Session 4 – Audience choice, programming and digital platforms

Chair: Anna Kime (Audience Development Consultant)

‘Pick and Mix’ – cultural access, screen engagement and film appetites in the UK’s nations and regions

Paul McEvoy, Research Manager, BFI Research and Statistics Unit

The presentation will offer fresh insights on UK national and regional independent cinemas and their audiences from new data delivered through the BFI’s annual audience tracking survey. The BFI conducts a large scale longitudinal quantitative survey with the principal objective of establishing and tracking critical dynamics in UK audience’s screen behaviours and motivations at a UK nation and English government region level. In addition to measuring cinema engagement and motivations, the survey also tracks film engagement across the full spectrum of screen location, platforms, and devices. This includes all out-of-home venues, in-home digital access, as well as film viewing whilst travelling. The survey also measures engagement with broader screen content including video games and VR. The BFI will present headline results from the first two waves of the survey. With a focus on independent cinemas, audiences and non-mainstream film appetites, it will explore questions including:
– What is the relationship between local cultural venue access, cinema engagement and non-mainstream film choices?
– How much, if at all, does lack of a local cinema access drive engagement with alternate screen choices such as digital on-demand platforms? How much is this also determined by the profile of the local audience?
– Are there differences in the perceived cultural value of film and cinemas for urban, suburban and rural audiences?
– Is there evidence of a relationship between type of local cinema frequented and the audience’s depth of engagement with secondary film culture?

Paul McEvoy has been an audience researcher, a media researcher, and a market researcher for more than half his life. A master’s in social psychology at the LSE led him to junior positions at advertising agencies and marketing companies. His first role with a screen-based organisation was as an analyst at international film distribution company UIP.  Paul then moved from big-screen to the small screen sector, spending almost 20 years leading research and insight teams for national and international broadcasters, including ITV’s Granada and Carlton Television. At the start of the new millennium Paul stepped away from the world of analytics but stayed in the world of film. A story he co-wrote was developed into a film feature, was produced and gained both a theatrical release and a broadcast window. In the years from 2003 to 2017 Paul built the research teams at two international broadcasters, Chello-Zone, a thematic channel broadcaster which went on to be acquired by AMC Network, and Scripps Network International. Following a period as a research consultant in Limassol and London, he joined the research unit at the BFI over two years ago.

Film and Series Choice in the Age of Netflix: Results from an Empirical User Study

Prof. Mattias Frey (University of Kent)

Recommender systems for video on demand (VOD) services such as Netflix have elicited highly polarized reactions. For many commentators, these systems – which use algorithms to suggest content likely to interest viewers on the basis of their prior viewing histories –  represent a fundamentally new way of connecting cultural objects and human beings. Computer scientists, business gurus, and feature writers swoon over the ability to scale the provision of cultural recommendation using big data. In contrast, academics and activists sustain suspicions of filter bubbles and object to how such computational processes seem bound to confirm rather than challenge or develop taste. For these passionate interlocutors, algorithmic recommendation represents the end of humanist criticism as we have known it, the death knell of the Arnoldian “best which has been thought and said.” Curiously, however, both the vociferous champions and vehement critics share a common first-principle assumption: that VOD recommender systems are effective, powerful, unprecedented, and widely used methods of guiding film and series consumption choice. Based on a long-term research project, this paper seeks to interrogate this consensus via the insights derived from an original mixed-method empirical audience study of over 2000 UK VOD users. The results reveal a mixed picture. Although a subset of audiences uses primarily recommender systems for a subset of viewing situations (esp. low-stakes situations, passive and background viewing), the vast majority of audiences have low credibility in recommender systems and use multistage, individualised iterative choice protocols, relying above all on traditional word of mouth among other old and new media choice guides.

Mattias Frey is Professor and Head of Film and Media Studies at the University of Kent. He is the author or editor of six books, including: The Permanent Crisis of Film Criticism: The Anxiety of Authority (Amsterdam UP, 2015); Film Criticism in the Digital Age (Rutgers UP, 2015; co-edited with Cecilia Sayad); and Extreme Cinema: The Transgressive Rhetoric of Today’s Art Film Culture (Rutgers UP, 2016). His next monograph, Netflix Recommends: Algorithms, Film Choice, and the History of Taste, will appear in 2021 with the University of California Press.

Programming foreign films: Analysing cultural diversity in the global exhibition sector

Dr Vejune Zemaityte (Tallinn University), Prof. Deb Verhoeven (University of Alberta) and Dr. Bronwyn Coate (RMIT University)

This paper is concerned with the levels of cultural diversity across the global film exhibition sector in the digital age. We examine theatrical film screening data across 40 countries during 2013–2015 to evaluate the cultural diversity of each country’s cinema programming and the extent of access to culturally diverse content offered to audiences via the country’s exhibition sector. The cultural diversity of the international cinema market has been a focus of academic attention (e.g., Masood, 2019; Moreau & Peltier, 2004; UNESCO, 2016). Most scholars have relied on the number of imported films to determine the level of cultural diversity within a country. However, in their analysis focusing on Australia, Coate et al. (2017)
also evaluated the level of access to screenings of foreign films provided by the country’s exhibition sector and showed that cultural diversity can be overestimated when only the number of imported films is taken into account as foreign, non-US productions tend to receive little theatrical exposure to audiences. This paper extends the analysis by Coate et al. (2017) beyond the Australian context. We adopt the authors’ operationalisation of Napoli’s (1999; 2011) definitions of “source” and “exposure” diversity to compare diversity “supplied” and “consumed” (Moreau & Peltier, 2004) across 40 cinema markets. The source (or supplied) diversity in each country is considered as the number of films imported from different origins, while the share of the country’s theatrical screenings dedicated to those films constitutes exposure (or consumed) diversity. Our discussion is informed by the big data collection of global film screenings from the
Kinomatics Project (n.d.), enriched with data on 124 film origins from IMDb (n.d.). The sample lists over 130m screening records of 3,424 first-run feature films released commercially across 40 countries during 2013–2015, amounting to over 28k film-country observations.

