Liz Bales, Chief Executive of the British Association for Screen Entertainment, the Digital Entertainment Group International, and The Industry Trust, reflects on the role of entertainment trade associations in a period of forced industry change.
Two exciting things happened in my work-life last week: I virtually attended the UK Cinema Association Conference led by Phil Clapp and his fantastic team, and the first pass of the Spring quarterly disc and digital new release trailer landed in my inbox via the BASE Comms team.
At first sight, these were two very different beasts. One, a three hour deep-dive into the cinema landscape, past, present and future, driven by data and insights and personal experience, watched by a collective of over 200 people at any given time. The other, a three-minute overview of the 2021 Q2 release slate, that I experienced, as I have experienced so much over the last year, alone in front of my computer screen.
As different as these experiences were, what struck me were the two key ingredients that they shared; ingredients that, as the leader of three entertainment trade bodies throughout this pandemic, have formed the anchor of my own professional purpose: content, and confidence.
I have become acutely aware over the last 12 months that it is confidence that powers our sector. We demonstrated that confidence, in our category and our people, immediately at this time last year, when BASE, alongside fellow UK entertainment trade associations the Entertainment Retailers Association, the Film Distributors’ Association, and the UK Cinema Association, the Alliance for Intellectual Property, and our international colleagues at the Digital Entertainment Group and International Video Federation, all stared the unprecedented spectacle of cinema and production and high street closures in the face. Like Ripley and her alien, we immediately began our fightback. I believe it was that confidence that allowed us to keep our eyes on the horizon and hold on to a bigger sense of perspective. It was confidence that propelled us forwards, to do what was needed in uncertain times to support our members: to prepare, wherever we could, for what came next.
We began to prepare through the tools we know best: our insights, and a keenly focused and almost constant collection and analysis of the data, of behaviours, of the new trends emerging and the old ones shifting. We prepared through our words, by harnessing the power of the collective to simplify our messaging and address consumer confusion, to speak with one voice wherever possible and take a clear message to market, be that around the new rise of PVOD and home premieres or clearing up old confusions around downloading a film for the first time. We prepared by working to help consumers understand the value of content – fresh and catalogue – even as they found themselves with multiple subscription accounts filled with hours of the unknown. We prepared consumers to remember how it feels to experience the magic of cinema, when the time came. We prepared by finding ways to help consumers find the content they want safely and legally, through tools such as the search, find and watch site FindAnyFilm.com. We prepared to celebrate the joy and unique experience of the high street re-opening, with theatre and excitement and surprise. It was confidence that allowed us to prepare for all of these things, because confidence is powered by belief. And what we believe in, passionately, as a sector, is our content and our people.
This pandemic has united us. We are a community of storytellers, of retailers and filmmakers, of exhibitors and distributors, independents and giants, creative agencies and post-production facilities, freelancers and life-timers, all with one collective purpose: sharing the stories we love with our audience. Because it has never been more apparent that the audience is the most vital part of our community. They are not the passive recipients of our stories. They are the lifeblood of our industry, the platform we are all built on. The pandemic has demonstrated many things, but to our industry it has never been clearer: without an audience, we will fail to exist.
And this is what inspired me most, while watching the UKCA conference and our quarterly trailer, both bursting with the kind of content that has managed, through unprecedented times, to sustain a nation desperate for stories, in urgent need of escape. Stories, content, have shown themselves to be more important than ever. Over the last year our insights demonstrated consumers discovering old and classic films at home, and TV content that they missed the first time around. The latest insights show us an audience desperate to get back to the big screen as well, to safely lose themselves for two hours in a world of new content, villains and heroes.
I do believe that, professionally, we are through the worst of it. As a sector, as in life, we have experienced three incredibly challenging quarters. We have all known loss on different scales, of loved ones, of careers, and retail legends. Some of us have moved sectors, moved houses, re-trained, re-set, re-imagined our lives geographically, economically, socially. Our responses to this pandemic have been individual and personal, deep and dramatic. We are profoundly changed. And yet, some things remain. In a matter of weeks, with a fair wind and continued vaccine rollout, the high streets and then the cinemas will be open again. A wave of new content will start to break. And, as a sector, we will be prepared. We are a passionate and hopeful community who believe in the power and importance of the stories we tell. Where there is entertainment, there will always be hope. And soon, finally, at long last, there will be Bond.