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New BFI Research Reveals the Pandemic Habits of UK Cinemagoers

The Illusion Almanac is pleased to share this press release from BFI.

Image by Sabine Lange | Pixabay

As cinemas get set to reopen their doors to audiences on Monday 17 May, research published today by the BFI from its audience screen engagement study[1] shows the continued universal appeal of films with adults watching 36 films on average in 2020.

In addition, audience sentiment research[2] commissioned by the BFI in June last year prior to cinemas reopening in July and subsequently repeated in April 2021 in preparation for a 17 May reopening shows that audiences are more comfortable with returning to the cinema than they were last year. UK adults who normally visit the cinema at least once every 12 months are 60% more likely to say they feel comfortable with cinemas re-opening now than they were before last year’s re-opening.

Understanding audiences during the disruption of the pandemic has been important for cinemas as they get ready to welcome them back. Over the past 12 months we can see that people across the UK have loved watching films but are now feeling more confident than ever about returning to that big screen communal experience that makes cinema-going so special. Often the only form of culture within their communities, the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund has been a life-raft for independent cinemas in saving them from going under and being able to reopen again for their audiences.

Ben Roberts, BFI Chief Executive

The Tracking Audiences’ Screen Engagement analysis from the YouGov survey has shown that:

  • Watching films is a universal activity with nine-out-of-ten adults, or 92%, saying they watched at least one film in the past year.
  • Despite cinema closures during the national restrictions, a third of adults (31%) watched at least one film at the cinema or other big screen venue in 2020. This reach was significantly higher in London (39%) than in other regions.
  • However, 2020 saw significant changes in how we watched films. Viewing on digital platforms surged to 54% in 2020 from 40% of all film viewing in 2019.
  • Online subscription streaming services captured the largest share (42%) of all film viewing, superseding broadcast television (34%), which fell three percentage points year on year.
  • Audiences for watching films on streaming platforms (63%) in 2020 has overtaken film viewing on broadcast TV channels (58%).
  • The percentage of film viewers who watch films exclusively on streaming platforms or exclusively via broadcast TV channels are both 11%; however for streaming platforms, this is almost three times higher than in 2019.
  • Only 2% of the UK population claimed to have no interest in films.

Looking at audiences across the UK in 2020, the total proportion of adults watching a film were relatively consistent in each of the nations as well as across England’s regions. On average, adults in Scotland and the South West of England showed the biggest appetite for movies, watching 41 films, followed by Wales and London with 39 films.  The lightest-viewing nation was Northern Ireland with 34 films. At a regional level the West Midlands had the lowest level of film watching with an average of 31 films in 2020.

Cinema closures and stay-at-home restrictions during the pandemic resulted in almost two-thirds (63%) of the UK watching a film on a streaming platform, and just under a third (31%) visiting a cinema in 2020.  A look at the regional breakdown shows the levels of cinema attendance (39%) and streaming of films (69%) were highest in London.

Watching films at the cinema and other big screen venues fell by almost a half (45%) as restrictions kept them closed for a substantial part of the year.  On average adults visited them once in the 12-month period with Londoners going to the cinema twice on average compared to other parts of the country. Film viewing on broadcast TV was marginally lower year-on-year with 58% of adults watching films on broadcast TV channels in 2020 compared to 63% in 2019.


[1] Conducted by YouGov. Both survey waves had samples in excess of 11,500 respondents. Survey periods covers both a pre-pandemic period in 2019, and the onset and continued impact of COVID-19 from March to November 2020.

[2] BFI/Yonder Audience Sentiment tracking in June 2020 and April 2021.

Image by Sabine Lange | Pixabay

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