Coate, B., Verhoeven, D., Arrowsmith, C., & Zemaityte, V. (2017). Feature film diversity on Australian cinema screens: Implications for cultural diversity studies using big data. In M. D. Ryan & B. Goldsmith (Eds.), Australian Screen in the 2000s (pp. 341–360). Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Internet Movie Database (IMDb). (n.d.).

Kinomatics Project. (n.d.). What is Kinomatics.

Masood, M. (2019). New evidence on income and the geographical distribution of imports: The case of audiovisuals. Journal of Comparative Economics, 47(3), 717–734.

Moreau, F., & Peltier, S. (2004). Cultural diversity in the movie industry: A cross-national study. Journal of Media Economics, 17(2), 123–143.

Napoli, P. M. (1999). Deconstructing the diversity principle. Journal of Communication, 49(4), 7−34.

Napoli, P. M. (2011). Exposure diversity reconsidered. Journal of Information Policy, 1, 246−259.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2016). Diversity and the film industry: An analysis of the 2014 UIS Survey on Feature Film Statistics.

Dr Vejune Zemaityte ( is a Senior Research Fellow in Cultural Data Analytics at the Baltic Film, Media and Arts School (BFM), Tallinn University, Estonia working as part of the CUDAN Open Lab ( Zemaityte uses data analysis and visualisation techniques to study global cultural and creative industries, focusing on cinema and gender. Her work is interdisciplinary, data-driven, and industry-facing. Zemaityte is interested in the movement of cultural products through time and space. During her doctoral study at Deakin University in Australia, she analysed global film distribution trends using big data on theatrical screenings. Zemaityte also researches diversity in cultural and creative industries, such as content, origin, and gender diversity. A branch of her work at CUDAN deals with gender inequality in film production across different national industries using Social Network Analysis. Zemaityte performs research collaboratively with the CUDAN team as well as other research groups around the world, including the Kinomatics Research Group ( She also collaborates with external partners aiming to produce research that has high social impact and a potential to advance cultural policy.

Prof Dr Deb Verhoeven ( is Canada 150 Research Chair in Gender and Cultural Informatics at the University of Alberta, Canada. She is Director of the Kinomatics Project (, an interdisciplinary study that collects, explores, analyses and represents data about the creative industries. Verhoeven is a former CEO of the Australian Film Institute and Deputy Chair, National Film and Sound Archive (Australia) as well as former Chair of the widely read film journal Senses of Cinema and was Editor for the journal Studies in Australasian Cinema (Intellect).

Dr Bronwyn Coate is a senior lecturer based in the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing at RMIT University. Within RMIT Bronwyn is affiliated with the Placemaking Economics Group, the Behavioural Business Lab and Cultural Value Impact Network (CVIN). In addition, Bronwyn is a member of the international cross university multidisciplinary Kinomatics Research Group. Bronwyn is recognised as a cultural economist and currently serves as the Secretary/Treasurer for the Association for Cultural Economics International. Bronwyn has expertise in the economic analysis of the arts and creative industries with her research applying a range of economic and econometric techniques to cultural data. Recently Bronwyn has also incorporated approaches from behavioural economics into her research to study topics with relevance to cultural policy and ‘nudging’. Bronwyn actively engages with the arts and cultural sector to generate meaningful collaborations. She has worked on projects with the City of Melbourne to explore the economic impact of their arts programme as well as with the Australia Council for the Arts investigating how artists’ participation in the Venice Biennale influences their careers. Bronwyn has a proven track record of successful collaboration with multidisciplinary/transdisciplinary/industry partner research teams to address research issues and problems that deal with real world issues and have policy relevance.

Chair: Anna Kime (Audience Development Consultant)

Anna spends her time in Sheffield as an artist, writer and freelancer. She continues to survive a restricted lockdown life via an allotment, an embarrassment of books – more read than before – and multiple online peer networks for which she is eternally grateful. Anna has led on audience development strategies for Greater London and the North of England, worked nationally at the Independent Cinema Office and autonomously as a freelance consultant. As Head of Film Culture for Film London Anna was instrumental in the research and development of BFI’s Film Audience Network. Through her leadership of Film Hub North Anna championed a research-led approach with an assertive communications strategy and brand identity at the heart of the Hub business plan. She co-founded This Way Up, helped secure funding for Beyond the Multiplex and Hull City of Culture 2017. “Anna displays what I think is the most important of ambitions, to take her voice and her intelligence, with all the insight and eloquence that she has crafted over the years, and using it to lift up others so that they might be heard. Whether geared towards the industry professional or the audience member Anna is skilled at adapting and evolving her approach while never compromising her own skill.” Wendy Cook, Head of Cinema at Hyde Park Picture House. Previous freelance work includes producing Sea Change for Screen Argyll in 2019, promoting Reclaim the Frame in Sheffield for Birds’ Eye View Films and voluntary counselling for Light Peer Support, a charity working to support the emotional wellbeing & mental health of mums and their families in Sheffield and beyond. She is part of the steering group for Dial F for Freelancer. She recently completed an entirely remote consultancy with Film Culture (Dan Thomas) for Birmingham City Council and Greater Birmingham & Solihull LEP on business model recommendations for Film Birmingham and business planning workshops for Sheffield Creative Guild.