Showtime Analytics & UKCA Data Partnership Case Study With Merlin Cinemas
An Introduction to the Initiative From Phil Clapp, Chief Executive UKCA.
“In Spring 2017, the UK Cinema Association (UKCA) held its annual members’ conference, this edition exploring how the use of data and analytics could drive more informed decisions around programming, marketing, pricing and retail. During and after that event, the Association was approached by a number of its members who operate independent circuits interested in finding out more, but concerned that they lacked the expertise and resources necessary to employ these approaches.
In response, and having received a significant positive response to an ‘expression of interest’ exercise across its membership, over the following months the UKCA undertook a tender exercise to find a ‘preferred data partner’ with the hope of developing approaches useful and affordable for this segment of the cinema sector.
Ultimately, Showtime Analytics were announced as that partner in October 2017, since which time the company has been working with Merlin Cinemas in piloting a number of analytics approaches potentially of wider application across the sector.”
PHIL CLAPP, CHIEF EXECUTIVE UKCA
The UKCA represents the interests of over 90% of UK Cinema operators by number and market share - ranging from single screen, owner-managed sites to multiplex operators.
Over the past year the team at Merlin Cinemas have fully immersed themselves into the world of data analytics, getting to grips with the Showtime products and working closely with our people to create innovative data solutions for their company.
With the first twelve months behind us, we decided to catch up with Craig May and Daisy Wren of the Merlin Cinemas group, to learn more about their experience so far. We also spent some time with our very own Head of Business Development, Oskars Killo, to discover more about his role in the initiative and what the future holds.
Daisy Wren, Marketing Manager, Merlin Cinemas Ltd talks about her experience with Showtime Engage.
On the Platform & Insights
Craig May, Film Programmer & Co-Director, Merlin Cinemas Ltd talks about his experience with Showtime Platform and Insights.
On the Partnership
Oskars Killo, Head of Business Development at Showtime Analytics talks about his role as Client Lead for Merlin Cinemas on the UKCA Data Analytics Pilot.
DAISY WREN, MERLIN CINEMAS UK
Marketing Manager for Merlin Cinemas UK, Daisy Wren talks about her experience with Showtime Analytics product Engage.
Merlin Cinemas are an independent cinema chain in the UK, doing quite a lot.
With 16 cinemas (and counting) and a live theatre, Group Marketing Manager, Daisy Wren has a lot on her plate. Coming up through the business since graduating, she is now involved in all aspects of the marketing activity including management of the website.
After seeing the Showtime team speaking at a UKCA conference on big data over 2.5 years ago, Daisy “caught the bug” and jumped at the chance to join the pilot of our Engage product. She’s since become a “Super User”, actively using the software most days. We took the opportunity to catch up with Daisy about her experience to date.
UNCOVERING OUR CUSTOMERS
Daisy: We didn’t have much in place before Engage and that was something I was quite keen to look at. Specifically trying to segment our audience - we have a membership database that was not being utilised, so previous to having the Engage platform there was no way for us to identify customers at all. It was all hidden in a database within a database. Engage has enabled us to tap into that. Some of these members have been there for ten to fifteen years but their behaviour has never been used to offer them things that they want to hear about.
We had been using MailChimp for many years previous to my time in this role but only for newsletter campaigns, never for anything specific. It was all just quite literally, a list and it didn’t offer very much scope to add anything extra. Part of what I have been working on over the past couple of years was trying to add content into that communication stream to try and increase sales in different areas but that is hard to do when there is no infrastructure in place to do that.
It was a bit like guesswork and that’s something I try to hammer home with the team, our Director has a great track record of trusting his gut and really going with it and that has paid off. We will have been operating for 30 years, starting next year and he has done it largely on his own. We’re at the point now where we can pair that intuition with some analytical data in terms of who’s coming to the cinema, what they’re coming to see and how often, that’s really valuable for us.
FULL VISIBILITY ON ROI
Daisy: Previously with MailChimp, we didn’t even have it linked up to e-commerce so we couldn’t track the ROI on any of our campaigns at all. So, it really has been blindly going on gut feeling and trying to repeat patterns to encourage what we wanted customers to action but Engage is more than just a function, it has so much more to it than that.
IF YOU SEGMENT IT, THEY WILL COME
Segmenting can be as granular as we want it. We’ve been working with Showtime for almost a year but we’re still getting to grips with manipulating what we can do with the product and matching it with what we were doing before - trying to dovetail it in so it wasn’t so alien for our customers. Having said that, the metrics available mean we can highlight specific areas, I’ve been looking at targeting customers who come at least six times a year and my goal is to have them come eight or nine times a year. Different things like that, it’s more than just who they are, it’s their behaviour as well. There is a lot that can be done and a lot that I haven’t done yet.
GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO PLAY
I have found creating campaigns to be fairly intuitive from the beginning, it’s pretty similar to other platforms I’ve used. I’m one of those people who likes to play around with things and figure out how it works, I’ve even been doing it this morning, and it definitely allows you to do that but if there are things I’m not sure about, the guys are terrific in offering suggestions and advice, like “we found other customers would do it this way” which has been super handy because obviously it’s their product and they know it so well. They’re working closely with other companies so they’re benefitting from their experience and I’m benefitting from that as well. So yeah, it’s a really easy platform and you can’t go too far wrong. Which is actually really reassuring. You can’t screw it up too badly, it’s a really safe platform, they’ve put all the safeguards in place to make sure you’re not going to send out something that breaks some body’s inbox!
The key metrics are right there and if you want to know more, you can find it. Pairing that with the Insights platform from Showtime you can see how your campaign has impacted occupancy levels - that to me has been really handy. That cross over of the two platforms is really useful. For me, the biggest thing is being able to see the ROI on campaigns that go out is actually a dream. When I speak to the team and am asked “how’s that going” or “what’s happening with this”, it’s right there. That enables me to explain why I’m spending so much time using Engage and can provide real-time results from live campaigns.
THE LIGHTBULB MOMENT
Daisy: Mary Poppins was a big success. For us, that campaign was the first one where I was able to coordinate properly with Craig and our Box Office Manager, we could see exactly when we went on sale and coordinated that with social media as well and it all clicked into place, it was brilliant. For me, that was the moment I saw, this is how it’s meant to be. And I was able to do all of that in advance so that when it came to it, when tickets went on sale, we just hit the green light and it was really successful. The cinema industry can be a bit reactive, “the weather has just changed, immediately we must start our campaigns now” but it is nice to be prepared.
THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A STUPID QUESTION
Daisy: I’ve met several of the guys now, either at events or when we’ve met in person beginning this process, or we’ve met on conference calls and all of them that I’ve met have been so involved in their product and the industry as well, like I know Oskars is coming from the studio background but he’s super passionate about the products he’s trying to get us on board with but also working with us.
The passion I see from the team now, is the same as when I saw them speak two and a half years ago in London about their platform when at the time is was just the Insights product but then the Engage product they’ve launched since then has just sort of grown. Everybody that I speak with is so helpful. They’re receptive to feedback, they’ve taken everything on board that I’ve said but they equally explain things in a way that is totally accessible which a lot of companies that we work with can be quite closed-minded if you’re not already up to speed with what their software is doing, which can be quite hard. I’ve had walk-throughs of other platforms for different types of software and they sound so bored. It’s definitely not like that with these guys. They’ve all been terrific, even if I’ve got the stupidest question, I send them a little message and they get back to me straight away like “oh thanks so much, that’s a really good point”, when it’s definitely not a good point.
We operate mostly smaller cinemas, and I like that that is where Showtime comes from. They come from cinema backgrounds and cinema is not like any other beast, and then with Oskars coming from the Studio/marketing side of things and Laura - the time that she has spent trying to make sure that we got everything bang on, it really showed how experienced she is with her stuff as well. Altogether, they definitely know what’s going on and it’s valuable for a customer as well.
LISTEN UP NEWBIES
Daisy: Trust that Showtime’s opinion is worth listening to and don’t be afraid to ask questions. I learn by doing and if I do something wrong, I want to know why it’s wrong and they’re super supportive. My advice would be trust that they will support you, ask questions and lean on their experience. They can offer an insight into something that you may not have considered. They’re great guys, I haven’t got anything bad to say about them, that’s for sure.
CRAIG MAY, MERLIN CINEMAS UK
Craig May, Film Programmer & Co-Director, Merlin Cinemas UK talks about his experience with The Showtime Platform and Insights Product.
Craig May started his career with Merlin Cinemas down in the Savoy in Penzance when he was just 16 years old. In traditional Merlin fashion, Director Geoff recruited from within the company allowing Craig to rise up through the ranks over the years. For almost two years now, Craig has taken the reigns for film programming and booking, as well as more recently becoming a company Director to give his expertise to some of the bigger projects too.
With his new role, time is more precious than ever for Craig. He filled us in about his experience of working with Showtime, the products and how he and his team now save themselves a lot of time!
