Best in Show: New products and technologies court exhibs at ShowEast EXPO

Features
Technology

ShowEast, the annual U.S. cinema industry shindig spearheaded by the Film Expo Group, proudly celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. From Oct. 17-20, movie exhibitors, distributors and studios of all shapes and sizes, content creators, industry goods and service providers, members of the media that cover it all, and others not included in the above categories descended upon Miami Beach to meet for their once-a-year Florida confab.

This year’s edition was held at the famed Fontainebleau resort, located along the beautiful Eastern coast, a pebble’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean. Fortunately, there was no evidence that Hurricane Matthew had contributed any lasting damage, or even left any minor impact on the region.

Strolling around the EXPO tradeshow floor and off-floor suites, it was evident that several interesting new companies were in attendance to target the worldwide exhibition sector and an array of noteworthy recent developments from some longtime industry participants were also on display and worth highlighting.

A sampling of the festivities follows…

Lasers: Generating Lots of Light and Positive Momentum

According to the PowerPoint presentation presided over by Barco’s Bill (The Laser Guy) Beck, Barco recently surpassed 150 Flagship Laser series installations, with a growing base of 45 cutting-edge global exhibitors across 22 countries.

The primary benefits of Barco’s Laser Phosphor series touted by Beck include ease of use for theatre owners—fewer hassles with projection system lamp replacements, significantly less maintenance and, of course, the elimination of bulb purchases. Laser systems are projected for 30,000+ hours, in part due to their unique cooling systems. Beck also highlighted Laser Phosphor’s relatively seamless retrofit integration with existing projectors, excellent image quality, long-term brightness and uniformity, plus power savings that approach 50% versus traditional xenon lamps.

Xenon Not Standing Idly By…

While Barco and its chief competitor Christie continue to generate increasing sales on the laser front, leaders in cinema lamp sales such as Philips are protecting their territory. Sensitive to exhibitor cost constraints on their respective P&Ls, Philips was promoting their expense-saving initiative.

According to Thomas Hardenburger (global product manager, cinema xenon), their LongPlay xenon lamps can help theatre owners shed operating costs with up to 50% longer warranty hours than standard xenon lamps. This can result in dramatically lower cost of ownership—i.e., cost per hour metric. The catalyst for change is their breakthrough lamp electrode technology, which runs cooler, thereby prolonging electrode life and maintaining light output longer.

Can You Hear Me Now?

A couple of EXPO industry providers are proactively seeking to improve the theatre-going experience for audience members with hearing and visual impairments. They are also focusing on foreign-language challenges that have traditionally made it impossible to watch a given title in the same auditorium as native speakers. Both are relatively new to the cinema vertical and they also share a common platform for accomplishing their respective goals: smartphone technology.

Sennheiser is a company traditionally known for its leadership in sound, especially high-end microphone, wireless and headset products, According to area sales manager of system integration Andrew Kornstein, musical superstar Adele exclusively utilizes their microphones when she performs.

CinemaConnect allows theatrical exhibitors to enable real-time transmission of audio content to user mobile devices. Sennheiser’s streaming server and app facilitate audio description, hearing assistance, transmission of multilingual audio and alternative content, among other benefits.

Its ConnectStation is a WLAN-based multi-channel audio transmission system to audience member mobile devices. According to company estimates, the worldwide smartphone user universe is already well in excess of 1.6 billion.

One of the more interesting stories out of ShowEast was the launching of Theater Ears, which was initially founded by a Florida-based orthodontist dutifully trying to keep his mother in-law happy. She was born in Colombia and spoke little English, but loved to spend time with her grandchildren, including accompanying them to their favorite movies.

As with many innovations, solving a problem is the backdrop for creative inspiration, so the orthodontist kept searching for an existing solution for his wife’s mother but unfortunately kept coming up empty. Theater Ears was therefore originally founded with a desire to help non-English speakers enjoy attending the cinema alongside those fluent in the original language the film was produced in.

According to CEO Dan Mangru, “Our mission is to break down barriers to moviegoing. In the Latino community alone, there are over 25 million Americans who do not speak English fluently, and millions more from other diverse ethnic groups. We hope that with our technology we are able to not only bring families together but different types of people together, united by a common bond and a shared interest, a little slice of Americana known as the movies."

For the visually and hearing impaired, Theater Ears also created a needed solution for closed-captioning, video description and assisted listening via an integrated, intuitive device. Cinemagoers simply download the free Theater Ears app and pay a small fee per soundtrack.

Musical Chairs

Worldwide exhibitors continue to aggressively upgrade their physical plants and dole out capital expenditures to incrementally improve the experience for discerning cinema-going audiences.

The ongoing battle to entice prospective patrons off their couches and at least temporarily drag them away from entertainment provided by oversized TV screens, state-of-the-art home theatres and various mobile devices is clearly in full force. It should therefore not be too surprising that approximately 20% of ShowEast 2016 EXPO booths were occupied by an assortment of seating providers.

On display was a wide array of reclining, rocking and other plush, luxurious offerings—such as Euro Group UK’s cool and tres-chic red-upholstered couch—designed to keep guests comfortable and happy in theatres. Exhibitors hope high-end seating will help elicit positive word-of-mouth recommendations to friends and family that the in-theatre experience continues to evolve and improve.

Of note, Telescopic Seating Systems was recently granted a new international patent for powered chairs and components for use in their assemblies, which is expected to elevate their competitive position. Telescopic’s Clean Sweep System, which debuted in 2015, allows all recliners to be elevated with the push of a button, significantly facilitating the work of auditorium cleaning crews.

Other seating sellers in attendance included Irwin Seating, a multi-generational, family-run company that has exclusively been selling seats for more than a century. In addition to multiplexes across the globe, its products can be found in New York City’s Carnegie Hall, as well as Minsk Arena in Belarus and Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts football team.

Many exhibitors have been deploying various technologies from Vista Cinema and other providers, which allow patrons to reserve their exact seat location in advance. This convenience also may encourage guests to potentially arrive closer to showtime.

This trend may unfortunately be at odds with the agendas and strategies of leading pre-show providers such as National CineMedia, Screenvision and Spotlight Cinema Networks, which is focusing on the upscale, art-house market, on behalf of luxury-targeted brands such as Louis Vuitton and Chanel.

Studios and distributors may also have concerns that a VIP perk allowing reserved seating may reduce the number of eyeballs that see their coming-attractions trailers. Dine-in services at an increasing number of chains—another burgeoning trend—may also be impacted. Late-arriving patrons can potentially foul up pre-feature order-taking and delivery timing.

Parting Glances

Adaptive Technologies Group has a projector lift exhibitors can potentially get excited about. It complements the emerging strategy of theatre owners going booth-less. If done right, they can potentially capitalize on extra available space more effectively and perhaps add additional seats or even an extra screen or two. The two-piece vertical framework can bolt in to the rear wall and be installed relatively quickly, safely and easily.

Golden Krust Bakery was a first-time attendee at EXPO, offering samples of their Jamaican patties, which are turnover-style pastries. The company has retail locations around the U.S. and is focusing on expanding its footprint into the cinema concessions and dining space.

Dippin’ Dots proudly showed off their timely and politically correct “red, white and blue” ice cream snack dessert mix, which was being served in conjunction with U.S. Presidential debate night #3. If that wasn’t enticing enough, they also sampled a sneak peek coming attraction of a new Brownie Batter flavor due in 2017.