Report | Cinegi Arts and Film Action Research
Researching how a digital distribution service could bring filmed arts and cultural content to audiences in venues beyond mainstream cinemas.
Cinegi Arts&Film was an action research project, delivered by Cinegi, that ran from January 2017 to May 2018 to test how a digital distribution service could bring filmed arts and cultural content to audiences in venues beyond mainstream cinemas. These venues could include community centres, village halls, arts and cultural organisations and any other non-cinemas interested in showcasing arts content to the public. The project was supported through a grant from Arts Council England, and a partnership with the BFI. The research component was contracted to The Audience Agency and Nesta.
The project enabled promoters and venues throughout England to purchase, download and then screen a variety of content (including filmed theatre, opera, ballet and archive film material) under license in non-cinema venues. It therefore attempted to unlock the potential of both relatively untapped venues (such as arts centres, libraries, museums and community centres) and the UK’s networks of amateur and independent film clubs.
The Cinegi Arts&Film team undertook several different activities as part of the project to allow promoters to stage screenings:
- Redeveloping the Cinegi player and platform from its original beta stage, working with its external technology partners.
- Working with arts and cultural organisations to source and license content for the platform, resulting in around 220 titles being available during the project.
- Launching the platform publicly and undertaking marketing and outreach activities to promote take-up of the service.
- Attempting to increase the uptake in two areas of particular ‘high intervention’ – Cornwall and the South West and East Durham and Sunderland in the North East.
The action research primarily focused on the audiences for arts and cultural content – looking at whether the project reached audiences who would not otherwise engage with the arts or specialised film, expanded their interest in unfamiliar content and developed them into regular attenders. The research also considered what drove the engagement from audiences – was it the content itself, locally sensitive programming and curation, venue experience, location, price or ease of access? The study also broadened out to consider the supply chain in more detail. Feedback and data was gathered on both promoters that booked screenings and those that did not. Additional research focused on the supply/licensing of content to the Cinegi Arts&Film project - this forms a separate report published alongside this study.
Audiences for Cinegi Arts&Film content
The Cinegi Arts&Film project reached audiences across the whole of England, along with several screenings in Wales and Scotland. In total, 3,984 people attended a screening, across 117 different events. This was significantly lower than the initial set of projections from Cinegi Arts&Film, which forecast 31,150 attendees over 1,650 screenings (the reasons for this are discussed in the main report).
Audiences at the screenings were generally older than average for arts and cultural events. The audiences were also more female than male and predominantly white. Most of the audiences were retired and the levels of income reported were consistent with that of retired households in the UK.
Generally, audiences were very positive about the experience they had at the event they attended. Seventy-eight per cent rated the content that they saw as ‘very good’, while 68 per cent rated the overall event as ‘very good’. Eighty-three per cent stated that they would be very interested in attending future events, and the remaining 17 per cent would be quite interested. Therefore, when audiences were exposed to the content, they responded very favourably towards it.
One of the main drivers of the Cinegi programme was the idea that screening arts and cultural content in areas with low levels of formal arts and cultural venue provision might help to attract new or less engaged audiences. However, cultural attendance among audiences to the programme was already fairly high. Most respondents had been to an art gallery (70 per cent) or a play (61 per cent) in the last 12 months. Furthermore, over half of the audience (55 per cent) had visited a community cinema screening within the last year, albeit it is likely they would not have viewed arts and cultural content specifically.
In terms of broadening audience horizons for cultural content, the catalogue of titles had around 220 pieces to choose from. Despite this, a small number of films accounted for a high proportion of screenings. The five most frequently screened films accounted for 61 per cent of screenings, with the play The Audience on its own taking a 31 per cent share of screenings. While audiences reported high levels of satisfaction and a very high ‘Net Promoter Score’ (based on whether they would recommend the content to others), the promoters and venues that showcased the footage were relatively conservative in their choices, most often selecting a small range of more high-profile titles. This was reflected in their programming approach and some of their comments in the qualitative research as to what they felt the audience might enjoy.
A significant factor in the project was the requirement from the rights-holders and producers that audiences should pay for tickets, rather than screenings being offered for free. The minimum prices allowed for tickets were £4 and £2 for concessions. Promoters charged more for their tickets than the Cinegi Arts&Film minimum, with an average of £6.31 per ticket.
Research investigated the geographic spread of the events, particularly in terms of whether the project was reaching its target areas in the North East and South West, along with whether it was reaching areas with lower-than-average cultural provision. It was found that audiences were primarily local to the screenings they attended, with 79 per cent located within ten miles of the screening they went to.
A high proportion of screenings (71 per cent) were held in areas that had lower than average access to performing arts venues, indicating that Cinegi Arts&Film delivered access opportunities to areas currently underserved with cultural provision. This demonstrates that the project was successful in broadening access to this type of content.
When analysing secondary data, the populations of the catchments where screenings took place were as likely to engage in live opera and plays as the national average. There was some regional variation though, in the South West events were more likely to happen in areas of low engagement than the national average. Furthermore, all of the North East screenings were in areas with low levels of engagement.
Distribution - engaging venues and promoters
In total, 69 promoters booked at least one Cinegi Arts&Film screening, resulting in 117 screenings over the course of the project. The target number of screenings at the outset of the project had been 1,650 – so the number of screenings fell significantly below the initial projections.