Craig: Before Insights, we weren’t using any automated systems. The information existed within the POS reporting tool but it was incredibly time consuming trying to compare films or looking back through different times in the year. We are all extremely busy here so I only used it when absolutely necessary but it wasn’t user-friendly enough to become part of my daily routine. Since working with Showtime, the biggest thing for me is having instant access to all of that information. I can easily drill down into it, which was near impossible previously.
It was all very clunky, not seamless at all. It certainly didn’t help with the film programming like it currently does with Insights.
VERY, VERY USER-FRIENDLY
Craig: For anyone who is even slightly IT literate, the product is easy to navigate even without the helpful training. If you drop the guys a quick email or even use the in-product instant messenger, they come back almost instantly with an answer. There is never an issue. I find it very, very user-friendly.
The product designers have made it so it’s very difficult to break. I told Alex, who runs our weekly reports, to just jump in and have a play around with it when we first got our hands on the product. In a couple of hours, he had a range of reports and was so excited that he could include them immediately in our weekly breakdown for our sites.
He now sends a really thorough report after every weekend with a complete overview - the admissions compared to last week, what the box office revenue is, what the kiosk spend per head was. It’s extremely useful to the sites, they can see how they’re comparing against other sites, where they’re doing well, what areas they need to work on, all laid out in one place.
WE KNOW WHERE WE’RE AT
Craig: We have seen an increase in our KPIs. The Showtime products have certainly helped the managers on a weekly basis, know exactly where they’re at and they can tweak their operation at site level to work on their variants. We also used to compare all our sites together despite some of them having one screen and another having six, which could be quite demoralising for the smaller ones. Working with Darren in Showtime, Alex came up with “leagues” so each site is now comparable to others with the same capabilities. That was something Alex identified and flagged with Showtime saying, “that would be really good if we could do that” and Darren came back pretty quickly saying “yep that won’t be a problem”. It’s the same with everything they’ve done for us, as soon as you give them something, they’ll go away and tell you if they can do it. It’s usually actioned very quickly which is great.
LISTEN AND ADAPT
Craig: A while ago we were looking at changing our point of sale systems and were looking at similar advanced marketing solutions to Showtime’s Engage but because Showtime had a relatively newer product, it appealed to us a lot more. It actually feels like they listen to you and they’re adapting their product to the needs of your business. More established companies are like; this is what it does, you pay for it, it’s very much plug-in and play and if it doesn’t fit your operation you need to find workarounds. Whereas with Showtime, it’s the opposite, technically it’s not a bespoke system but it feels like it the way you collaborate with the team.
BEING PROACTIVE, NOT REACTIVE
Craig: I book the event cinema for the group and it’s one thing we’ve really been able to capitalise on this year. I’ll go to the Showtime platform, click instantly on the upcoming event cinema screenings and will easily be able to see if they’re nearing selling out and if we have to add another screening. Straight away we can request an encore and get that on sale earlier. Honestly, when I think back to before and this is specific to Showtime, a manager would email and say “we’ve just sold tickets for Take That and there’s 4 seats left, could you add a screening” which is likely to be a week or two before the performance. Now we can make the call a month before, and that honestly has made a huge difference.
THE BEST FIT FOR EACH SITE
Craig: One of my favourite Showtime features is the movie comparison. Particularly where we’re limited on screens, I can’t take every title, I have to be very selective with what films I book. Now, for example, I can bring up a Marvel title and a more up market film - I can see across the sites, a really clear pattern. I can pick one of these titles and see that it’s going to work better in one site as opposed to another. I think I know the sites quite well but actually seeing the figures sometimes surprises me, I may think a certain title wouldn’t work somewhere but actually when I look at the results in front of me I realise it did better than expected. There are loads of little tools like that help to reinforce all the decisions you make. No more shots in the dark.
OSKARS KILLO, SHOWTIME ANALYTICS
Oskars Killo, Head of Business Development at Showtime Analytics. Client Lead for Merlin Cinemas on the UKCA Data Analytics Pilot
Oskars Killo joined our team in 2018 as Head of Business Development, bringing with him a diverse set of skills from his time in Film Distribution, Sales and Marketing. Since working very closely with our global Exhibition customer base over the past couple of years, he has been positioned at the forefront of the UKCA initiative, championing the Showtime products as client lead with Merlin Cinemas.
Being so close to the pilot, along with Daisy and Craig from the very beginning, Oskars has a unique view into what he sees as the innovations and successes of the partnership so far. We sat down with him to find out more.
