Going Big: More and more circuits invest in Premium Large Format brands

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Cinemas Features

IMAX is the undisputed pioneer in giant-screen presentations, but the big trend in recent years is movie theatre circuits establishing and promoting their own Premium Large Format brands. The economic gamble has been a success, as seen in this exclusive FJI survey of 15 leading exhibition chains.

Texas-based Cinemark reports that its Cinemark XD is the number-one Premium Large Format in the world, with 128 XD auditoriums in the United States and 80 in Central and South America. The elements that comprise Cinemark XD include: wall-to-wall screens, up to 84 feet wide; single and dual 4K projectors;

2D light levels of 16 foot-lamberts and 3D light levels of six foot-lamberts (the brightest projectors in the industry); object-based sound (Auro, as well as 7.1 and 5.1 capabilities); high frame rate capability of 48 fps and 60 fps; and 3D presentations (Real D XL, XLW or GS). Cinemark reports that customers have responded “extremely well” to the concept, with U.S. private-label PLF representing 51% of total large-format gross in 2015. Cinemark’s PLF surcharge is $3 for 2D and $5 for 3D.

 

Regal Entertainment Group, North America’s largest theatre circuit, offers RPX (Regal Premium Experience) as its PLF brand. In Regal’s words, their 87 RPX auditoriums “present movies with powerful, uncompressed surround sound and bright, eye-popping giant-screen images in 2D and 3D. The brightest, clearest images are delivered by a 33,000-lumen digital projector in the majority of our RPX auditoriums…. The premium experience has received very positive feedback from all types of movie lovers.”

 

As of Dec. 31, 2015, Canada’s Cineplex had 80 proprietary UltraAVX™ auditoriums, with more planned for 2016. UltraAVX, which stands for Ultra Audio Visual Experience, features wall-to-wall screens, Dolby Atmos® surround sound, and ultra-high definition projection from Christie 4K projectors. The seats are extra-wide high-back rocker seats, which may be reserved in advance.

“Our strategy is to continue adding PLF auditoriums to new and existing theatres in large and mid-size markets across the country,” says Pat Marshall, Cineplex’s VP, communications and investor relations. “In several locations, we have also added a second PLF screen to the theatre. In 2016, there will be a combination of first and second PLF screens being added.”

Marshall reports that “guest response to UltraAVX has been fantastic! They have been wildly popular and are always among the first auditoriums to sell out. Guests enjoy the enhanced entertainment experience that PLF tickets provide, which cannot be replicated with a home theatre.” The UltraAVX surcharge is $3, with an additional $2 for 3D.

“Cineplex offers a variety of premium movie experiences that include 3D, UltraAVX, IMAX, VIP Cinemas and D-BOX,” Marshall notes. “Premium experiences account for almost 40 percent of our total box-office revenue annually. Also of note is that recently 80 percent of the advance tickets that we sold for the opening weekend of Star Wars: The Force Awakens were to fans looking for premium movie experiences including UltraAVX, among others.”

The circuit’s top UltraAVX attractions in 2015 were Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Martian.

Cineplex Entertainment is also the largest operator of IMAX theatres in Canada, with 23 locations across Canada. Cineplex has several IMAX systems that are the original IMAX GT film-based systems that feature custom-designed auditoriums, IMAX sound systems and giant screens. All locations are now digital and 3D-capable and offer reserved seating.

 

Chinese giant Wanda Cinema Line has roughly 50 PFL auditoriums encompassing two brands: X-land and No. 9 Auditorium. The circuit expects to open an additional 20 by the end of 2016. Wanda has installed Dolby Atmos immersive audio systems in most of their PLF auditoriums, which also feature plusher and roomier seats. The surcharge is 10 to 15 RMB more than regular 3D auditoriums. “There is a lot of buzz surrounding our PLF auditoriums,” Wanda reports, adding that their market research shows that about 30% of their customers would “definitely” choose a PLF house if available. Top PLF attractions have included Monster Hunt, The Ghouls and Jurassic World.

 

Mexico’s Cinépolis, one of the largest circuits in the world, boasts 59 MACRO XE Premium Large Format screens. Offering “images with the highest definition and luminosity,” these houses utilize 4K projectors beaming light onto a giant 170-square-meter silver screen and 13,000 watts and up to 7.1 channels of surround sound. The seats have “a sporty design to match the adrenaline of the film,” Cinépolis says. Interestingly, the circuit’s customers are not that sold on 3D.

“When the film is 2D,” they report, “six out of ten customers consider it fair to pay an extra charge for the experience in MACRO XE. However, five out of ten customers find that the charge for the MACRO XE 3D experience is excessive.” Their research shows that if a customer visits their cinemas ten times, he or she will choose MACRO XE 2.9 times. Recent top attractions include Furious 7, Minions, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2.

 

Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Marcus Theatres offers two PLF concepts: UltraScreen DLX® and SuperScreen DLX®. The circuit operates a total of 42 PLF auditoriums at more than 61 percent of company-owned first-run locations, which they believe is the highest percentage among the top chains in the industry.Marcus recently opened 17 newly renovated PLF auditoriums at 11 cinemas across its 53-theatre circuit in late 2015, and expects to “continue this momentum” in the coming year.