The majority of promoters heard about the service through word of mouth, or specific networks such as Cinema For All, suggesting that direct connections with either networks of venues or individual venues were more effective than social or indirect channels. Engaging networks did bring an upturn in bookings, but this was towards the end of the project timeline.
Encouragingly, a quarter of promoters/venues (24 per cent) that used the platform had never put on a screening before - suggesting that Cinegi was inspiring some new groups to promote this activity. For promoters that used the service, feedback was highly positive, with a focus on audience response to the content and the high quality of the recording and sound.
There were factors that significantly reduced take up from promoters. Some of these were the result of how promoters and venues schedule content, while others related directly to the platform’s technology requirements. Promoters reported that the two major barriers to using the service were the long lead-in times for booking films and content generally. Fifty-nine per cent of promoters who had not booked on the platform reported that they tended to book content over two months in advance of screenings, and almost half (48 per cent) reported that the requirement to have Microsoft Windows 10 to use the platform was a barrier to booking. It is of note that promoters did not feel the type of content available was a barrier or impediment for booking, which has positive implications for the future distribution of arts content.
A number of assumptions made at the start of the project also led to screening numbers being lower than anticipated. Notably, Cinegi Arts&Film thought that there would be more engagement through networks related to both the BFI and Arts Council England and that this would result in greater numbers of bookings. The high number of referrals from Film Hubs and Cinema For All members show that the targeting of networks was a reasonable thing to do, but traction with these networks was only achieved at the end of the project which significantly held back sign-up volumes. Finally, there were technology issues with the player related to an update to Windows 10 issued by Microsoft. This had implications on who was able to screen content, and appeared to impact upon screening numbers.
In relation to the objective of engaging new audiences with arts and cultural content, the Cinegi Arts&Film platform had some qualified successes, although the scale of the project in terms of screenings (and therefore audience numbers) was much lower than anticipated. The main cause of this arose in the middle of the supply chain – the promoters and venues that needed to take the risk in terms of screening their first content from Cinegi Arts&Film. While both the content providers (arts and cultural organisations) and the audiences were highly positive about the project, the lack of traction with promoters was the primary issue affecting the project and its ability to bring new arts and cultural content to audiences at scale.
The high intervention areas of the South West and the North East show starkly why this was the case. In the South West, where there are some strong networks of local/rural film clubs and arts networks, there was appetite from promoters to showcase this new material. In the North East, despite high levels of engagement with the Creative People and Places projects, bookings were minimal. In this area there was little experience of putting on film clubs or even having the necessary equipment to do so. A multiplicity of barriers thus made take-up extremely difficult.
Cinegi Arts&Film Action Research Report 9 Cinegi Arts&Film, therefore, was more successful when bringing new content to areas where there was already some cohesion around rural or local engagement of film or art in other ways, adding to that provision rather than creating an entirely new market. Nevertheless, the number of new promoters that tried Cinegi, and their positive responses to the platform, suggests that growth in screening numbers could also come from beyond the pre-existing networks, in the long-term.
Areas of future focus
Can arts and cultural venues support more screenings of filmed content?
Arts and cultural organisations often have the capacity and, in many instances, the potential audience to present filmed arts and cultural content. There could be scope for the arts and cultural sector to screen the work of other institutions, developing audiences in this manner. It may be that Arts Council England can look to its sector support organisations (such as The Space and Museums’ Development Sector Support Organisations) to stimulate this activity further.
Taking lessons from rural touring to inform screenings in non-traditional venues
What was apparent through the project was that alongside providing content and a reliable technological service, a range of other support was often needed - from help with setting up screenings to curation and marketing. There are parallels here to touring companies, who sell-in their shows to local promoters, ensuring they reach large enough audiences to generate a financial return. Digital distributors should look at rural touring networks for structures and lessons on how to tailor their services in future.
A platform for smaller National Portfolio Organisations and other grant-funded cultural producers
Many smaller producing cultural organisations are developing digital strategies in which the production of captured content is a prominent feature. Few, however, have a viable route to audiences that meet their anticipated objectives of access, profile or income. The potential value of a Cinegi-type platform to close the gap between aspiration and capacity should be explored.
Creative People and Places projects need to ensure they can harness digital opportunities in the long-term
Much of the work of the CPPs has focused on highly localised, participatory arts practise. As the CPPs develop their offer over time, more focus should be placed on how technology can intersect with the participatory work they undertake. Developing promoter knowledge around available filmed content It is likely that the amount of captured arts and cultural content - particularly filmed opera, theatre and dance - will increase in the next few years. This means that it may become more important to actively engage with the different communities of promotes and curators who are in a position to showcase this type of content.
Ensuring an equivalent level of insight into audiences for digital touring
The Cinegi Arts&Film research measures the impact and ROI of digital products produced by arts and cultural organisations. Measuring this, relative to other cultural activity is increasingly relevant as organisations are incentivised to deliver on their digital plans. The project has developed an approach for comparative measurement of quantitative and qualitative impact. The potential wider applicability of this approach should be explored.
Can filmed arts and cultural content be brought closer to film networks?
The research showed that networks were often one of the best drivers of promoter interest in the Cinegi Arts&Film project. In future it may be worth considering whether publicly-funded film networks in this space should be incentivised to promote and showcase arts and cultural content.
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