A TRUE PARTNERSHIP
Oskars: Since Day One it has felt like a partnership with Merlin Cinemas. We brought new analytics capabilities and Daisy and Craig helped us understand how these can be best used in their business. As Marketing Manager, Daisy already had a clear schedule of activity that she ran on a weekly basis, sending newsletters to her entire marketing base and then weekly promotions for specific content. Together we saw an opportunity to move from a “one message to all customers” approach to a “personalised conversation”.
Over the first couple of months we organised regular calls and screen-sharing sessions to plan out the coming schedule of marketing effort, where we would identify the campaign target audience and segments of customers that we believed would be interested in seeing the promoted content.
Very quickly Daisy understood the power of splitting out the marketing plan into niche audiences and the first smaller campaigns we sent were a rollercoaster of emotions. We would keep refreshing the campaign report page every five minutes and see customers converting and buying tickets to a targeted niche piece of content on a Wednesday night in a specific cinema!
In the early days, there was a lot of learning on both sides. For example, we all thought on paper that Christopher Robin was a family movie and should be promoted as such by selecting relevant audience segments, however engagement metrics and conversions were down on our previous campaigns. I remember the team here in Showtime being so disappointed, but Daisy was as level-headed as ever, she jumped straight into the next campaign and adjusted her approach from the learnings. I think this sums up perfectly the relationship we have with Merlin as a true partnership. We share in the highs and the lows of the project together and avoid making the same mistakes again because with the data analytics, we realise why they were made in the first place.
INNOVATION & DIALOGUE
Oskars: Innovation starts in small steps, but most importantly it requires people to take some risks. Daisy has been key to driving the project by constantly challenging what she considers to be the normal behaviour of how Merlin run campaigns and how the Showtime products function. By using Engage, Daisy now has full control of the end-to-end campaign process without the historic need for IT involvement. She is constantly challenging the creative, the “call to action” and the brand tone of voice to best tailor the message for each of her locations.
Going from sending mass communications to all their customers once a week to launching personalised multiple campaigns per site each week was a new approach. Daisy was bringing an initial increased workload upon herself, but that workload resulted in higher customer engagement and increased ticket sales revenue. She has embraced everything Engage enables her to do, and more than that - she has given valuable feedback and suggestions to Showtime to drive changes in how our products behave, making it even easier to use and automating processes along the way. This partnership, learning from a seasoned cinema marketing guru, like Daisy, has led to the release of a dozen new features in the year which from our perspective is key to how we increase User adoption of the products.
THE SUCCESS STORY
Oskars: One of the most pleasing aspects of the Merlin story is the success Daisy, Craig and the team are achieving with their Event Cinema releases. Event Cinema content requires exhibitors to not only identify the content that will work best for their customers site by site, but also without the backing of a huge studio marketing budget. Daisy takes on a much more in-depth marketing role to connect audiences with this niche content.
As part of our partnership we were asked in January this year to present at the Event Cinema Association Slate day, where we showcased how through personalised marketing campaigns, Merlin Cinemas have achieved double their own customer engagement rates, which are also double the rates seen in out-of-home entertainment categories or other similar industries to cinema.
It’s been a great learning experience for us at Showtime to watch Daisy and Craig maximize their Event Cinema performances, by analysing what content works best at which site locations using Insights, to then creating the marketing plan in Engage.
Oskars: One of the goals we explored as part of the project was to look at how we could support Merlin Cinemas in generating new revenue streams and driving more people to the cinema. We believe the way to drive cinema attendance is through running co-marketing campaigns where our Exhibition clients work closely together with our Distribution partners to run data-driven, targeted and measurable campaigns. We call it ‘Collaborate’ and it enables Distributors to reach the perfect cinema-going audience.
It is a GDPR compliant secure way for exhibitors and distributors to market any title or promotion and connect content with the right audience. From an exhibition perspective, it is a means of generating additional revenue through new digital ad spend while retaining the relationship with your customers. From a distribution perspective, it is a very efficient and measurable channel and a smart way to spend existing ad-pub budgets. This model works across all client sizes and shapes - be it top cinema circuits, indie-circuits, major Studios or independent Distributors.
The initial Collaborate campaigns we ran with Merlin and their distribution partners continued the strong engagement rates Merlin experienced through Engage, but also generated revenues which nearly covered the entire monthly cost of having the Showtime products.
These types of additional initiatives that Merlin are willing to participate in, makes me confident and excited that they will continue to build upon the success of the initial data analytics project and be leaders in the UK in the next generation of data analytics innovations for the cinema industry.
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