How the drive-in could reignite the experience economy

How the drive-in could reignite the experience economy

Good news for any cinephiles – the cinema industry now has a reopening date of 4 July in the UK. Not only has the big screen been a particularly visible symbol of the impact of lockdown, impacting big multiplex operators through to small independents – it also stands in for a much wider issue. Cinema, like many shared experiences such as concerts, festivals and other live events – offers a mass experience in a shared space.

(Re)building trust

So how can it build trust and faith in a public who have been repeatedly told over the last three months that maintaining a social distance from others is the best advice?

Innovation is one avenue. It has been impossible to miss the number of pieces about the rapid reintegration of the drive-in cinema. It’s a natural solution – share the film while also being hermetically sealed in your own vehicle, with your own household. There’s an old-school, community feel about it, a nostalgic element. It also allows venues which have been unable to kickstart their own events to reopen their hosting revenues.

Drive-ins are great. They cannot be relied on to kick-start the silver screen alone, though.

For one thing, cinema reaches out and connects far flung communities – this is where independent circuits are so important. Most of the new drive-ins launched are biased to high population density cities. Secondly, you don’t catch a first run new release at a drive-in – the keystone of much of the entertainment industry, and where many studios are keen to rebuild their revenues quickly.

Craving experiences

This is much bigger than a purely cinema issue.

It’s about anywhere that people congregate to share an experience. The events and experiential sector pre-lockdown was thriving. Budgets were regularly being boosted and customers loved the immersion of a one-off, curated or uniquely shared experience. Experiential and live events have been hammered by the pandemic. To recover from that rug-pull, these businesses need to get people to remember what they love about collective experiences, and quickly. They face the same challenges as those getting bums into cinema seats – how to make sure people are reassured about events being run safely.

Clarity and communication

To encourage people back into venues en masse safely, effective communication on the steps businesses are taking to keep customers safe is vital. Whether that is about frequent cleaning of properties, staff policies, expectations of customers to wear PPE or plans for seating distance, events locations of all types will need to be absolutely clear, across all their channels, on what actions they are taking.

This is entirely a communications-led demand, and it needs to be clearly stated throughout the customer journey from pre-booking all the way to the front doors. Customer confidence is critical in emerging from lockdown, and they need to know what actions are being taken to ensure they are being protected.

This may be more of an issue for some businesses than others, from venues through to others involved in staging events. The shutdown happened so quickly, and businesses were forced to look ruthlessly at overheads. Many shut any comms down immediately and have been largely silent to their communities ever since.

Without maintaining even a minimal line of sight with audiences, it wouldn’t be surprising if they have been banished to the back of their minds while everyone focused on the pressing daily issues of the lockdown.

That’s if they haven’t furloughed staff in the meantime – who will need to come back in and quickly be able to pick the baton back up and reignite conversations where they may have left off.

The good news is that there’s a yearning among many to get back out and enjoying these entertainments. It’s more than zoom fatigue – we’re meant to be social creatures. After three months of denial, there is going to be a strong pull to getting back and enjoying these experiences again. But businesses need to make sure that any communications with customers are clearly focused on the measures taken to keep them safe if shared experiences are set to really boom once more.