Literature Review of Young Cinema Audiences

A literature review of 47 existing studies into young audiences, summarising and collating the key findings. Supported by Into Film.

According to the Europa Cinemas Innovation survey, young audience development is the top priority of exhibitors, and “loss of youth” is the most common factor identified as a strong/serious threat for European films.

It should be noted that there has been no comparable change in young people’s engagement with other major arts. This trend is related to the cinema itself.

Therefore, it is imperative to understand the drivers and decision-making processes of current young people, and how generational trends are impacting on traditional cinema.   

Youth cinema attendance

  • Ever fewer young people are visiting UK cinemas. Between 2011 and 2017, UK cinema admissions were close to static (a 0.6% decline) whereas admissions from 15- to 24-year-olds fell by 20.6%.
  • Young audiences are a key demographic for cinemas. 15- to 24-year-olds make up a larger proportion of cinema audiences than any other age group – in 2017 they made up 28% of admissions in the UK, despite being only 12% of the population.
  • Young audiences are vital to the health of the industry. Beyond just being the largest segment, young people are especially over-represented during opening weekends and opening week, and once engaged with film tend to be very active in all aspects of it.

Drivers of cinema attendance

  • Going to the cinema is a movie-driven decision. Young people decide to go to the cinema when there is a specific film they’re excited about and want to see in the best format/as early as possible.
  • Cinema attendance is centred around the social experience. Fewer than 1% of teenagers say they go to the cinema alone.
  • Young people go soon after release and enjoy the hype. Teenagers are especially overrepresented in the opening weekend and first week of a film being on. 19% go during opening weekend, and 48% go within a week of the film opening.
  • Trips to the cinema are usually part of wider outings. Approximately 48% of 15- to 24-year-olds do another activity before or after going to the cinema.

Barriers to cinema attendance

  • Cost is a major barrier to cinema attendance. 52% of teenagers said their main reason for not going to the cinema more regularly is that it is too expensive. Even after planning a visit, nearly 20% of 15- to 25-year-olds gave price as the reason they did not go in the end. As cost limits the number of cinema visits, this may drive the movie-driven nature of cinema trips as young people are forced to pick specific films to see on the big screen.
  • The cinema experience is failing to appeal to young people. Although the majority of young people tend to think favourably of the cinema, there are several aspects that are failing to appeal to the changing needs and values of emerging generations.
  • Going to the cinema takes a lot of effort and planning. Young audiences were more likely than other age groups to give “relaxation” and “socialising” as reasons to watch films online or on television, suggesting that this represents a shift in the perception of cinema going specific to this age group.
  • Piracy is devaluing movie content from a young age. 50% of young people admit to downloading/streaming films because “cinema tickets, VOD and DVD are expensive and they can’t afford them for all the films they want to see”, and more than 40% download films weekly.
  • The risk of a vicious cycle of decline. Older teenagers especially state that not having friends available to go with them is a key factor holding them back from more frequent cinema visits. This means that a prolonged decline in young audiences will likely have a snowball effect; once some teenagers stop going to the cinema, even more will follow as they will have fewer people to go with.

Understanding young audiences

  • Technology dependent, with a high bar for user experience. The digital landscape has changed dramatically over the last few decades, yet the emerging generation of teenagers has grown up with this technology and therefore has a different relationship to it.
  • Social media is integral to technology. Two thirds of Gen Zs like seeing content from brands on social media. Deviating from millennials’ preferences to get their information from brand websites, Gen Z actually prefer to get it from social media.
  • Video consumption is huge, but this goes beyond films. Video is the preferred form of social content, and emerging generations’ consumption is massive. 40% of Gen Z digital time is spent watching videos, compared to 33% for millennials. In a typical day, the average Gen Z watches 68 videos on at least five different platforms.
Stephen Follows