University of Sheffield part of major new national film audience research project

  • Study set to develop new tool to help film sector better understand existing and potential audiences
  • Research to help wider range of audiences embrace the wealth of films beyond the mainstream
  • Project will feed into British Film Institute’s (BFI) audience strategy to enhance cultural benefits of British and international film

Researchers from the University of Sheffield are part of a major new research project which could transform our understanding of how people watch film today.

A row of retro cinema seats

The study, which includes Dr Dave Forrest from the University’s School of English and Dr Mike Pidd from the University’s Digital Humanities Institute (DHI), is developing a new tool which the film sector could use to better understand their existing and potential audiences.

The project is also working with groups of audiences to better understand the meaning they construct and draw from their experiences of film.

Launched in partnership with Newcastle University, Film Hub North and the Universities of Liverpool and York, the study will to focus on ways to enable a wider range of audiences to participate in a more diverse film culture that embraces the wealth of films beyond the mainstream.

Working at an unprecedented scale and depth in film audience research, the project addresses how people watch film and engage with film culture from rural film clubs to the international film festivals, to those watching Video on Demand at home.

Collaborating with those working in film and engaging a broad range of film audiences, the project will provide new evidence, online analytical data tools and a digital methodology for audience research.

Dr Dave Forrest said: “The UK has a vibrant film sector with the potential to significantly enhance the cultural life of our towns and cities, however many audience groups outside of London struggle to access films that are not in the mainstream. This project looks to address this by developing the insights and tools needed to help the film sector better understand audiences, so they can grow and diversify them.”

The research will involve a comparative study of film audiences in four English regions: the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, the North West and the South West.

For each region the project will collect data through interviews, focus groups and a longitudinal survey.

The research will assess regional venues, events and programming and look at the interpretation of film as well as film policy and industry developments and regional demographics. To bring all of this together, the project will use digital humanities methods, led by the University of Sheffield, to structure, store and analyse the data.

Through a partnership led by Film Hub North and the wider British Film Institute (BFI) Film Audience Network, the project will feed into the BFI’s audiences strategy, which aims to grow audiences from underrepresented groups, widen film choice and enhance the cultural benefits of British and international film.

While availability of mainstream film is good across England, provision of British and international film is low across the regions outside London, which limits the opportunities for people to experience a more diverse film culture.

Beyond the Multiplex is developed from a pilot research project that found significant disparities in the provision of a diverse film culture in the North East and Yorkshire. The research team will conduct extensive field research in the four regions exploring film practices and experiences regarding taste, venues, film events, digital platforms, and the meanings audiences take away from specialised film.

Anna Kime, Manager of Film Hub North, said: “Dedicated research with such an impressive team allows us to really deepen our audience development work. We’re delighted to have the opportunity to continue this partnership.”

The three year research project follows an award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

For more information visit the project website, a selection of images from the launch event at Showroom Cinema in Sheffield is available to download here.

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2017 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact:

Sean Barton
Junior Public Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9852