Toolkit: Getting Started with Virtual Cinema

Seeing the latest arthouse releases on a big screen, attending special film events and escaping the daily grind for a while: these are all reasons to visit the cinema. At the same time, it is easier than ever to catch a movie from the comfort of your armchair. Thanks to a large number of video on demand platforms, you can watch films whenever and wherever you want.

A development that cinemas and film festivals have capitalized on in recent years: when the pandemic forced them to, they developed digital offerings at lightning speed. Suddenly, the possibilities of virtual cinema became tangible and were (re)developed technically at a rapid pace. Tapping new audiences, developing a larger offer, Q&As with directors on the other side of the world: it all became possible. By now, however, the urgency to develop digital offerings seems to have somewhat disappeared: the focus is on getting physical cinemas full. But this is where virtual cinema can actually help. You just need to know what options there are, what you want to achieve with it and how best to use virtual cinema for that.

It starts with your identity

You can only make choices when you know who you are. This applies to any cinema or film distributor. What do you want to achieve? Do you focus on retrospectives, certain genres, or is your audience interested in one-off screenings? Do you screen international films or work by local makers?

It is smart to use your own identity and core values as a starting point when making choices. If you approach virtual and physical cinema in a similar way, they fit well together. In our experience, this increases the chances of long-term success. For instance, you can use your online space to provide side programmes to existing cinema offerings or create in-depth content in other ways, offering your audience something extra.

That the online space does not necessarily require a totally different approach than the physical space is also clear from Picl’s study (Everybody in the (art)house!), which shows that a large part of the online audience consists of people who already visit the physical location. In other words: film lovers who can’t get enough in the cinema and additionally watch more online.

At the same time, virtual cinema offers a distinct opportunity to tap into new audiences. With its online programme, documentary festival IDFA, for instance, aims not only to screen films and connect professionals, but also to reach children, school classes and people with a hearing or visual impairment. Groups that are normally hard to reach, but can now experience the festival thanks to digital possibilities. All according to the festival’s core values of inspiration, inclusion and innovation. This immediately shows how important it is to have your own identity in sharp focus before translating to the online venue. How would you formulate that identity?

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