Moving on Up: 4D and motion seats are gaining more traction

Features
Technology

Now that 3D is here to stay, more and more moviegoers are looking for that extra dimension. Demonstrating remarkable growth in the last few years is 4D, a term which for our purposes encompasses both motion technology and motion presentations which add extra effects such as wind, mist, bubbles, scents and strobe lights. The leaders in this field, CJ 4DPLEX, D-BOX and MediaMation, are all making new inroads. Here’s an update on their progress.

CJ 4DPLEX

Headquartered in Seoul, Korea, with international offices in Los Angeles and Beijing, CJ 4DPLEX launched the 4DX multi-sensory format in 2009. Each auditorium incorporates motion-based seating synchronized with over 20 different effects. More than 300 Hollywood titles have been screened in 4DX. As of July 2016, 4DX is present in over 34,000 seats at 268 auditoriums in 41 countries. The company just signed a memorandum of understanding with top Chinese circuit Shanghai Film Corporation to expand 4DX to more than 20 screens throughout China within three years. There are currently 58 4DX auditoriums in China.

Mooky Greidinger, CEO of Cineworld, the second-largest cinema chain in Europe, asserts, “4DX is a huge success story—we have it in all of our territories. It is a very professional system. People are really enjoying it. At first people said to me, ‘Ahh, it’s only a gimmick, this is a short run, etc.’ We installed our first 4DX four years ago and it’s still having a great performance year-round. Now we have 14, with many, many more to come. This year we’re going to install another ten.”

4DX has also established a presence in the United States. The format debuted in June 2014 with Transformers: Age of Extinction at Regal Cinemas’ L.A. LIVE complex and achieved $1.52 million in revenue its first year, attracting 70,000 attendees, representing an increase of 88% in attendance over the previous 12 months in the same auditorium prior to the conversion.

“Regal’s ultimate goal is to create a memorable experience for our moviegoers, and 4DX does just that,” says Greg Dunn, president and chief operating officer for Regal Entertainment Group. “The 4DX auditorium at Regal L.A. LIVE has been extremely well-received, attracting moviegoers from all across the area and encouraging guests to sit back and hold on for one of the best theatre experiences the industry has to offer.”

This year, Regal opened two 4DX theatres in New York City, at its Union Square Stadium 14 and its E-Walk 13 on 42nd Street. And on August 1, Regal announced plans to add 17 additional screens in the U.S. by the end of 2018. Orlando, FL, and Seattle, WA, will be among the first new locations.

“We are extremely excited to expand this immersive cinematic experience to other sites in the United States,” says Brandon Choi, chief operating officer at CJ 4DPlex Americas. “From the success we’ve seen at the box office in Los Angeles and New York and from the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve received from audiences, we have no doubt that these 4DX theatres will soon become the hottest entertainment spots in the country.”

On August 10, Regal announced, “We are excited to report [that] at L.A. LIVE and Union Square Suicide Squad had the best opening weekend for 4DX since first entering the U.S. marketplace back in 2014. Both locations were at or near sellout, with moviegoers clamoring to see Suicide Squad in the immersive cinematic experience that 4DX offers.”

The second U.S. location for 4DX was the Marcus Gurnee Mills Cinema in Gurnee, IL, which debuted last November. Marcus Theatres president and CEO Rolando Rodriguez observes, “Overall, the customer comments we receive about the 4DX auditorium are very positive. There is always a great deal of excitement and anticipation for the announcement of new 4DX-compatible films. The Gurnee Mills Cinema team has also noticed that many people seek out the 4DX auditorium specifically, with repeat customers who come to the theatre frequently just for that experience.”

Rodriguez continues, “The demographic attending a 4DX show typically seems to match the demographic of the movie playing at the time and doesn’t skew differently than that of a 2D or 3D version of the film. Because the core moviegoing audience tends to be younger, we are naturally seeing more young people in our 4DX auditorium; however, the Gurnee Mills Cinema team has noticed a base of seniors who love the experience, too.”

He concludes, “As CJ 4DPLEX expands the concept, we are open to additional opportunities in the future.”

D-BOX Technologies

Founded in 1994 by a group of musicians and engineers from Montreal, D-BOX initially launched its motion system in the home-theatre and PC gaming markets. The first feature film encoded with D-BOX was Fast & Furious in April 2009. An early believer in the technology was top Canadian circuit Cineplex Entertainment, which today has more than 50 D-BOX screens and is now installing the motion-seat platform in its AVX premium-large-format theatres. Cineplex president and CEO Ellis Jacob calls D-BOX “one of the most immersive experiences in cinemas today” and vouches that the motion seats “have been overwhelmingly popular with our guests.”

Another major client is Cinemark, which committed in December 2015 to deploy 80 new screens in the U.S. and Latin America over a 24-month period.

Among the first circuits in the U.S. to install D-BOX was Megaplex Theatres, which today has nearly 300 D-BOX motion seats in ten auditoriums across nine Utah locations. Blake Andersen, president and general manager, says D-BOX gives his guests “the opportunity to experience something available nowhere else in Utah.” Jeff Whipple, VP of marketing, observes, “Megaplex Theatres is frequently named Utah’s favorite place to see movies, in part because Megaplex offers movie fans many more innovations and seating options than any other theatre chain in Utah… Megaplex guests tell us they love the D-BOX motion-effects experience that allows them to feel in sync with the amazing action on the screen.”