In Marcus’ description, UltraScreen DLX auditoriums have “massive” screens, while SuperScreen DLX auditoriums offer “oversized” screens. Both concepts provide Dolby Atmos multidimensional sound (including ceiling speakers) and custom black DreamLoungerSM recliner seats which enable guests to go from a seated, upright position to a full recline with the touch of a button.

“Our customers have shown a preference towards PLF auditoriums in a big way,” Marcus Theatres reports. “We’ve noticed that once a guest sees a movie in one of our UltraScreen or SuperScreen DLX auditoriums, they tend to choose those auditoriums again during future visits to Marcus Theatres.” The surcharge for the majority of PLF auditoriums across the Marcus circuit is $3.50, with an additional $1 upcharge for 3D. Best-attended movies in the PLF auditoriums, they note, are “typically big-screen action films, as well as sci-fi and ‘event’ movies.”

 

Based in Columbus, Georgia, Carmike Cinemas has 33 BIGD auditoriums, with more due to open this year. The BIGD boasts a wall-to-wall screen measuring as high as 78 feet wide and over three stories tall. Each auditorium is equipped with a leading-edge Christie Brilliant 3D flash projector that also presents 2D entertainment, delivering a light output of 30,000 lumens, 36 trillion colors, and peak resolution. The QSC digital sound system is tuned to the highest speaker array in the industry, a 7.1 speaker array with 16 channels, upgradeable to 11.1 surround sound, with digital audio processing supported by quad-amplified, four-way speakers and 21-inch subwoofers.

Carmike states, “Our customers enjoy the entire experience they receive while watching any genre of film in the BIGD auditorium. The sight, sound and seating give them an overall experience while experiencing the best Hollywood has to offer.” Surcharges vary by market.

 

Vue Entertainment operates 11 branded Vue Extreme PLF locations in the U.K., along with two IMAX theatres. “We are currently reviewing plans for 2016 and take pride in being one of the most modern multiplex cinema operations in the U.K., with Sony 4K ultra-high-definition projectors in all cinemas and stadium seating,” says PR manager Lucy Northmore. “Our customers enjoy the big-screen experience, particularly with the combination of premium seat, screen and sound technology providing the ultimate in immersive cinema experience.” Pricing varies according to customer demand, local markets, occupancy and other factors. As for the most popular Vue Extreme attraction, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has blasted to the top spot.

 

AMC Theatres’ new PLF initiative is Dolby Cinemaat AMC Prime®, which aims to make every visit “a completely captivating event.” The theatres combine striking design, Dolby Vision™ laser projection on giant screens, and Dolby Atmos® immersive sound, as well as AMC Prime power reclining seats with seat transducers that vibrate with the action onscreen.

AMC currently operates 13 Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime locations, with six due to open in 2016. The circuit’s earlier PLF brand ETX (Enhanced Theatre Experience), which currently numbers ten locations, will also be converted to Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime. AMC intends to expand to 50 operating Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime locations by December 2018, and up to 100 by December 2024.

 

San Antonio, Texas-based Santikos Theatres offers “AVX—The Ultimate Audio Visual Experience” in 14 locations, and expects to open four additional AVX auditoriums in 2016. Their PLF concept features 80-foot wall-to-wall screens, Dolby Atmos immersive sound, and 4K digital projection and laser projection. “Customers have noticed the AVX auditoriums in a big way! They prefer ‘the bigger screen with the better sound system.’ It is the only way to see must-see films for consumers,” Santikos reports. Action films are the most popular AVX attractions; surcharge is $2.

 

B&B Theatres, located in Liberty, Missouri, operates seven B&B Grand Screen® locations and plans to open three to five more in 2016.The newest Grand Screens offer floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall curved screens that are six stories wide and three to four stories tall. Each reserved-seating venue has over 200 electric reclining chairs, 10,000 watts of Christie Vive 7.1 surround sound, extra-wide row spacing, and XL stadium seating with excellent sightlines even in a reclined position. “The B&B Grand Screen creates an experience of epic proportions,” the circuit declares.

Director of programming and business development Brock Bagby says the response to the Grand Screen has been “extremely positive. Customers seek out our B&B Grand Screens, especially on event titles. We are even finding in some cases customers prefer to only see movies on our B&B Grand Screens, which is why we try to show as much variety as possible… Depending on the movie, we are seeing 40 to 60 percent of the gross coming out of our B&B Grand Screens. In some cases, we open a movie on six screens and even in those instances we still find 40-plus percent of the gross coming out of the B&B Grand Screen.”

Depending on the amenities and the market, B&B adds different surcharges—anywhere from $1 to $2 with an additional $3 for 3D, Bagby reports.

