How to attract and grow sustainable audiences in your community cinema.
Central to all successful film programming is understanding, and being aware of, your audience.
Get to know your audience
Audiences for community exhibition will always vary depending on location – rural audiences are usually very different to urban ones. It’s helpful to get to know your audience as much as you can including the size of your catchments area, your local transport infrastructure, your local population demographics (the Office for National Statistics is a good starting point) and make sure you talk to local groups to build interest, awareness and support – preferably including your local authority, town council or community council.
There is usually a high level of repeat audiences in community cinemas because of local support for the schemes, with people seeing them as a positive and valuable addition to community life. Screenings can be as much a social happening as an opportunity to see a particular title, and can help build or strengthen community spirit.
Many rural areas have a growing population but these are commonly ageing populations; therefore the majority of rural screenings often play to retired audiences who live within walking distance of the community cinema venue. It’s important to check the limitations of local public transport (for example, if the last bus leaves the village at 10pm and you know that some of your audience rely on public transport from neighbouring villages, you should ensure your screenings always finish well before then).
Younger audiences are usually much harder to attract to rural screenings – community venues often aren’t readily perceived as spaces for young people, and their facilities can differ greatly from newer traditional cinemas, particularly seating. The opposite is often the case for urban community exhibition.
Community screenings can and do encourage lapsed cinema goers to give cinema a try again after what could have been a considerable gap in attendance – it’s not unusual, particularly when starting a community cinema in rural areas, to attract people who maybe haven’t been to the cinema for 10, 20 or even 30 years, which is especially rewarding.
If audiences don’t necessarily associate your venue with film it can be a barrier, and the process of developing loyal audiences is likely to take much longer. Traditional methods of marketing such as posters, flyers and press releases in local outlets are still effective in spreading the word, but can be greatly boosted by using digital marketing. Many people now use social media to find and select from local entertainment options. It’s quick, cost effective and can reach large numbers of people and you should try and use it whenever you can (our guides to marketing and social media marketing may be helpful). In addition, advertising in community hubs such as shops, pubs and on local notice boards is also a good strategy, and can be very effective.