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Strategies for Film Festival Audience Building

An overview of the panel discussion “Nurturing Tomorrow's Film Audience: Strategies for Festival Organisers” at the Marché du Film, Festival de Cannes.


During the Marché du Film at the Festival de Cannes, Votemo hosted a significant panel discussion on future strategies for audience building within the realm of film festivals. This article provides a brief overview of the one-hour discussion. For further dialogue and idea sharing, please contact us. The full panel is accessible for professional badge holders on the Marché du Film website.


The panel was moderated by Maarit Mäeveer-Eller, CEO and Founder of Votemo, a platform specialising in film festival audience award voting. It featured esteemed industry professionals:


Panel discussion on stage at Marché du Film, From left and panellists: Jennifer Frees, Mark Fishkin, Triin Tramberg and Maarit Mäeveer-Eller
From left: Jennifer Frees, Mark Fishkin, Triin Tramberg and Maarit Mäeveer-Eller

Festival Organisers Play a Crucial Role in Shaping the Future of the Industry

As guardians of cinematic culture, festivals play a pivotal role in shaping the future of film appreciation. However, facing shifting audience demographics and evolving viewing habits, engaging tomorrow's film audiences presents both challenges and opportunities. During the discussion, we focused on brainstorming innovative approaches and sharing best practices. We explored strategies and tools that festival organisers can implement to cultivate a vibrant and diverse audience base.

Continue reading to discover:

  • The challenges film festival organisers face in attracting youth and building communities around festivals;

  • Ways to embrace innovative marketing techniques to enhance the overall festival experience for young audiences;

  • Strategies to cultivate a vibrant and diverse audience base, ensuring the longevity and success of our festivals.


Reshaping Film Festival Audience Building Strategies to Attract Youth

The panel began by addressing the current situation regarding young audiences at festivals, questioning whether this demographic poses a challenge and whether strategies to increase their attendance are evolving.

Mark Fishkin insightfully noted, “In the long term, it has already been proven that if you can get young kids to go to the museum, to a play, to an art house theatre, or to a festival, they are significantly more likely to continue doing so when they get older.”

But how can we engage young audiences effectively? What are the best practices and suggestions that work to increase their participation? All panellists concurred that actively working to attract young people is essential. Young people often expect discounts or start their engagement with free tickets. For larger festivals, membership passes have proven effective. Most major festivals have been cultivating their audience base for years, featuring competitions for young filmmakers and involving young juries.


Other discussed tactics included:

  • Discounts for young people

  • Enhancing the festival experience beyond just screenings

  • Offering memberships

  • Initiating programs and activities for young people (allowing them to grow with the audience)

  • Providing suggestions on what to watch


Votemo conducted a survey and interviews with young audiences from nine countries to identify the main barriers to why young people do not attend film festivals. The number one reason for not attending was a “lack of information” and difficulty in finding the right films to watch. There is an expectation that the festival should offer more than just screenings—it should be a vibrant, lively experience. Young people often rely on recommendations from friends and may experience social anxiety.


Building Community Around Festivals: A Long-Term Effort

Creating a community around festivals requires a consistent and strategic approach. At Votemo, we define a community as a group of individuals who derive mutual benefit from their participation. This concept extends beyond mere attendance; it involves fostering sustainable marketing and communication practices that resonate in today's digital landscape.

"POFF hosts a Children and Youth Film Festival where we collaborate with teachers to integrate film topics into their curriculums, as well as a film school for middle school students to deepen their understanding of film and spark interest in filmmaking." — Triin Tramberg

It's essential to consider how we can establish a welcoming and accessible community. This should feel like a natural, built-in social network that is easy to access and navigate, offering a seamless social experience.

Jennifer Frees highlights the importance of this approach: “It's very important that we think about how we can establish a sense of community for them, which includes a natural kind of built-in social network, and social experience, that is easy to access and navigate.”

Practical Tips for Festival Organizers:

  • Collect and Leverage Data: Start by building a lead base and gathering data you own. This strategic move will reduce future marketing costs and help you directly invite participants.

  • Engage Continuously: Maintain communication with your audience year-round, not just during the festival season. This ongoing engagement keeps the community active and informed.

  • Host Additional Events: Generate more than just the main event. Smaller, related events throughout the year can maintain interest and engagement.

  • Implement Direct Marketing: Use the data collected to target your audience effectively with tailored marketing messages.

  • Offer Memberships: Create membership options that provide additional value, such as exclusive content or early access, to enhance loyalty and community feeling.

  • Discounts for Young Audiences: Engage them with cinema discounts to foster a habit of festival attendance.


Enhancing Festival Brands to Attract Young Audiences and Sponsors

Building a festival brand that resonates with young audiences not only strengthens audience relationships but also enhances the attractiveness of the festival to potential sponsors. It is crucial for festival organisers to think strategically about securing valuable sponsorship relationships beyond 2024.

"A significant part of creating a community involves volunteers. While it's important to take care of partnerships, it’s equally crucial to look after your volunteers. They are the face of your festival and may return to their regular jobs, which could potentially be the partnerships you are seeking." — Triin Tramberg

Sponsors are increasingly looking for festivals whose brands align with their values. Therefore, crafting a sophisticated sponsorship strategy that aligns with value-based companies is essential. As brand marketing budgets have generally decreased post-COVID due to economic and political factors, sponsors are now demanding more data and measurable results from their investments.


Young audiences tend to gravitate towards brands that demonstrate a genuine concern for their interests and values. Despite the downturn in overall sponsorship spending, substantial sponsorship deals are still available. However, sponsors are clear about their needs: they seek not only measurable results but also opportunities to make meaningful investments that reflect their brand ethos.


By focusing on these elements, festival organisers can create a compelling brand that appeals both to young attendees and discerning sponsors looking for a solid return on their investment.

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