I know I’m in a minority when I confess that sometimes I do like to knit in the cinema, but I’m in fine company in Newcastle where the Tyneside has a very popular knitting club every fortnight. It’s just one of the innovative ways that they are boosting admissions (from 90,000 up to 150,000 in just three years) and bringing new audiences into this attractive space. A minimum of 70 people turn up to every monthly knitting club. Yup, 70. You heard.
For us it’s all about the long tail. We start by making the space more relevant, more an integrated part of someone’s life. Whether that’s through film or through something like knitting or music or the historical archive doesn’t really matter to us. The fact is that they are comfortable here, they come back, they visit the bar. At some point, they are going to watch a film.
Jonny Tull, Cinema Programme Manager
‘Business is brilliant’:
Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle is a pioneer of the ‘Alternative Alternative content model’, embracing a diverse spectrum of non-film events which may seem anathema to standard arthouse fare. I’d been following the cinema ever since Jonny Tull got in touch and asked to ‘be in our gang’, and wanted to find out exactly what had motivated some of their more risky moves, and what the actual returns were on some of their surprising investments. In Jonny’s words, Tyneside aspires to be a ‘flexible, responsive, public-facing organisation’ and they are succeeding. How?
A fantastic building:
Tyneside’s 70 year-old, Grade II listed building was renovated over two years, between 2006 and 2008, and stylishly refurbished in authentic art deco style, with an original mosaic foyer floor, images of faded starlets on the walls, and tea rooms that pulse with a nostalgic air. But - lovely as the building is – it surely isn’t enough to justify the kinds of figures outlined above. It’s what, and perhaps as importantly who, is inside, that makes all the difference.
Whilst I was waiting in the tea rooms enjoying, um, well, a cup of tea, I watched one of the smiley staff helping an elderly lady into a motorized wheelchair. They bantered amiably; they’d done this before. As Jonny explained, the staff are a real asset to the organization. They’re open, passionate about film, they listen. They embody that ‘responsive, public-facing’ ideal, which is absolutely integrated with the cinema’s social media personality. The staff and their new media output are of the same cloth… (if you can use cloth as a metaphor for binary data?…. Hmm. Yes, yes you can… Cloth!).
A sense of fun:
One of the most strategic things that Tyneside does is to address the stigma attached with ‘arthouse’ cinema. Of course, maverick moves such as screening Sex and the City II as a lure for potential audiences for Heartbreaker may have laid them open to criticism. But a healthy number of attendees of SATTC II came back to Tyneside for their first ever foreign-language film experience. A simple follow-up letter and special offer to those over-dressed young ladies was enough to bring them into the fold not once, but twice and more. “It’s all about creating multiple entry points to the space” says Jonny, and if free screenings of retro Blockbusters in the bar are attracting young people and giving them a sense of comfort and ownership of an arthouse cinema, that’s fine with him.
Ownership and interactivity:
Finally, Tyneside is taking notes from Facebook and Twitter and integrating them into their own online destination. Its new website offers audiences a voting space to campaign for films to return, a Facebook-integrated login, a reminder service for any screening or event you might be interested in, and an invitation to comment on, and rate movies (all for members only).
For SylC, Tyneside is one of the most positive examples of new media engagement around. From their nomination for a Twitter ‘Shorty’ to a recent listing as 287th (wait for it, it’s better than it sounds) Follow Friday mention – out of 12.5 million users (told you), they are doing something right. Is it their last minute promotions? Maybe. Their immediate responses to audience comments on their various profiles? Perhaps. But I’ve got a feeling that it’s their irreverent, risk-taking, not-sure-what-you’re-going-to-get-next sense of fun that really does the most work for them.
Is this the new model for the industry in the Twenty-first century? Open, accessible, quirky, fun, smiling, risky and innovative? It’s certainly the Tyneside way and I, for one, like it.