In fact, Whipple shares these comments from his customers: Anthony of Logan, Utah—“This was my first time ever using D-BOX and it was the most amazing experience I have ever had. It gave the movie a more in-depth feeling.” Miguel of Salt Lake City—“D-Box is spot-on, especially when watching scary movies!”

Michel Paquette, VP of marketing at D-BOX, calls his system “the original highest-priced premium.” He observes, “We now see a shift where exhibitors are stacking those premiums. This can only be achieved with D-BOX because of our modularity and because people believe in the experience to the extent they’ll come back over and over.”

The modularity Paquette speaks of is the scalable configurations that allow an exhibitor to install, say, one or two rows of D-BOX seats, a VIP section, or the entire auditorium with D-BOX. The seats themselves deliver precise, realistic vibrations, with individual intensity controls.

Paquette strongly feels that 4D and motion seating are two distinct categories of theatre offerings—a conviction, he notes, that’s been seconded by leading research and analysis firm IHS Technology.

Last year, D-BOX made its first inroads into the world of virtual reality (VR), creating a motion track code score for “The Martian VR Experience,” an offshoot of Ridley Scott’s hit The Martian produced by The Virtual Reality Company for 20th Century Fox Innovation Lab. In June, D-BOX announced it will be reteaming with The Virtual Reality Company on several projects, including an action-adventure VR feature. Paquette says his platform’s flexibility will “become a key element with our customers, as we’ll be able to adapt our offering to support the VR wave coming our way.”

This year, Captain America: Civil War became the 200th movie to be encoded with D-BOX. Its customers include 76 theatre chains representing roughly 530 screens in more than 30 countries.

MediaMation

Founded in 1991, MediaMation’s offering for cinemas is MX4D®, with moving seats enhanced by air/water blasts, leg/neck ticklers, fog, snow, bubbles, scents, seat/back pokers, seat rumblers and other special effects that emanate from the seats or from inside the theatre itself.

MediaMation has an especially strong presence in Latin America and Asia. Cine Colombia has seven locations, and Mexico’s Cinemex operates 14 sites, with four more due by the end of the year. In China, top circuit Wanda Cinemas has nine locations, and various chains account for an additional 16 in China. In April, China’s Dadi Cinema Group announced plans to install 15 to 20 MX4D theatres this year.

Major Japanese circuit Toho boasts 12 MX4D sites, and MediaMation also has installations in Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Ukraine, Egypt, Dubai, Kuwait, Oman and Curaçao. In the U.S., MediaMation has two National Amusements locations in Boston, and the Plaza Stadium 14 in Oxnard, CA.

MX4D theatres are also installed in many museums and parks around the world, including the San Diego Art & Space Museum, the Detroit Science Center, LegoLand Discovery Centres, and the Marine Ocean Museum in South Korea.

Duncan Short, VP, USA and international operations, at National Amusements, attests, “As leading innovators in exhibition, we are continually seeking new ways to make the movie experience customizable, unique and exciting for our patrons. Currently, we are enjoying the success of two MX4D installations in our U.S. theatres and value the overall quality of the multidimensional, thrilling experience it provides our customers. We are continuing to identify U.S. locations where the concept will thrive as well as reviewing potential sites for expansion internationally.”

Daniel Montes, marketing director at Cine Colombia, reports that average occupation of MX4D rooms has been around 50% this year.“Young customers are happy with the 4D experience,” he observes. “They perceive value and enjoy the experience. However, 35-plus customers prefer to watch movies in traditional formats, unless they have young children.”

Montes says he uses different marketing strategies to promote MX4D, including campaigns to create awareness of the format and its benefits on TV, radio, social media and in print. He also courts the press and does pop advertising at points of sale and below-the-line activities touting 4D.

For the final word, let’s turn to a very enthusiastic moviegoing supporter of MX4D: Leo Martinez, a stand-up comic and sign-shop proprietor who never misses an MX4D presentation at the Plaza 14 in Oxnard, CA. He came across 4D by accident when he didn’t want to wait 40 minutes for the next standard show of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “Even though it seemed pricey, [once] the opening scene started I said, ‘This is amazing!’ The Turtles were going down a sewer on skateboards and I remember getting splashed with a few drops of water. And when Shredder and Splinter were battling, a smoke machine kicked out a nice cloud in front of us.” Now he feels, “For the price difference, it’s hard to find something comparable, not only in entertainment but in execution… It definitely makes the whole experience better.”

Martinez cites Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Angry Birds Movie as some of his best 4D experiences. He and his friends usually opt for the front row.

“I’m not a big aficionado necessarily,” he adds. “I’m very willing to wait for movies to come out on DVD. I pretty much just go to the theatre to catch 4D, because once the movie comes out on DVD, I’m not going to be able to get the moving seats and all that other stuff—plus it makes it a fun experience to go with friends.”

Martinez notes, “Universal Studios [Theme Park] used to have Back to the Future. It’s the exact same thing—you were sitting in front of a giant theatre screen… The only difference is now the technology is way better and you get individual seats as opposed to a [car] you sit in with a bunch of other people. And it has way more action than the Back to the Future ride ever had. Plus, everything’s in 3D and you’re sitting in the front row, getting lightly punched through the seats. There’s no replacement for it. It’s basically an amusement-park ride.

“I really think this is going to be the future,” he predicts. “I have a few friends who have 3D TVs, and they don’t really watch them. It’s fun but it’s kind of an inconvenience. I don’t see how 4D cannot be the future of theatres, especially for action movies and kids’ movies. It brings a theme park within driving distance, based on a movie that has millions of dollars behind its budget and an amazing storyline. It kind of combines the best of all worlds.”