Interactive Audiences: Pushing the boundaries of the cinema experience


For decades, and pretty much since their inception, the movies have been a relatively scripted, linear experience. Moviegoers buy a ticket, visit concessions, watch the pre-show (typically a combination of commercials and movie previews), see the feature film, and then exit. But recently, new thinking and new technologies have begun to alter some of these ritual experiences in fresh and very exciting ways. This disruption comes at a perfect time for the movie industry, and it’s only going to accelerate.

With the support of Barco, Audience Entertainment has patented one of these new technologies called iD (interactive Dimension™) technology. Currently installed in 100 Screenvision theatres in the U.S. (and more internationally), iD technology allows movie audiences to interact with, and alter, the content on the screen. This technology blows the doors wide open for the worlds of gaming, mobile, and eventually even the narratives of the feature films themselves.

It’s no secret that gaming is one of technology’s biggest growth industries. Case in point, we’re now seeing videogames as a spectator event. A stunning 32 million people tuned in to watch the Season 3 World Championships on Twitch, a game-playing and broadcasting platform that was recently acquired by Amazon for $970 million. All of this should raise some eyebrows in the movie world because the movies are inherently a group setting fixated around a screen, sound and picture that are second to none. This is not to say that movies should become venues for gaming competitions, but it should have movie executives thinking differently about how elements of gaming can mesh with the movie experience.

At the recent South by Southwest conference, Audience Entertainment, in partnership with Rare Games Ltd., opened the SXSW Gaming Awards with an exclusive demonstration using the Banjo-Kazooie franchise. For this demo, the sold-out crowd was able to collectively control the content on the screen through motion and sound. The audience was blown away, yelling and urging the presenters to let them play again (they played three times!).It’s easy to extrapolate from this success story how a similar game or experience might work its way into a movie pre-show, or even an animated children’s film.

Last October, Audience Entertainment teamed up with Grammy-nominated musician Ne-Yo to produce the first-ever interactive video premiere, for Ne-Yo’s new single “She Knows.” The video was projected onto a Times Square billboard in New York City and pedestrians on the street were able to piece the video images together like a puzzle, again through the use of collective arm-waving gestures. And once again, it’s very easy to see how similar concepts might find success in theatres. Speaking with REVOLT TV, Ne-Yo explained, “I wanted to do something a little different. People premiere videos all the time, but to take it to Times Square, with this interactive technology that has never been used before in this way, we just made history today.”

Audience Entertainment made history again this spring, debuting a mobile feature that allows audience members to interact with content onscreen via a non-app-based solution (a major barrier to entry and engagement for moviegoers). The mobile feature is activated through a closed and secure Wi-Fi connection, allowing anyone with a Wi-Fi-enabled mobile device to participate. This breakthrough could be another entry point for gaming, and also for introducing Netflix-style choice to moviegoers. An early demo of the tool shows an audience voting on what movie trailer they want to see. Given an exclusive demonstration of the mobile solution, Variety wrote, “…it’s easy to see how what Audience Entertainment is selling could resonate with consumers.”

Eventually, these elements of interactivity could work their way into the narratives of the movies themselves, with an audience following their favorite character—or directing certain plot twists at key points during the film. It’s a bit like the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books reimagined for a new, digital era.

Of course, none of these transformations will happen overnight, but rest assured, they’re coming. The movies will always be a place for great actors and directors and great stories, but there’s a new generation of young people coming into view, and the only world they’ve ever known is one with the devices you can touch, and experiences you can be a part of in some form or another. And in terms of their own bottom lines, the sooner the movie industry begins to embrace these new audiences and offer these sorts of experiences, the sooner they’ll be able to reap the profits.

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