager. The cinema manager can be
promoting a lot of films, films currently showing and those still due for release. This
could easily come to ten or more in one week.
Why popcorn is important for the film industry…
Money taken at the box office alone is not enough to give the exhibitor/cinema a
profit after paying the rental fee, especially if the film is a failure. The popcorn, ice-
cream, sweets and hotdogs you can buy at the cinema are known as concessions. The
concession stands in both multiplexes and independent cinemas provide an additional
source of income to the exhibitor.
The most common form of marketing
that the exhibitor will undertake is to
buy space in local newspapers to
advertise the films they are screening.
This space can be in free newspapers
and trade papers or ones which are
paid for. These advertisements will
often appear on the day of the films'
changeover which is usually a Friday,
as many chains do between 30-60% of
their business during the weekend
period. Research shows that
advertisements in local newspapers are
one of the key ways in which people
find out about films screening at their
local cinema though since 1997 this
has been overturned by the increasing
availability of access to the internet.
Promotions and competitions
These are part of the overall marketing plan the exhibitor has drawn up for the
distributor to maximise awareness of the film. They can take the form of competitions
in local newspapers or in the cinema foyer e.g. 'spot the difference' games, quizzes on
stars, with give-away cinema tickets, or merchandise from the distributors as prizes.
This also ensures editorial coverage of the film in the local press: it is a good two-way
relationship – the film is covered and the newspaper has something which is
entertaining to fill its pages.
The trailer often plays in the cinema around six weeks before the release of a film and
continues to play until the film opens in the cinema. The trailer aims to raise audience
awareness of a film by fixing the film title in their minds. It gives an overall
impression of the film to its potential audience making sure that the audience is aware
of the stars – particularly where their names will help to sell the film. A trailer should
create the desire to see the film when it eventually opens.
Audience - Who goes to see films?
In this country the majority of the cinema going public are aged between 16 and
23 years old. Statistics show that they are the group which have the time and money
to go to the cinema. It is this age group therefore that need to be targeted by
filmmakers, distributors and exhibitors to encourage them in, and then back to, the
However, the location of new multiplex cinemas has also led to the development of a
more family-centered audience – who are attracted to the nearby shopping or leisure
facilities as well as to the cinema itself.
Baz Luhrmann's 1997 film William
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was a
massive blockbuster hit, but did not have
a huge publicity campaign. The film did
not receive any Oscars and the reviews in
the US and the UK were lukewarm. The
exhibitors say that it is one of those very
rare films which continue to run because
the same people return to see it again and
again and it is by word of mouth that
they return. It will be one of the most
enduring and profitable hits of 1997 with
the core audience seemingly being under
thirty, whilst the older cinema going
public think that it is ‘the best
Shakespearean film ever made.’
As the cinema's image has changed and
become more up-market with high-grossing films, the price of cinema seats has
reflected this change and risen dramatically. It can cost £16 or £17 to see a film in
central London and yet cinema audiences continue to rise. Can you think of any
reasons why this is so?
If the reasons are not purely economic, then the image of cinema going must surely
play a part. The multiplex complexes are popular despite often involving a good deal
of travelling beyond local public transport. We must now consider whether the
cinema-goer is as interested in the facilities surrounding the cinema in which the film
is seen as in the actual film on the screen.
A good, well publicised film will still draw large audiences, but faced with a poor
cinema showing a good film, and a stylish cinema showing a selection of average
films, the general public may well opt for the more pleasant up-market surroundings.
Background to the Cinema Exhibition in the UK
Since 1995, the number of cinema screens in the UK and the number of admissions
have both increased by more than 60%.
Screens: 1995 2,005 - Admissions/per Screen: 108.0m/53,865
Screens: 2001 3,258 - Admissions/per Screen: 176.0m/54,020
Screens 2007 3596 - ?
Most of the screens in the UK are owned by one of the major cinema chains. Vue,
UCI, Odeon or UGC.
Independent cinemas accounted for only 938 screens (29% of the total number) in
2002, a decrease of 7.5% since 1997. The cinema sector is still in some turmoil at
present with two major chains having been sold recently (Warner Village Cinemas
was bought by Vue cinemas in 2003) and up to three others available for sale.
