Website outages occurred frequently during periods of high traffic
Content and data was spread across multiple, location-specific websites and platforms
A small engineering team struggled to balance maintenance tasks with new projects
A composable content platform unifies content across sites and structures it for reuse
APIs connect microservices for an organized and easy-to-use tech stack
An affordable, serverless approach liberates developer time while eliminating outages
"When we looked into different [composable] content management systems, Contentful was actually most responsive and most helpful in the selection process. We had excellent support from the technical side. Without Contentful, some new frontends wouldn’t have been possible."
“The main benefit for us is that the content team in Berlin can entirely focus on how to present a film. They focus on the best copy, images, and videos to convince moviegoers and don't have to worry about the distribution. Having this streamlined and simplified makes for a huge difference."
Compact and bijou don’t just describe perfectly petite apartments — just ask the movie-goers that flock to Yorck Kinogruppe’s smaller cinemas, which range in size from 1-7 theaters. Despite this collection of spaces that cater to intimate viewing experiences, the group also has a handful of larger screening cinemas for hosting special events and festivals. Yorck Kinogruppe serves a niche — one that enables the group to hold its own against streaming services and larger, commercialized theaters. It’s known for providing a roster of outstanding arthouse films, each one selected with intention and informed by critics, to ensure every two-hour-long escape from reality is worth the watch.
Despite this winning approach to film programming, Yorck Kinogruppe struggled with common content management problems. These problems graduated from a minor annoyance to a business-critical priority when COVID-19 hit, demanding almost entirely digital interactions. What had been occasional spikes in traffic became a regular occurrence, slowing website performance to a halt and frustrating even the most loyal customers. The shortcomings of the company’s multiple websites — like content silos, redundant operations, and a team too small to overcome either — became impossible to ignore. There was an accessibility concern. Yorck Kinogruppe’s site supported just one language, German, which created a less-than-ideal digital experience for its largely international audience.
Yorck Kinogruppe decided to confront these issues head-on by adopting a new content management solution capable of creating an experience as appealing and engaging online as in the theater.
Sharpening focus on new customer preferences
Yorck Kinogruppe’s pre-pandemic investment in content and supporting tech followed a familiar pattern. An outside agency had built a set of websites that initially looked great, but weren’t designed to keep pace with a changing environment and new business needs. The four-person in-house team had the unwieldy task of managing editorial content across two websites — each dedicated to specific cinema locations — with multiple editorial interfaces and limited integrations. Much effort was required to keep the sites running and the content flowing. And there was a lot of content — including but not limited to showtimes, ticket information, film synopses, trailers, movie posters, and even a print magazine.
And then there was the challenge of website performance. “Covid-19 changed a lot. In many ways, we became an ecommerce site — and people expected us to offer the same UI and UX as larger companies,” Tobias Vogel, Director of IT, shared. Yorck Kinogruppe saw site traffic increase 300% during the pandemic. Even more impressive was the jump in online ticket sales. Before the pandemic, online transactions accounted for just 20% of ticket sales. During and after the pandemic that number increased to 70%. With a customer base that had been staunchly in favor of doing things the old-fashioned way, Yorck Kinogruppe was ill-equipped to anticipate this behavior change, much less fight the site outages that followed.
“Before the pandemic, many of our senior customers said they’d never buy tickets online. When things reopened for the first time, those same customers came back with smartphones and were complaining about our site being too slow. This was a fundamental shift across our audience and to keep up with it, we would need to adjust our structures and processes,” Marvin Wiechert, former Digital Marketing Lead with the company, added.
A composable solution enters the scene
A headless content management solution was one option. It fit Yorck Kinogruppe’s requirement for decoupled back- and frontends and was gaining traction among developers eager to free themselves from a crushing backlog of content changes. But the team also knew it needed a different way of working in addition to a new tool set. Eager for guidance, Yorck Kinogruppe hired certified Contentful partner, HY.AM Studios for full-scale support. It played a major role in everything from selecting and implementing the new composable content platform to designing data models and refining internal- and end-user experiences.
After a series of hands-on workshops, the agency understood Yorck Kinogruppe’s pain points and preferred end state — which led Carlos Gonzalez, Lead Developer at HY.AM Studios to suggest Contentful. He did so after careful consideration for three reasons. First, it could unite content and tools in one interface. Second, it was developer-friendly. And third, it is cloud-based, which offers its own benefits. By eliminating any need for server maintenance, developers could spend time on more valuable projects. Additionally, content contributors would be able to take advantage of parallel workflows to improve business agility.
Building to a powerful epilogue
These hypothetical benefits materialized quickly. All of the content describing available films lives neatly in Airtable where it is pulled into Contentful and Yorck Kinogruppe’s many frontends via AWS Lambda functions. When the film editorial team makes edits, they update in all places at once. And for developers, all the tools they need are in one place.
You could say Yorck Kinogruppe’s new tech stack is as carefully curated as its films — which Contentful’s API-first, composable content platform supports. Vercel facilitates frontend development, Contentful serves as the content management solution, and Vista provides the booking system. Even the company’s subscription program, Yorck Unlimited, which is managed with Chargebee, is connected to the larger ecosystem.
Gonzalez puts it nicely: “With some configuration, Contentful becomes this space where you can easily access content or tools without jumping across systems. And I think that’s worth mentioning.”
These improvements have a big impact on customers as well. Berlinale 2022, one of Europe’s annual “Big Three” film festivals, served as the ultimate test for this. Despite much noise surrounding the feature films shown at Yorck Kinogruppe locations that year, the company barely heard a peep from its customers.
“The drop in complaints regarding booking errors and server malfunctions compared to those reported during previous festival seasons is a testament to the improvement made in the scope of site stability and the larger UX of the website,” Wiechert pointed out.
Yorck Kinogruppe also experienced a big win in data analytics. Before Contentful, managing data across platforms was so cumbersome, it simply didn’t happen. Yorck Kinogruppe’s integrated stack now allows them to see how something like weather affects ticket sales, for example. There’s no telling how Yorck Kinogruppe will leverage these insights to generate more interest and ticket sales going forward.
Planning the sequel
“The best thing about our architecture right now is that it's so well-prepared for the future. With this project, we didn’t just create a website, we created extensible back- and frontend systems. We now have the ability to automate processes and adopt modern tools and technology — like Alexa skills and ChatGPT, ” Vogel remarked.
As more team members, filmmakers, and other content contributors experience the benefits of composable content firsthand, support for projects leveraging Contentful are increasing. Today, Contentful powers multiple websites and serves showtimes for Google search and local newspapers. Next up: digital signage — and Yorck Kinogruppe is already using Contentful to lay the groundwork for it.