From Stream to Screen: myCinema platform offers new programming alternatives

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Cinemas Features

NAGRA, leading provider of digital content distribution and content protection, promises nothing less than “the digital transformation of the cinema experience” with its new service, myCinema, introduced in April at CinemaCon. The concept is an online marketplace and scheduling tool for alternative programming in cinemas, delivered via broadband.

Tim Warner, Jr., a NAGRA VP, heads up exhibitor and entertainment industry relations for the Kudelski Group company’s initiative. He explains, “Our goal is to hunt and collect as much content as possible in fandom spaces that people are going to be very interested in, and have a well-curated library of thousands of pieces of content that will be booked selectively by individual theatre owners or chains of all sizes. It’s a very different model than what has been in the marketplace before. The content that we’ll get will be very cool, but it’s also going to be very diverse. There’s no piece of content that we’re trying to kill you with. We’re trying to develop this system where people can choose what they want to book and when they want to book it, and we’ll work with them to promote that content selectively in their communities.”

Warner notes, “We don’t have minimums where we say, ‘Well, there’s not two hundred movie theatres interested in this, so we’re not going to run it.’ You’re going to able to go onto an online portal and schedule whatever event you want to, whenever you want, and work with us to promote it. So the whiz-bang for us is the volume of content and how well it’s curated. If you want to do a horror series, there’s going to be a horror fandom portal you can book out of. If you want to go with religious programming, we have a gentleman in charge of religious content and alternative programming in that space… Right now we have over 500 titles, some of which would be considered re-releases and others considered independents that may not have seen a lot of silver screens.” myCinema will also offer live events, concerts, opera, ballet, Broadway shows, sporting events and even eSports.

Because the content is conveyed via streaming and broadband, that “eliminates a lot of expense and a lot of the barriers that exist today in terms of content acquisition and delivery,” Warner declares.

He goes on to explain how myCinema will connect content owners and exhibitors. “It’s a cloud-based system that is an online marketplace. If you are a content owner and you strike a deal with us, then you load all your content into our system on the publishers’ side, within certain parameters. Exhibitors then select content and when they want to run it. It’s sent through our system over the Internet directly to our streaming server, which is plugged into a digital projector.

Warner adds, “NAGRA has over 500 million customers, and we deliver this type of content in a secure manner. Other companies don’t have this type of experience with secure content delivery. We are already a partner to the studios and other content providers in DirecTV and other spaces—we’re a trusted entity. We already check all the technology and security boxes—all we’re doing now is turning that power toward putting our content into movie theatres. “

Jean-Luc Jazouin, head of the myCinema project and senior VP of DTV sales development at NAGRA, asserts, “We have huge experience across the entire ecosystem, from the set-top box to video streaming to CRM. Every cinema projector in the world is already using some NAGRA security software.”

Jazouin notes that NAGRA has offices in 32 countries, including India, Australia, Korea, Brazil and throughout Europe, and “we have relationships with hundreds of companies that work in the space.” myCinema also intends to go global, but for now, says Warner, their focus is on North America because “there’s a big opportunity here for more effective growth.”

During CinemaCon, myCinema announced a partnership agreement with the National Association of Theatre Owners’ Cinema Buying Group (CBG), which primarily represents North American independent theatre owners. Bill Campbell, the CBG’s managing director, declared, “myCinema is a win-win for theatre owners. It provides CBG members the opportunity to more effectively appeal to the diverse interests of their individual communities and the audiences they serve… This program is exactly the kind of programming option that was envisioned during the industry’s conversion to digital cinema.”

“Bill is a perfect example of the type of exhibitor we want to partner with,” Warner attests. “The membership in the Cinema Buying Group is exactly the kind of outreach we want to do. Exhibitors know what they’re doing, they know their communities, they have a sense of how best to serve the markets they’re in, and that’s why we’re partnering with them. It’s different than what they’re used to, but as they see fewer people coming into their theatres over time and they learn about how we’re going to bring more people to their theatres, their bottom lines are going to be significantly improved. Our goal is to help people turn their movie theatres into entertainment centers. Obviously, they’re always going to run the blockbuster Hollywood films and we’re not trying to stop that at all—that’s awesome, that’s what we’re all here for. But we can add to their business model this alternative content and live event system that they have the power to control and use for their own benefit locally. We’re not saying on X day at this time you have to run this in order to play with us.”

While Warner emphasizes that myCinema is “a system that can be used by any company of any size,” he also observes, “We see a great deal of opportunity with independent exhibitors, because that’s where there are a lot of pain points. They’re very eager for us, they’ve been waiting for us since the advent of digital projectors and the promise of alternative content helped convince them to make that spend. We’re the answer that they’ve been waiting for for a long time—that’s what they tell us.”

NAGRA and myCinema have also partnered with the Entertainment Technology Center, a research center within the USC School of Cinematic Arts (ETS@USC), on a data and analytics project called “Fandom Genomics.” “Identifying the right content for each theatre’s catchment area is a critical pillar of what makes myCinema unique and alluring for local communities,” says Glenn Morten, ETC@USC executive board member and NAGRA VP, cinema strategy and solutions. “Leveraging together the ETC’s thought and practice leadership in the field of audience intelligence and NAGRA’s big data and artificial intelligence platform will be instrumental to the success of this endeavor.”

“It’s really going to be baked into our system,” Warner says of myCinema’s data capabilities. “When you’re sitting down and saying for the next six months I need to schedule some alternative content, there’s going to be a library of content you can look at. But we’re proactively using data through that partnership and are baking data into our system where it will provide predictive programming. We’ll be saying: Based on what we know about your community through the data we’ve collected, you have a large Indian population living near you, so if you ran Bollywood films you’d probably kill it. Here’s some promotional things you should do if you decide to do that. Or, did you know that you have a high population of white men over 40? They happen to love horror films; if you ran a horror film series, you’d probably have a great deal of success. You don’t get that information separately, you get it as you’re booking.”

NAGRA has assembled several programming specialists for its myCinema platform. They include head of content acquisition Bruce Eisen, president of Digital Advisors and former DISH Networks executive; faith and family strategist Matt Jarman, CEO of ClearPlay; sports and eSports advisor Darcy Lorincz, formerly of AerNow and Accenture; music and arts specialist Reza Ackbaraly, co-founder of Quincy Jones’ Quest TV and CEO of Auditorium Films; and Latino content advisor Felix Garcia, VP of business development at monitorLATINO. myCinema’s content offerings cover all those fields, plus kids’ programming, genre movies, a few first-run films, foreign features and standup comedy specials. NAGRA and myCinema also recently forged a partnership with VRX Simulators to expand the theatrical footprint of VRX’s SIM racing eSports program.

Glenn Morten points out that myCinema has great potential for content providers as well as exhibitors. “It’s actually very difficult for most content producers to gain access to the cinema as a venue. To go out and build the network and [take on] the cost of preparing a DCP for each of those theatres and distributing it—we eliminate all those costs, and we’re globally sourcing this content. It’s YouTube-like in terms of the access that is now possible. But it’s not You Tube-like in the fact that we curate it.”

Jazouin, meanwhile, notes that in this era of tentpoles and franchises, “there is less and less variety in the cinemas today. We’re not intending to replace that; we’re just adding more variety so that people who don’t go out to see the blockbusters can go see other things.” In other words, myCinema for all the people.