Around the Hub: How exhibitors benefit from centralization
Humans organize our activities around hubs. In fact, it’s one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. Gathering people, goods or data around a hub enables efficiencies that would be otherwise unachievable, and it is this kind of cooperative organization that has made our species so successful. It’s the reason we have cities, schools, offices and airports, to name just a few examples.
The benefits of centralizing on a process or organizational level are apparent in most cases: economies of scale, head office visibility and control, and reduction in human error. There are fewer examples of centralization on an industry level, because of the complexity of aligning companies that might otherwise be competitors, but the stories of those that managed to get it right are powerful. Consider airports. The air-travel industry has developed routes centered on hubs across the world like London, Dubai and New York. Because of these hubs, you can reach practically any commercial airport in the world from any other with at most a couple of layovers.
But imagine a world where each airport could only get you to a handful of others. A world where an airline built their own proprietary radar system, which only integrated with one particular air-traffic-control program, which was only installed at airports in the region. To get from one side of the world to the other, you would be looking at dozens of changes and days of wasted time hopping between services, all because suppliers couldn’t decide on any collective standards.
Airlines, local governments and manufacturers all foresaw that possible future, and realized it wasn’t workable. They must have set aside some of their own agendas and processes to devise a solution that worked for them and their customers. Deciding to centralize operations around hubs was key to ensuring their operating standards were compatible, and would remain so as they evolved.
And yet, up to this point the cinema industry has had mixed success in applying this logic. The DCI standardization was a triumph in quality assurance and interoperability, but the core mechanics behind putting a movie onscreen today are still technically complex, often manual processes conducted in isolation by separate parties.
If we do think about centralizing, it is still on a process or organizational level, such as with exhibitors managing their playlists from the head office. In reality, however, the worldwide network of digital technology we have installed in over 160,000 screens has already opened up the possibility of industry-level centralization around new “hubs.” These hubs could form around many of those multi-party tasks I mentioned before: the creation and delivery of KDMs (Key Delivery Messages), preshow ads, trailers, etc.
Arts Alliance Media, for example, has been serving as a hub that connects our existing Screenwriter Theatre Management System (TMS) customers and Deluxe Technicolor Digital Cinema (DTDC), in order to facilitate fully automated KDM delivery. By connecting two completely separate parts of the industry via the cloud, we have provided them both the results they wanted: DTDC now gets proof of delivery for their KDMs, and the exhibitors don’t have to worry about managing those KDMs, because they simply appear directly on their screen servers. We are starting to see what we can achieve when we collaborate, but automating all the background processes that put a film onscreen is really only the tip of the iceberg. Creating hubs of data and building ecosystems that foster connections across the industry would provide everyone involved with invaluable insights. It isn’t as much about forcing transparency as it is about parsing the data that’s already available.
For example, there is something of a black hole when it comes to identifying who has viewed a particular trailer. This is because, traditionally, both the playback data and exhibitor ticket sales or loyalty program data you need to cross-reference are stored at site level in impenetrable logs on playback servers and other internal systems.
By pulling those logs from the servers, centrally processing them and making that playback data available, exhibitors would be able to drive decision-making in much the same way that online providers such as Netflix can. They could grow revenue by introducing more intelligent audience targeting, and perhaps even create new revenue streams by offering distributors or advertisers better reporting. Distributors and advertisers could then, in turn, predict audience tastes more accurately and serve them, thereby providing exhibitors with an uplift in ticket sales and audience satisfaction.
Once we reach a critical mass of big data, it’s rendered analyzable, which means the industry can turn that data into information and act on the insight it presents. By bringing disparate data sources together in central hubs and, more importantly, acting on the insights, we can give audiences the experiences they want, when they want them, and ultimately keep them coming back.