Let’s All Gaze at the Lobby: Innovations make entering a theatre a whole new experience


Take a minute to put down your mobile phone, step away from your laptop and close your eyes, sit back and imagine visiting your movie theatre before the era of digital cinema changed pretty much everything.

It seems hard to believe, but the first and only screen with moving images you were likely to encounter was the large one suspended in front of the auditorium that would soon play the film you just purchased a ticket for from an employee sitting in an actual box office located outside the building.

After paying the admission price, you would have had to queue up yet again, waiting on another line to purchase that delicious, aromatic buttered popcorn, a refreshing soft drink and perhaps further indulge with some candy.

A simple, low-tech analog menu board displayed the items for sale and their prices. The board might have been supplied by one of the exhibitor’s food or beverage partners such as Coca-Cola, and the concessions manager would need to make manual changes to the listed prices or even order a completely new sign if they wanted to raise prices.  

After the usher tore your paper tickets, your companion(s) would make a mad dash to the auditorium to save seats while you patiently waited for your turn at the counter. You can open your eyes now…

You might even spot your first digital display today in the form of outdoor signage manufactured by Samsung before you arrive at the theatre. It might be visible from a distance as you approach from the local highway. This screen will likely be waterproof, dustproof, and be manufactured to deal with a wide array of temperature swings as well as a variety of weather and climate conditions.

We spoke with leaders of digital in-cinema technology to learn about their current cutting-edge solutions as well as a sneak peek at what we might encounter in the future as technology, marketing/advertising and analytics intersect to influence, evolve and further enhance the cinemagoing experience.

Christie/Allure—Christie Experiential Network (CEN)

The industry is “transitioning digital signage from passive displays of content into sophisticated solutions that leverage data inputs to best ‘speak’ to the consumer with content that’s relevant to groups of people getting ready to see specific films with data-driven content that engages them personally,” according to Craig Chapin, president of Allure, a Christie company.

The Christie Experiential Network(CEN) is a fully customizable large-format lobby entertainment network that helps exhibitors expand their advertising revenue opportunities by deploying beacon and sensor technology designed to enable incremental box office and concessions sales opportunities.

Sight, sound and motion capabilities increase lobby dwell time and reduce perceived wait times on concessions lines, helping create a differentiated moviegoing experience from the moment the guest walks through the theatre’s doors. More relevant content and presentation improves guest throughput, and in combination with sales lift, results in an improved ROI for the theatre owner.

“Data-driven digital signage uses specific data analysis to drive the design and precise information communicated on digital menu boards, at the digital box office or with other digital display content,” states Chapin. “By applying findings from specialized digital signage analytics testing, we are able to identify specific content areas, visuals and copy changes that can be modified…to increase per-caps.”

Prescriptive and predictive analysis of POS data derived from purchase transactions can be valuable in determining design layout, menu item presentation and specific product promotion. Anonymous video analytics, without compromising a guest’s privacy, can provide both demographic as well as psychographic data to be utilized for customizing concessions menu board content that an exhibitor can use to get the “right message at the right time” to cinemagoers.

Barco/Vision Media—One Network Alliance (ONA)

Barco/Vision Media’s One Network Alliance (ONA) represents the shared vision of Barco, a leader in cinema technology, together with Vision Media, an in-theatre marketing specialist. Their partnership supports Hollywood movie promotion and major brand advertising by addressing digital and physical marketing media in lobbies.

Greg Patrick, Barco’s VP, digital cinema-lobby, explains, “The digital lobby solution includes a turnkey package of hi-res digital displays, high-performance media servers, and the first-ever state-of-the-art content management software package, X2O.”

The hardware is backed by professional AV/IT installation services, full digital content creation and a cloud-based digital network with forward and store content distribution management. After-sales support includes NOC monitoring with onsite service, and warranty support is also available.

Parametric and directional sound technology via ultrasonic wave—which ensures that only the person(s) standing directly in front of a particular video display is engaged—is a key focus of Barco’s current R&D efforts. Theatre personnel also appreciate this technology, which prevents them from being distracted or annoyed by having to endure the same repeating audio content loop.

In terms of analytics, ONA collects large amounts of information from multiple technologies and uses this big data to best tailor marketing messages. The goal, of course, is helping theatres bolster ticket and concessions sales.


In addition to its outdoor signage technology expertise (discussed above), Samsung also is a leader in helping welcome guests via its PrismView LED solutions for marquees. Once the patron is inside, attractive digital movie titles, stretch displays, videowalls and wayfinding information are all appreciated by guests. Helpful lobby signage directs customers to restrooms, bars, restaurants, game rooms and other in-theatre amenities, fast replacing static and less dynamic auditorium signage of the past.

“A cinema can capitalize on real-time demand to extend a blockbuster movie to additional screens seamlessly,” says Ron Gazzola, senior VP of B2B IT sales and marketing for Samsung Electronics America. “With control being centralized, a theatre manager can add screenings for sold-out movies, eliminating the need for moviegoers to go home disappointed or to another theatre chain.”  

Another key competitive differentiator for Samsung is integrating its smartphone industry expertise into the cinema ecosystem. Moviegoers’ mobile devices trigger apps for searching film locations, watching trailers, purchasing advance tickets and selecting reserved seats before arrival, among other functions.

Looking Ahead…

Barco is actively exploring ways to entertain cinemagoers with augmented, virtual and mixed reality. Greg Patrick notes, “We believe this holds great promise for dramatically expanding the immersive experience in the cinema lobby. With AR/VR/MR, moviegoers will be able to interact with the feature film’s content and characters.”

Christie/Allure is delving into “micro-dayparting.” “Imagine groups of thirty-something moms in queue before they walk in to see Bad Moms 2 versus 16 to 24-year-olds lining up at concessions before watching the newest superhero release,” says Craig Chapin. “What if you could promote to each of these audiences for those 10 to 15 minutes before their showtime and automatically change the menu items displayed as soon as those shows began, so that the audience for the next Bond or Bourne film sees the menu items most appealing to them as they consider whether or what to buy?”