EXHIBITOR MARKETING: The Importance of an Effective Online Presence

“Everything changes but change itself.” Speaking in 500 bce, Heraclitus could not have been more prescient.

In 2018 we are in the midst of the “digital revolution,” one of the most rapid and sustained periods of change the world has experienced, and its effects can be seen in every aspect of modern life, politically, socially, culturally, and economically.

At the heart of this revolution is the internet, which is transforming the way we communicate and do business, as well as shifting control into the hands of “the many not the few.” The internet is almost at saturation point in terms of penetration. In northern Europe alone, 94 percent of the population uses it. It is where people spend a large chunk of their leisure time, on average 5.51 hours a day, with nearly two hours of this on social media according to Global WebIndex 2017 H2. In addition, the rapid rise of mobile commerce is transforming the way people purchase online: by 2016 Q3, UK consumers were buying more via mobile than through desktop (Source: Criteo: Mobile Commerce Report).

The shift to the internet has also forced a major reappraisal of the way businesses handle consumers’ online activity. Data, and how it is used, is getting a lot of attention these days, especially with the arrival of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in Europe.


For cinema owners, the changes GDPR will bring should not be viewed simply as a burden but as an opportunity to look again at the way they use the data they gather from their online presence.

With better use of data, your web presence can be optimized to offer the customer a much more personalized experience. Data can also help the website become more efficient and more customer-friendly by targeting key audience segments with relevant messaging.

Here, the use of membership and loyalty schemes are particularly suited to the online channel. The ability to give customers real-time access to accounts, as well as information about exclusive offers in a very personal environment, promotes engagement and brand loyalty.

Apps offer even more scope to get close to customers. By making use of phone functionality, such as location services and Apple Pay, apps can deliver an even more individual, convenient service.

And, as more is learned about customers, there is a greater opportunity to align an offering to individual needs and so reap dividends.

The ability to gather and use data (responsibly) is a key reason to establish a robust web presence.

Advance ticket sales

With some cinemas selling up to 70 percent of their tickets online, the web is critical in promoting and selling the cinema experience to customers before they arrive at the venue.

Like other competing retail/leisure sectors, some operators have embraced the web and are reaping the rewards. Too many, however, are still focused on their brick-and-mortar operations and have yet to invest sufficiently in their online presence.

In recent years, much of the major change in the cinema industry has been focused on technical innovation inside the cinemas, with the near-universal adoption of digital projection, enhanced sound experiences, and other developments such as 4D seating.

The enhanced in-cinema offering is driving more and more people toward online ticketing. For example, the introduction of reserved seating might double the number of online ticket sales—people like to make sure they have the right seat before they arrive at the cinema. This becomes even more important when people are planning an evening out at the cinema with friends and want to sit together. So, by failing to engage with customers in a significant way online, some operators will not realize the true value of all the investment they have made in the in-theater experience.

There are clearly many factors to consider, but an effective website, designed for customer convenience, should expect to turn about 5 percent of visits into a sale. Every advance ticket sale is money in the bank and a commitment from the customer to turn up and (possibly) purchase concessions and other offerings. Knowing how many seats are sold up front can also help an operator provide a better service. Rather than have people wait in line for their tickets, the operator can focus on up-selling in the foyer.


Critical to successful advance ticket sales are search engines, which are the primary route by which customers find their way to a cinema website. According to internal Webedia data, search engines can account for as much as 80 percent of online ticket sales. Within that, people who arrive at a cinema website from Google, Bing, and other search engines are approximately 10 percent more likely to buy a ticket than if they arrive by way of other online links. The show times links on Google are particularly effective and can account for up to 20 percent of all ticket sales on a cinema website, making it potentially the single-biggest contributor to online revenue.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the key battleground for market share online and should be a primary focus for all cinema businesses. In contrast, social channels account for fewer than 2 percent of online ticket sales.


Even though social media are not (yet) delivering high-volume sales, investment in this key channel is still important. The conversations that are had with your customers via Twitter, Facebook, etc. can elevate a brand within a wide social circle and play a key role in customer retention, offering customer-engagement opportunities and a powerful customer-service tool when things go wrong.

Shop window

While for many operators the primary commercial reason for establishing an e-commerce website is to sell tickets, what should not be ignored is a website’s capacity to act as a shop window to display other aspects of the business such as gift card sales, corporate hire, and food and beverage options.

Whether or not they buy a ticket online, significantly more people will visit a cinema website every year than will actually go to a cinema. For cinema owners, this presents a major opportunity to build their brand and show what makes their cinema different.

This is becoming particularly important as cinemas seek to differentiate their offering with premium cinema experiences such as bars, VIP seating, upmarket snacks, and even in-cinema dining. The cinema is now a place to spend a whole evening—not just a place to watch movies—and the web allows cinema operators to get this message across and convert the sale.

[Editorial Note: Webedia Movies Pro is the parent company of Boxoffice Media]

News Stories