(May 13, 2003) Vue International Cinemas, the developer and operator of state-of-the-
art-cinemas, today announced its acquisition of the Warner Village Cinema chain in the
UK. The purchase of 36 Warner Village sites nationwide boosts its number of multiplex
cinemas from 6 to 42 overall with a total of 384 UK screens
The advent of digital cinema may change this landscape somewhat, but no-one is yet
making the necessary investment in digital projection equipment and distribution
systems. The UK Film Council are supporting independent cinemas' acquisition of
The world's first digital cinema network will be established in the UK over the next 18
months. The UK Film Council has awarded a contract worth £11.5m to Arts Alliance
Digital Cinema (AADC), who will set up the network of up to 250 screens. AADC will
oversee the selection of cinemas across the UK which will use the digital equipment.
High definition projectors and computer servers will be installed to show mainly British
and specialist films. Most cinemas currently have mechanical projectors but the new
network will see up to 250 screens in up to 150 cinemas fitted with digital projectors
capable of displaying high definition images. The new network will double the world's
total of digital screens. Cinemas will be given the film on a portable hard drive and they
will then copy the content to a computer server.
(BBC News Feb 2005)
Distributor and Exhibitor Relationships
The distributor and exhibitor share the risk of marketing films. Generally, the
distributor bears more of the risk if a film performs badly, but they normally also gain
more from the upside if a film does well. The distributor will make more money from
a film doing well in a single cinema than if the revenues are split between a number of
sites. They will, therefore, try to restrict the number of prints available to maximise
their income from each site.
How Exhibitor/Distributor Deals Work…briefly!
There are three different types of deal that an exhibitor might enter into with a
i) The House Nut - The House Nut is a figure calculated to represent the costs of
running the cinema. In a house nut deal, the rental paid to the distributor will be either
25% of the gross Box Office or 90% of the Box Office minus the house nut (what it
cost to run the cinema) – whichever is greater. This is the deal structure generally
favoured by the majors.
ii) Scale - Under this arrangement, the amount payable to the distributor rises
according to the amount that Box Office exceeds a pre-set break figure, which is often
capped at 50%. Exhibitors will often offer guaranteed minimum payments and the
parties may agree special terms to cover overages if the film performs particularly
well. This structure is often used by independent distributors.
iii) Percentage - Finally, the parties might agree a straight percentage split of the Box
Office. This type of deal is becoming increasingly common in the UK, being used for
Cinema Revenues – How do exhibitors make money?
Ticket sales are only one aspect of a cinema's revenues. In 2001, ticket sales
contributed about 66% of total revenues, with concessions income and pre-film
advertising accounting for around 16% each. On average, cinemas generate £1 of
concessions income and £1 of advertising revenue for every person who buys a ticket.
These figures are averaged across the multiplex chains and independent cinemas - in
practice, the multiplexes tend to make more from sales of popcorn and drinks than the
independents - between them, the top three chains sell some 16 million buckets of
popcorn a year.
Over the past twenty years cinema going in the UK has experienced something of a
renaissance. Attendances have increased from just fifty million a year to nearly one
hundred and eighty million. Experts are divided about the reasons why this should
have happened. Is it that there are better quality films around that people want to see?
Is it that there are now more comfortable cinemas for people to visit?
Up until the mid 1980's cinemas in many countries, particularly the UK, Italy and
Germany had received very little in the way of investment and because of this many
cinemas deteriorated. Whereas once a trip to the cinema meant a visit to somewhere
that was more comfortable than home, the state of British cinemas in the early 1980's
meant that people were visiting run down, uncomfortable places.
In the 1970's large, single screen cinemas had been cheaply converted into three or
four screen cinemas. This would often mean that the audience in one screen could
hear what was happening in the film on the screen next door. This detracted from the
enjoyment of the film and consequently caused a drop in audience attendance at the
With audience attendance levels declining box-office takings waned. The Hollywood
distributors found themselves particularly affected by this. As a result of this decline,
the major US studios realised that they would have to revitalise and invest in the
European exhibition industry (it’s worth 60% of the overall international market) if
their own production industry was to survive.
Exhibitors also begun to realise that as well as selling films to audiences, they also
have to sell their own cinemas as the best place to go and see these films.
It was the major American studios, such as Universal, Warner Bros. and Paramount
who were the main investors in the development of multiplexes around the world.
Through detailed research they came to the conclusion that many countries did not
have enough screens to cater for the audience that they were trying to develop. In the
mid 1980's they also realised that the state of many cinemas in countries such as the
UK was so bad that people would not want to visit them. Thus, through the building
of multiplexes, companies hoped to encourage many more cinema goers into their
cinemas and stimulate interest and excitement.
Types of Cinema in the UK
In the UK, there are three main types of
cinema exhibition environments:
A North American concept, the first UK
cinema opening in Milton Keynes in
1985 owned by the American Multi-
Cinema Corporation (AMC). There are
now a number of chains such as UGC,
UCI, Warner Village and MGM. Most
Odeon cinemas outside London also now
have multiplex sites, although some are
still 4-5 screen high street sites. Most are
multi-national corporations with many,
many tentacles of ownership:
1. Warner Village Cinemas are now Vue, a company owned by SBC Cinemas,
owned by a group of US financial and legal firms;
2. UCI is owned by Universal and Paramount Pictures;
3. Odeon is now co-owned by German Bank WestLB, The Entertainment Group
and an individual called Robert Tchenguiz (who he is I'm not exactly sure);
4. UGC is owned by UGC France who also have a distribution arm.
The multiplex cinema is a new building situated on the edge of a large conurbation or
city and houses between eight to fifteen screens. The US distributors determined that
cinemas should be located close to large shopping centres, restaurants and other
leisure pursuits (bowling, ice-skating rinks etc.) to attract as wide a potential audience
as possible. Easy access and parking for cars, an opportunity to combine a cinema
visit with a shopping spree and a meal out has changed the concept of cinema going
and seems to have been fundamental to the success of the multiplex. It has turned
cinema going, literally, into a 'family centred' activity.
The number of screens can range from 12-15, and in some cases up to 25, such as Star
City in Birmingham. However, this `megaplex', which boasted shops, restaurants, a
tattoo bar and screens that were to be dedicated to art house and Bollywood fare, has
proved to be problematic. While there is a greater representation of Asian cinema than
usual for a multiplex, reflecting the local demographic, the commitment to art house
cinema appears to have fallen victim to the Hollywood juggernaught. Multiplexes
claim to offer a wide range of choice, but in reality, across the country they will all
play the same 8-10 core titles.
Summary of UK cinema admissions and the number of screens in operation
Admissions Total Number Number of Multiplex
(million) (1) of screens (2) Screens (3)
1985 72 1,251 10
1990 97 1,685 393
1992 103 1,845 564
1994 124 1,969 683
1996 124 2,250 900
1997 140 2,356 1,103
2002 (forecast) 185 3,150 1,900
Each screen of the multiplex has a different seating capacity so that the exhibitors can
cater for very popular mainstream films with a large audience attendance alongside
lesser known art house or specialist films with a limited audience.
These multiplexes have allowed a range of films to be shown, usually with different
start times, and allowed customer choice to be central to the visit to a multiplex.
Sophisticated sound and image technology has been installed into these multiplex
cinemas which offers the audience a more exciting experience.
Q. Although audience choice was a central part of the success of the multiplex what
actually have multiplexes allowed exhibitors to do?
Slightly different to the large, out-of-town multiplex - the multi-screen cinema is an
upgrade of the old 1970s ‘flea-pits’.
Not only were these old cinemas renovated, but the old large single auditorium
cinemas with an audience capacity of fifteen hundred people, were divided into three
to eight screen cinemas. These became known as multi-screen cinemas. The multi-
screen cinemas echoed the multiplex notion of offering a choice of films in a modern,
comfortable environment. However, they attracted a different type of audience from
the multiplex due to their city centre location. Very few can offer the large car parking
facilities of the multiplex but most are easily accessible by public transport and are
convenient for those working or shopping in the city centre.
2. The Subsidised Sector
A number of venues across the country, both full time and part time, are revenue
funded by grant in aid from various sources. Each venue and organisation has to hit
certain criteria before funding is given (business plans, strategies for education,
marketing and artistic programming, financial forecasts, etc. are required). The venues
may also get funding from local authorities, the National Lottery, sponsorship, Europe
and also, of course, from the box office.
