Cinema growth in East Anglia reflects ‘confidence in the industry’

Cineworld Ipswich

Cineworld Ipswich - Credit: Su Anderson

With new cinemas springing up across the region we look at the continued popularity of going to the movies in Essex and Suffolk.

New cinema graphic

New cinema graphic - Credit: Archant

A trip to the movies is proving as popular as ever in the region as cinema companies are expanding with new sites and extra screens across Essex and Suffolk.

New cinemas are either being built or confirmed as coming to Ipswich, Colchester, Clacton and Chelmsford, while an extra screen is being added to the movie house in Bury St Edmunds.

While these projects have already got spades in the ground, contracts signed or planning permission agreed, numerous other schemes to bring more flicks for the region’s movie-goers have been put forward – including two sites in Colchester, at Tollgate Village and the Northern Gateway, which have sparked a heated debate in the town over where development should go.

This perceived growth in the industry is borne out by the figures too.

Phil Clapp, chief executive of the UK Cinema Association

Phil Clapp, chief executive of the UK Cinema Association - Credit: Archant

Statistics from the British Film Institute (BFI) comparing 2014 with the 2010 in the East of England region shows an increase of 20 screens, up to 235 in 2014 compared to 215 in 2010, and eight more cinema sites up to 53 in 2014 from 45 in 2010.

The BFI is currently compiling 2015 figures.

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So how has the UK film industry not only survived, but thrived, at a time when it is easier than ever to access movies at the touch of a button on your TV remote or through your tablet or smartphone?

Phil Clapp, chief executive of the UK Cinema Association, says the answer is audience experience.

Colchester Odeon

Colchester Odeon - Credit: Su Anderson

He said: “The general position is that we are seeing a period of significant investment in the building of new – and refurbishment of existing – cinemas.

“This is a national phenomenon, but in that the south and south-east represent a significant proportion of the UK population, and more than a third of UK cinema admissions in 2015, it is to be expected this is particularly marked in those regions.

“The drivers of this are two-fold. First, there is a general sense of confidence in the future of the industry.

“We have seen successive increases in overall box office in the last decade, culminating in a record take of £1.24billion last year, more than 17% up on 2014. Admissions, at 171.9million, were more than 9% up on the previous year.

“There is a general sense that despite the attractions of competing platforms such as Netflix and Amazon, and of other leisure offers, there is still a massive appetite amongst the British public for the social experience of watching a film in an audience.

“The investment being made in the cinema environment – the growth of ‘high end’ cinemas such as those operated by Everyman and Curzon and the establishment of VIP seating and other premium offers – as well as an exceptionally strong film slate last year, this year and into the foreseeable future, have all added to that optimism.

“Secondly, the digitisation of the entire UK cinema sector, at a cost of more than £200m, has also changed the economics of cinema operation, allowing the programming of a much wider range of films to a wider range of audiences, as well as the screening of so-called ‘event cinema’ such as live theatre, again drawing a different, often older audience, back to the big screen.

“It is worth noting that compared to many western European countries, the UK is comparatively ‘under-screened’. We have 60 screens per million population, compared to 90 in France for example, so there is ample scope to grow.”

The growth of cinemas is on top of the existing outlets in the region, including a strong independent sector in much of Suffolk.

Jon Nutton, marketing director of Empire Cinemas – which is building a new cinema in the Buttermarket in Ipswich – said: “It is no surprise to see an influx of new cinema openings in the east of England – the cinema industry is continuing to grow, with the total cinema box office in the UK and Ireland breaking all records in 2015, overtaking 2012 to become the highest-grossing year ever.

“Cinema remains one of the nation’s favourite forms of entertainment. Watching a movie on the big screen not only means far better sound and picture quality, which Empire Cinemas prides themselves on, but also a more communal, inclusive experience, making the cinema a real destination for socialising.

“At Empire Cinemas we want to bring the latest films, on our spectacular screens to customer’s right across the country, and the launch of the Empire Cinema in Ipswich is no exception.”