Star Wars represented our largest B&B Grand Screen grosses to date,” Bagby notes. “In a few locations, we saw 60 percent-plus of the opening-weekend gross coming out of our B&B Grand Screens. We also had success in 2015 with Cinderella, Furious 7, Avengers 2, Jurassic World, Minions, The Martian, Spectre and Hunger Games. Surprisingly, event kid titles work well for us in our markets as well. Typically, the bigger the title, the bigger the draw, but even recently we have had success with The Revenant.

As for 3D versus 2D, “Opening weekend, we always try to offer 50 percent of the times in 3D and 50 percent in 2D. That way, customers have the option.”

 

Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Goodrich Quality Theaters offers seven GDX: Giant Digital Experience™ screens in Michigan and Indiana, with four more slated for 2016in Indiana, Illinois and Florida.Says marketing/creative director Kelly Nash, “Defining a GDX auditorium boils down to the screen resolution and sound. Each auditorium features a floating screen with floor-to-ceiling 4K projection, reaching approximately 50 feet or more. Screen size varies from location to location. All GDX theatres feature Dolby Atmos for powerful and immersive sound-listening experiences. Quality 10 GDX in Saginaw, Michigan stands apart, featuring a 70-foot-screen with dual 4K projection. Additional 70-foot-screen installations are planned during 2016 in Illinois and Florida to become the big brother of the GDX brand.”

Nash reports that “customers have been excited to see what GDX has to offer, and so far they have not been let down! The giant screen was incentive enough for some patrons; bringing Dolby Atmos sound was simply an added bonus. Further, offering reserved seating for our 70-foot-screen in Saginaw, Michigan is convenient for our moviegoers loyal to the GDX brand. Patrons at our other locations have expressed interest in reserved seating as well, which we plan to expand on throughout the coming year. This will be another reason to choose GDX over the traditional 2D moviegoing experience.”

According to Nash, “Frequent moviegoers who are seeking a premium movie experience, via picture quality, scale and sound that they cannot get from home, tend to steer toward our GDX auditoriums two to three times more than regular auditoriums. Action-adventure genres skew higher for the GDX theatres… Comparing 2D and 3D ticket sales, we’ve determined a large audience prefers 2D, leaving 3D with approximately 30 percent of our total GDX sales.” Surcharges vary by market, ranging from $1.50 to $2.00. An additional $2.50 is added for 3D features. GDX’s biggest successes in 2015 were Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Furious 7 and Jurassic World.

 

Based in New Orleans, Southern Theatres boasts two PLF brands: MT-X (Movie Tavern Xtreme) and GPX—The Grand Premium Experience (At the Grand Theatres). The circuit has three MT-X locations and two GPX rooms.

Features include enhanced digital sound (with Dolby Atmos in some locations), three-story-high screens, and plush leather loungers or electric recliners.

“Our Premium Large Format experience definitely has an audience,” says VP of marketing Danny DiGiacomo. “We see that frequent moviegoers, as well as the fanboy segment, consciously make the choice to upgrade when purchasing their tickets.”

Surcharge for GPX is is $2.00 for 2D and $3.50 for 3D. MT-X is a free upgrade. Southern Theatres’ PLF hits include Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World and Guardians of the Galaxy.
 

Ridgefield, Connecticut’s Bow Tie Cinemas offers a PLF concept called BTX: Bow Tie Extreme in five locations: Hartford and Trumbull, CT; Sarasota Springs and Wilton, NY, and Reston, VA. Features include an “extreme” screen measuring 2,000 square feet, 30,000 watts of digital surround sound, luxury rocking chairs, and 4K “True Digital Projection” with 3D capability.

“Customer response has been very positive and customer preference is typically a direct reflection of the overall quality and commercial appeal of a particular film,” says Jared Milgram, VP of marketing. Surcharge is $3.00 and recent hits include The Martian, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Revenant.

 

An exceptional Premium Large Format venue is Cinecittá’s Cinemagnum in Frankfurt, Germany. Owner Wolfram Weber explains: “Cinemagnum is a huge auditorium, with 518 seats. As a former IMAX theatre, it has a flat screen as well as a dome (which is currently not used)—the size of the flat screen is 21 by 30 meters. A new Sony dual-projection system was installed in 2015, achieving twice the brightness of 4K DLP 6KW. In spring 2016, we intend to upgrade the Cinemagnum to quad projection—we will then be able to reach the same brightness level as with laser projection. A Dolby Atmos sound system was also recently installed, the most powerful Christie Vive Installation so far.”

All those bells and whistles have an impact on box office. “The attendance figures for a film like Star Wars show a preference for PLF: The Cinemagnum figures surpassed those of our largest multiplex screen 1 (547 seats, equipped with the same projection and Dolby Atmos). From opening to January 20th, we had 34,103 viewers at Cinemagnum and 22,512 viewers in screen 1.”

Surcharge is 1.50 euros, with an additional euro for Atmos. Other recent Cinemagnum hits include Minions in 3D, Mockingjay Part 2 in 3D, and Spectre.

 

This is just a sampling of the dozens of Premium Large Format brands attracting new audiences around the globe. The future of movies is looking big.