Their programmers endeavour to put on the widest range of cinema possible,
combining film screenings with a range of special events such as regional filmmaking
forums, director/actor workshops, digital video work and mixed media events. Some
venues instigate their own festivals and touring programmes.
3. Commercial Art House
A number of commercial cinemas across the country now mix art house and multiplex
programming, the most successful being the City Screen chain. City Screen run the
Curzon Soho Cinema in London and also a number of sites across the country in
towns such as York, Stratford Upon Avon, Cambridge and Brighton where there is no
other art house provision. Technical facilities are usually excellent, and most sites
have a bar and restaurant. As with multiplexes, the financing of the City Screen circuit
is complicated, based in London and New York.
And the future...
At the moment, both distribution and exhibition sectors are going though a time of
massive change. The Government set up the UK Film Council in 2000 to create a
'sustainable UK film industry' and there has been many changes in the funding system
with various lottery schemes, new Regional Screen agencies being created and the
development of regional Arts. More positively, as discussed earlier the UKFCs
Specialised Prints and Advertising Fund gave £1 million in 2003 to selected
distributors who wanted to create more prints and more marketing for selected non-
mainstream, specialised films, which in turn will hopefully increase audience access.
Titles including the Oscar nominated New Zealand drama Whale Rider and the
German comedy Goodbye Lenin! That both reached wider audiences in more cinemas
and garnering respectable box office figures as a result.
There are many forces that come together to shape the
pattern of what ends up on UK screens. Some of these
arise from the practices of film distribution as a complex
monopoly that holds the balance of power over exhibitors
whilst also marginalizing independent distributors. At the
same time, intense competition between cinemas means
that most multiplexes prioritize the same titles, whilst
ignoring others. Whereas this has been found to maximize
admissions, the policy has also had the detrimental effect
to cinemas of raising their film hire costs. For film
viewers, the most notable effect of these economic
pressures has been the failure of the escalating number of
cinema screens to significantly expand their viewing
The UK Film Council has sought to breach the barriers faced by exhibitors and
distributors who wish to make available a wider range of quality filmmaking. In 2002
it acquired a £17 million budget to promote niche product in the UK. Part of this was
made available to distributors for the marketing of specialized films. Enhancing
awareness of alternatives to the mainstream helps to increase its attractiveness to
cinemas and the public alike. The bulk of the budget has been allocated to cinemas
themselves, in order to create a ‘virtual circuit’ of digital art house screens in both
multiplexes and small independent sites around the country. In May 2005, the Film
Council named the 209 sites that would benefit from the installation of 238 digital
screens, which would be devoted to ‘more specialised (i.e. non-Hollywood), classic,
and foreign language movies. This process is currently well underway and is due for
completion in 2006.
The adoption of digital projection reduces the cost to distributors of striking and
shipping film prints. This makes viable the provision of specialized product to a larger
number of cinemas. This will be a boon to the art houses that already rely on such
films but who often find it difficult to obtain them on or close to the release date when
public awareness and demand is generally at its highest. At the same time, the
obligation of participating multiplexes to play specialized product will increase its
geographical provision outside the metropolitan areas in which most existing art
houses are located.
Publicly funded government intervention, administered by the UK Film Council may
indeed prove to be the only way of sustaining the availability of niche product to
audiences across the UK. There is great optimism that the emergence of high-
specification digital projection will make a tangible difference in the near future. In
the meantime, though, the dominance of film exhibition by multiplex chains shows
every sign of engendering an increasingly homogenized experience of cinema going
for most audiences.
1. Exhibitors are the route to customers. All film makers think carefully about
how their production decisions affect the exhibition sector.
2. Exhibitors are increasingly involved in promoting independent films locally -
where personal appearances by cast and crew can generate good press.
3. The exhibition sector in the UK has grown rapidly but now is a period of some
consolidation. The advent of digital technology is raising some interesting
issues for the relationships between producer, director and exhibitor.
4. The last three years has seen a power shift within the industry leading as more
major distributors buy up cinema chains - this has led to a cut in the remaining
independent exhibitors' margins and creates a possible threat to their future