Six Degrees of Beacon: Vision Media, ThinAire and Peach target moviegoers on the move


Vision Media Management, ThinAire and Peach Digital have joined forces–and their respective strengths in theatre/studio relations, near-field and beacon technologies, and software, design and promotions–to create an integrated marketing platform that allows theatre owners to monitor and manage engagement and communications with their patrons, both inside and outside of the cinema. (For another example from that space, check out our report on AMC and Movio.)

“Our approach allows us to offer personalized, highly relevant content and special offers to moviegoers,” explains Doug Woodard, the chief innovation and technology officer at Vision Media Management, the company best known to our readers for making sure we have one-sheets, standees and other marketing materials on hand. One of the means to do so is “marrying a consumer’s interest with a circuit’s loyalty program,” he says of the companies’ proposition. Using their complete solution of software, platforms and technologies that include beacons, Wi-Fi, mobile and the web, will “allow the circuit, studios and other brands to converse directly with a consumer via one of the most personal pieces of electronics any of us own, their cellphone.” The three companies are “not looking to offer a single piece of the overall solution–to sell software, some kit and leave them to sort things on their own,” Woodard assures. “Instead, we bring a full-service offering that covers everything from technology to creative, development, ad sales and more.”

The underlying platforms already work with most game and social-app developers and third-party tracking partners, Woodard continues. And his partner companies are experts at running multilayered campaigns for hundreds of advertisers. Most important, the still-unnamed service integrates with many of the existing theatre backbone systems. “Peach Digital is a software development company that built the middleware piece that actually enables us to communicate to…point-of-sale systems, CRM and loyalty platforms, thereby allowing us to aggregate and move this data back and forth.”

How it all gets to connect depends “on the platform through which guests and consumers are coming into the environment.” Woodard uses beacons as his example. The provider partner in this space, ThinAire, “deploys beacons in 85,000 grocery stores across the U.S., in drugstores, sports arenas and so forth. We are able to look at the data for devices in aggregate across their network. So while we may see that device for the first time within a theatre location, that device may already be familiar to ThinAire from a grocery store. Based on consumers’ habits–and how they are using the phone, the types of content they are interacting with–we can begin to build the demographic profile.”

Tracking works from the other direction as well. “If that consumer is logged into their theatre loyalty app, we would be able to utilize the data from within the circuit’s CRM, and then tailor the content.” Either way, he adds, “we are given certain information to make decisions about what type of content is shown to them.”

“As guests are approaching the theatre doors,” Woodward describes the “consumer journey” in view of the fact that any beacon’s range is readily adjustable from one foot to about 75 feet (up to 23 m). “As they are passing toward the doorway, we can hit them with a welcome from the circuit”—and guide them right to the concession stand. In a co-branding with Coca-Cola, one can easily envision delivery of coupons towards a purchase. Call-to-action and redemption rates aside, there is much value to be gained as well, from checking up on guest movement in general.

“They could use this to understand how guests are moving about and where there is dwell time,” he concurs. “From a heat-mapping perspective, we can see that a consumer…is now passing by the concession stand without acting upon the offer. That person then becomes a good target for another message about a coupon to redeem right now. So you have taken that same consumer who was just pausing, and turned him or her around so fast, giving them a call to action.” Should the line be moving too slowly, the beacon can be deployed to react just as quickly. “There are a lot of folks there, because it’s a Friday night opening weekend.” Woodard knows that there comes a point “when the experience begins to diminish because of how long they’ve been waiting there. You can look at that time and send a message, ‘Hey, sorry we’re a little backed up, it’s taking longer than expected.’ To try and make up for this, here is 50 cents off your purchase.” That way, he opines, “you have changed that consumer’s experience from one that might have been turning negative to one that is now a positive one.”

Woodard says their service is as much about messaging as it is about managing the guest experience. And cautiously observing customer interests. “In case of a standee for a film,” he moves to another potential application, “we are not registering somebody’s passing by alone, but we are actually assessing an engagement. We are looking for the film’s relevance to that consumer as well.” In other words, “if the person is walking by, we can see with the qualifying perspective that they are moving. So it would not be beneficial to engage them with a message as they leave.” If they stop, however, to pause and take a look for a couple of seconds, “we can make an assumption that they are engaged with what is on the standee. In that case, we might deliver the appropriate message. The key is not to make the consumer feel like they are being spammed,” he cautions. “Once we have upset the user, they are no longer a point of engagement to us. So we are taking a very cautious approach and we would rather under-message, under-communicate for a better experience for that consumer. By doing that, we have a much longer opportunity…than if we are aggressive.”

Woodard is looking for that fine-tuned point where “the consumer is open to that engagement because they are already engaged on some level. And therefore, they are more receptive to the message that is coming to them.”

The actual message delivery can be quite unobtrusive, he clarifies, attempting to further ease our concerns about privacy, not to mention hearing even more buzzing, beeping and chirping than we already do. “Most of the engagements will probably be starting with a message that pops up on your phone’s notification screen.” It does not have to be turned on and could remain in one’s purse or pocket. Beacons are also capable of unlocking features from an app. “Because you are now standing in the theatre lobby, we have unlocked this particular functionality that may be unique and dynamic to the theatre experience.”

How do guests know that this experience is available to them? “From a beacon perspective,” Woodard replies, “we do not need any sort of signage, because in that case they would be engaging with you directly on your phone.” Unlike this ‘push’ technology, Wi-Fi actually requires log-in and the welcome message on the web makes this a ‘pull’ engagement. “This is requiring the consumer to take action in order to start the conversation.”

Whether and how to promote these options and opportunities is entirely up to the exhibitor, he believes. “The more the consumer is aware, the greater becomes the opportunity for the circuit to engage with their guests. If you look at any theatre lobby, 80 percent of the people standing there are looking at their phone and interacting…but the theatre has no part of the conversation. While they happen to be standing in the theatre, that consumer is not engaging with them, nor with the content there. We enable circuits to become part of that conversation. Even if it is just a peripheral part…it is better to build out that relationship.”

Building on their platform, the package offered by the three partners “is all about allowing the circuits, the studios, the brands to have a very directive personal conversation with the consumer.” For Woodard, “to be able to cut through and directly reach that consumer and engage with them” is a valuable tool. “And from a circuit’s perspective, it enables them to build that relationship and, hopefully, to give them a differentiator that brings back guests and at the same time allows them to monetize that consumer’s activity.”