Bringing it all together: Cinema technology creates a new interconnectivity

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The International Cinema Technology Association (ICTA) seminar series in Los Angeles, held in January, is always well-attended by numerous exhibitors and the many suppliers that provide technologies for presentations in the cinema. This year, the focus was not so targeted on the digital-cinema rollout, as it has been in the past few years. This time, the focus was on the many changing forces that are reshaping the interior of the lobby, the concession area, the auditorium, and the interconnectivity of them all. The seminars highlighted the fact that cinema technology has vastly expanded. There is much more than I could cover here, but I will give a shot at a general summary.

The interior of the lobby is getting bigger.

Both sound and screen technology are improving with the digital image and the projection of that image. This is allowing much more flexibility in the size and shape of the auditoriums while still delivering a quality experience. This flexibility is enabling theatre lobbies that are bigger, more creative, and more adaptable to alternative food and beverage offerings. The discussion at ICTA of current and upcoming theatre design was refreshing and encouraging for the breadth of change and modernization of the theatre lobby.

These improvements are going to be necessary to keep the social aspect of the theatre attracting our audiences. At the conference, National Association of Theatre Owners president John Fithian discussed the negotiations that NATO is engaged in with all of the major studios to establish time frames for major releases going to video-on-demand. It remains to be seen what those time frames will be this year, next year, or two years from now. But the ability of the customer to construct a great home-theatre experience has never been greater and is only going to rise as technology improves. Home televisions are already being marketed as 3D-capable.

The concession area is getting more diverse.

The days of a simple concession stand with only candy and popcorn are beginning to feel passé. The simplicity of a well-run concession stand should not be undervalued, but the lobby is real estate that needs to be used as efficiently and productively and creatively as possible. The addition of cafés and dessert bars and cocktail bars has progressed to the point of normalcy now, and is expected to a certain degree. There are also more retail product offerings showing up to accompany the food and beverages and more lounge areas built into the space to encourage loitering. It sounds funny to encourage loitering, but in our business we do.

A guest speaker at ICTA was Mick LaSalle, the senior film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. He told the audience good bits of information regarding trends in the film industry. He also told us he would really prefer to watch a good movie at home, in the comfort of his home theatre. This drew a collective sigh from the crowd—always know your audience in public speaking. But his honesty made a brutal point with me, that the theatre has a job to do, to entice him out of his man-cave and into the social-driven theatre. Is it with concessions? A coffee bar? A lounge area to really review the movie with others? I didn’t get the chance to sit down with LaSalle personally, but these are the questions I took away from his admission that was considered blasphemy. Although most of the individuals in the room also have home theatres, why wouldn’t they do the same? They are in the business. But making the theatre the best possible place to view a film is their livelihood.

The auditorium and concession stand are getting more interactive.
The space between the lobby and the concession area used to be considered so vastly different, from an operator’s viewpoint, that the companies engaged in the business of these areas didn’t really interact. I am a member of both ICTA (projection and sound primary) and the National Association of Concessionaires (concession and administrative primary). For the most part, my friends in each of these organizations do not even know each other. This is changing. Technology is bringing them together. You can push a button on your seat console to bring a waiter from the food area. The pre-show in the auditorium is offering last-minute concession discounts. The digital signage at the concession stand is offering movie previews.

All of the areas of the theatre, once so separate, are bleeding into one another to create an atmosphere that ties the whole experience together. The technology being discussed and offered through the many companies that make up the membership of the ICTA is critical to the future of the industry. Without advancement in all areas, the consumer just might decide that VOD at home is just as good. Our job is to prove otherwise and give the customer reasons to leave the house. This is a theme that has been brought up in this column many times, but it is clearly the name of the game now more than ever.

Please send comments to Anita Watts at anita@reactornet.com.