Making the Connection: The TMS is dead, long live the TMS!


Once upon a time, there was no such thing as a Theatre Management System. Content management consisted of carrying reels from booth to booth, and monitoring playback meant looking through the porthole to check everything was working. But then, of course, along came digital cinema, and with it the need to deal with multiple content files, as well as a multitude of KDMs.

And to manage all this, the TMS was developed. Early TMS software may have done little more than enable exhibitors to create playlists, but today’s TMS’s can really empower cinema operations, automating many of the manual tasks that used to take up staff time and where mistakes often resulted in missed shows. But just because there’s now a proliferation of TMS’s to choose from, many of which have similar features and functions, does this mean they have become commoditized, something exhibitors know they need but that don’t make any real difference? It’s something we sometimes hear at AAM, but we believe it’s far from the truth. The TMS can be so much more, if its use is really maximized.

The hard part is done

Cinema owners have already taken the biggest, and most expensive, step by buying the hardware for their theatres. The crucial next step is to focus on what the business needs to become in order to compete in this era of flexible, on-demand entertainment options. There is little point in software for software’s sake—it only becomes valuable when it offers solutions to business problems, and helps to realize the true benefits of the digital transformation.

Unlocking more potential

It’s not uncommon for exhibitors to spend a great deal of time and effort selecting software, getting it installed and running in their sites, and then thinking the job is done. However, this is only the first step. To really take advantage of the power of software, cinema owners need to change processes as well as systems. For example, the workflow of scheduling screenings in the 35mm world can be completely transformed with digital software—from automatically selecting the right version of a movie to play in the 3D screen to automating schedule generation completely with POS integration. Taking the time to discover just what your TMS can do and, crucially, being willing to change your workflows to take advantage of these efficiencies can bring immediate benefits.

The foundation

Despite all the automation and efficiencies a good TMS can bring, the power of cinema software doesn’t end with the TMS. Far from it—one of the most powerful reasons for choosing a particular TMS is what else you can build on top of it. For exhibitors with multiple sites, all the way up to a chain of thousands of screens, the benefits of a TMS are multiplied when an enterprise TMS is layered on top of it. One person in the head office can see exactly what’s happening on every screen within the network. There’s no need to have a hundred people building trailer playlists from Excel sheets at each site when one person could create playlists centrally and send them to each site at the click of a button. Accuracy, consistency, and a huge amount of time saved—all because each screen is now connected through the TMS.

Hardware benefits from this connectivity too. Monitoring each projector and server across a circuit becomes simple when they’re all connected and visible remotely from one dashboard, and ensuring the hardware is working properly helps provide the best possible cinematic experience for customers.

The power of connection

But the true potential of a TMS is even greater than this—your TMS is the key to connecting your equipment to a wider ecosystem. For instance, digital gives us the power to be truly agile and responsive when it comes to dynamic programming—controlling which films are shown in which auditoriums according to customer demand—but in order to take advantage of this we need to be able to control systems programmatically, and to have software which is designed from the outset to connect to other infrastructure. When your TMS can connect to other systems, the possibilities are almost limitless. We’re already seeing innovations such as screen advertising being managed dynamically, so there’s a unique advertising schedule for each show based on specific audience demographics. This flexibility can easily be extended to trailer programming and lobby signage—two areas that could benefit hugely from being more targeted and dynamic.

Interactive pre-show content, whether user-generated messages, interactive advertising or even mobile-powered gaming, all becomes possible. These opportunities not only drive incremental revenue streams but also make the pre-show much more engaging for the audience, which stimulates increased frequency of visits.

As more and more innovative services for cinemas come to the market, we’ll see even more benefits that a connected TMS can bring, but if exhibitors don’t fully embrace the changes and are willing to adapt their operations, they’re only using a fraction of the potential that software can bring.

If you’re just using your TMS to create playlists, then you could be right in thinking the TMS is dead. However, if you’re willing to open yourself to the potential this powerful piece of software can give your business and its operations, the TMS is far from dead, it’s just the start of a revolution that will drive the changing face of cinema.