Black Panther smashed records for Nu Metro and Ster-Kinekor during its opening weekend, and has continued to impress. A great start to the year for South African cinema, which looks set to continue with impressive blockbusters scheduled for release in 2018.
For Nu Metro, Epic, and other independent cinemas, audience attendances will build on a solid foundation with Popcorn (the sales arm for these cinema groups) experiencing “stable attendances for the past three years”, says Karen Bailey, managing partner of Popcorn Cinevation. “New cinema complexes opening, refurbished cinema complexes, new cinema formats, and one cinema circuit offering discounted tickets during key holiday periods… all contributed to solid audience numbers,” she explains.
Attendances tend to peak during March, April, June, July and December, Bailey says, but key movie releases outside of these months have an influence on audiences, like Black Panther, which was released on 16 February 2018.
Other big blockbusters scheduled for release this year likely to draw big audiences include a new Avengers movie, The Incredibles 2, Deadpool 2, Jurassic World, and a Star Wars spinoff, Solo.
Proportionally, South African cinema advertising revenue has held relatively firm, says Ryan Williams, CEO of Ster-Kinekor, adding that cinema is one of only two media types with highly accurate audience measurement. Ster-Kinekor has seen repeat business from many big clients.
Nu Metro reports “a massive growth in advertising revenue over the last two years”. CEO Nitesh Matai credits the integration of new experiences into their offerings, which bring a different audience, as a driver for advertisers. The cinema group is also able to give advertisers an in-depth profile of clients, leading to more targeted advertising. Customer engagement is another key element of advertising in Nu Metro’s strategy.
Ster-Kinekor’s focus is on activations, providing more than just a traditional screen advert for clients.
The challenges to cinema
A continuous push to remain relevant is the biggest challenge for cinema companies, says Williams, citing Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ philosophy of remaining a “day one company” as the approach they should be utilising to ensure they don’t become complacent.
“We have to channel that care for the customer through all elements of the business … Content will also remain a variable; as an exhibitor we are at the whim of how good or bad the content is, that is provided to us,” he reckons. Williams also believes there are too many films on screen globally at the moment, providing customers with too much choice.
“Our primary focus and strategy for the next three years is driving into mass markets, township and semi-rural, that are not serviced adequately currently,” Matai reveals. A new cinema in Westgate to service Soweto is next on the cards, followed by Mamelodi, and Giyani (Limpopo). “We’re taking the movies to where people are and taking movies they want to watch,” he adds. The most recent opening for Nu Metro was a second cinema in Maputo, and further expansion in markets outside of South Africa, including in Zimbabwe, is planned.
The Black Panther phenomenon
Nu Metro and Ster-Kinekor both saw great opening weekends for Marvel’s Black Panther film. It broke through its opening weekend prediction on the very first day, went through its life to date target by the end of opening weekend, and in its first 10 days, doubled what it was expected to do in its lifetime.
“What Marvel has managed to do is speak to a market that was previously untapped. They got it right without patronising the market and with top end production quality … They got the recipe right,” explains Matai. The hope is that other moviemakers will look back on the success of the movie and create more films that speak to the African market.
The Inxeba controversy
A public outcry followed the banning of new South African film, Inxeba (The Wound) by the Film and Publications Board. The organisation made the decision after cries from lobby groups, stating that the film was pornographic in nature and should be X-rated. Since then, the film’s ban has been overturned by the courts, but the banning of it may have set a precedent for future cases of this nature.
Both Ryan Williams, CEO of Ster-Kinekor and Nitesh Matai, managing executive of Nu Metro, had strong views about the controversy surrounding Inxeba.
Here is what they had to say:
Matai: “It was a very sad day for the South African movie industry the day that movie got reclassified as pornography. Censorship is something in South Africa that we fought very hard to get rid of in our new constitution and because certain factions of the population that didn’t like it, it was classified unfairly … People took advantage of it for their political and financial gain … It was a fictionalised account of what happens. It may be factually on point, but it was a fictionalised account and the day you end up not telling stories, is the day our country needs to start paying attention to what’s going on, we’re burning books essentially. We’re telling stories, not everything has to be so serious all the time, and at the end of the day it’s art”.
Williams: “You have a choice; you don’t have to buy a ticket to watch it. You weren’t forced. Yes, it should come with all the necessary disclaimers, but where the lines get blurred with The Wound, is that it’s a work of fiction. It’s not a documentary, it never intended to be. It raises some uncomfortable questions which some people will be uncomfortable with, but it’s not the first film in history to do this … We’re like an art gallery. It’s not our role to censor what’s on our screens or to morally decide what will or won’t offend you. And where do you draw the line? As a society if you don’t engage in art forms, it limits your ability to introspect about democracy … The fair thing to do, is to allow people to make the choice of whether they want to see it or not, not impose it on them that they can’t … We advocate choice … Any good piece of art, film included, stimulates debate”.
This story was first published in The Media magazine’s ‘Screens‘ issue. Digital magazine available on The Media Online homepage.
Michael Bratt is a multimedia journalist at Wag the Dog, publishers of The Media Online and The Media. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelBratt8