There’s a quote from legendary Harvard professor Theodore Levitt: “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole”. That is to say, what people actually want is a certain outcome, and the tool they use to achieve it is secondary.
When one of my daughter’s toys runs out of batteries, instead of going out to the garage to get a screwdriver, I use a knife from the kitchen drawer to open the compartment. Why? Because the job I want to do is change the batteries, and a knife and a screwdriver can do that for me equally well. But the former is right there and the latter is outside and I’d need to find the garage keys.
I have, however, never used a knife to screw shelves into a wall. Why? Because it won’t get the job done to the right standard, and the effort I’m willing to make to put up a shelf is greater than that for getting my kid’s toy working again.
But what has this all got to do with Cinema?
How often have you seen the headlines- ‘Netflix/Bit-torrent/VHS…is killing cinema’? They pop up all the time, and guess what? Cinema isn’t dead. The reason we see these headlines so often is that they’re controversial, and because it’s very easy to assume (or make naive readers believe) that Cinema, and whatever it is that is going to kill Cinema, are tools for the same job. With a few exceptions, they are decidedly not.
As a Product Manager, we refer to users ‘hiring’ tools to get ‘jobs’ done. In the example above I ‘hired’ my knife to change some batteries.
So what jobs are people trying to accomplish when they ‘hire’ a trip to the cinema?
Well, there’s meeting up with friends, going on a date, keeping the kids entertained on a rainy Saturday morning, experiencing the latest blockbuster in the best possible quality... the list goes on.
For avid fans the job might be ‘see every [insert genre here] movie as soon as possible’ or ‘watch this weeks’ releases so I can participate in online discussions’. It’s these movie-centric jobs where Netflix and piracy can compete with cinema. However, to assume those two use-cases alone are going to kill Cinema ignores the endless other reasons why people go to the cinema.
Let’s take a closer look at one of the examples that I personally face rather frequently: ‘keeping my daughter entertained on a rainy Saturday morning’.
What other tools could I have hired? Well, I could have simply stayed at home with her, but that runs the risk of her getting bored. I could have gone to a soft-play area (if you’re not, or have never been responsible for a toddler then Google it), we could have gone for pizza or maybe to the swimming pool. If it wasn’t wet, but instead a beautiful sunny day we might have ‘hired’ a trip to the beach.
On at least two occasions that I’ve taken my daughter to the cinema on a wet weekend, we’ve watched kids-club movies that I could have accessed quicker and cheaper through Netflix or Google Play.
So why did I choose the Cinema? Because, much like choosing between a knife and a screwdriver to hang some shelves, for the job of keeping my daughter entertained, I decided it would get the job done best, given the time/money I was willing to invest. We go to the cinema for the experience.
Let’s look at a few of the other jobs I mentioned earlier. On a first date, I probably wouldn’t impress anyone by inviting them round to watch a torrented blockbuster on my 15” laptop. So in this case, instead of competing with online streaming, cinema is again competing with other forms of out-of-home entertainment such as the theatre (too expensive), art galleries (too formal), or ice skating (too cold).
For the job of ‘socialising with friends’, cinema is up against hanging out in the shopping mall, catching up over pizza, or maybe heading to the bowling alley.
Now, when was the last time you saw a headline proclaiming that ‘Pizza Hut is killing cinema’? I’d wager never.
"It might be casual dining restaurants improving their offering that is a greater threat to cinema than in-home streaming is."
Yes, we in the cinema industry ultimately show the same art form as Netflix does but, counter-intuitively, it might be casual dining restaurants improving their offering that is a greater threat to cinema than in-home streaming is.
Anecdotally, fewer members of ‘Generation Z’ are choosing to spend their time in the cinema. The thought of being in a dark room for two hours with no access to a mobile device is, to use the same example, using a knife to hang a shelf.
How do we turn that knife into a screwdriver?
It has to be about the quality at which the job gets done and so- to translate that- the cinema going experience needs to surpass anything the customer can get elsewhere for a similar commitment in time/money. Cinemas need to maximise how often people decide that a trip to the cinema is the best way to get their particular ‘job’ done.
I have absolutely no doubt that cinemas will remain the place to go and watch the latest movies at the best quality. However, the more time I spend in the industry the more I think that the exhibitors who can accomplish a wider variety of ‘jobs’ (with bars, restaurants, or VR experiences for example) will be the ones attracting the most audiences.
What do you think? What ‘jobs’ do you personally ‘hire’ the cinema for? Let us know your thoughts below.