Cineplex Play: Entertaining Canadians in a variety of ways

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Cinemas Features

“Entertaining Canadians is what we do best,” says Sarah Van Lange, communications director at Cineplex Entertainment. Although primarily known across the country for welcoming over 70 million guests each year to its 163 theatres, Canada’s largest exhibitor has long been on the path of expanding its offerings and operations. “We are really looking at what we do best as we venture into new businesses,” Van Lange confirms. “With destination concepts like Playdium, The Rec Room, XSCAPE Centre and some of the new virtual reality experiences that we are bringing to the market, Cineplex is really focusing on our core strength, which is entertainment.”

Just in time to entertain that thought for our focus on ShowCanada, Film Journal International received two updates from Cineplex. In the past two January editions, we’ve introduced our readers to The Rec Room and reported on two distinct, yet complementary, Cineplex VR experiences. So it was intriguing to hear about yet another “Entertainment Complex” coming to the province of Ontario.

“We announced the reinvented Playdium concept and our first location in Whitby last October, and we couldn’t be more excited today to share the news about Brampton,” Ellis Jacob, Cineplex president and chief executive officer, noted at the time. “A destination designed primarily for teens, Playdium will be a place where young adults and families can play together and also enjoy and share a freshly made meal that is fun to eat.”

“The new Playdium locations will be focused on indoor play,” Van Lange elaborates, mentioning attractions such as “virtual reality or laser tag and amusement games.”It will also offer private rooms for birthday parties and special gatherings, as well as lounges for parents with views of the games floor.

Playdium locations will be designed to accommodate large groups as well, making it the perfect spot for team-building events. Further, says Van Lange, “games and attractions will utilizethe RFID wristband technology that works so well at The Rec Room for loading tokens for play and redemption. It has the same fun factor you would get with the old-fashioned tickets spilling out of the machines.” Only without cutting down trees to make them. “One of my favorite things about going to The Rec Room is redeeming prizes from the trophy case. Guests love it, too. Playdium will have that component as well, with items skewed to a younger demographic.”

“Our Playdium concept is really directed at teens and families,” Van Lange continues. “It is focused on fun and food just like The Rec Room is, but at Playdium, three-quarters of the space will be delivering fun, whether that be virtual reality or amusement games or air hockey.” Whereas The Rec Room dedicates about half its space to food and entertainment/gaming, “food choices at Playdium will be a little more directed at a young audience. Offerings will still be fresh and tasty, of course, but they will not be as refined as the menu that you will find at The Rec Room.”

Cineplex currently operates four locations of The Rec Room and has announced plans for three more, with the “highly anticipated” location at CF Masonville Place in London, Ontario, having just been rolled out as of press time. Over the coming years, Cineplex foresees launching another 10 to 15 locations for both The Rec Room and Playdium complexes across Canada.

Just as the current Rec Room locations are standalone venues, the Brampton Playdium will also be an attraction of its very own. The conversion of the existing 45,000 square-foot (4,180 sq. m) Cineplex Odeon Orion Gate Cinemas will be a complete “reimagination,” as opposed to just tearing out seats and breaking down a few walls. Opened in 1999, the Orion Gate currently hosts ten auditoriums, only one of which will be retained. “As a location designed for entertainment and family fun, that one screen will be playing content that appeals to the same demographic,” Van Lange anticipates. “We have not committed yet on whether that is going to be new releases and/or showing different types of content, even video gaming and eSports events. We certainly feel there is an opportunity to keep that existing structure, and we think it will perform well for us.”

“Based on the demographic of the community, Brampton does have a large number of families,” Van Lange reasons. Cineplex still covers the area very well, with its Mississauga and Courtney Park locations just down the road. “It is still convenient for everyone in the community to visit one of the neighboring theatres. And the Playdium entertainment offerings will resonate with all three neighborhoods.” The Cineplex team plans to begin construction in the fall for an opening in mid-2019.

Already launched on April 20 in Calgary, Alberta, Cineplex Cinemas East Hills spans over 30,000 square feet (3,800 sq. m) and is equipped with seven screens and over 850 luxury recliner seats. Although the newly built venue offers the food service and entertainment options audiences have come to expect from Cineplex theatres, including UltraAVX, D-BOX and “a first-of-its-kind auditorium designed specifically for families with young children,” something else caught our attention for this overview.

East Hills also features an XSCAPE area. Yet another variation on play at Cineplex, the arcade-type area has over 30 games and attractions. “The space is connected to the entrance of the children’s auditorium, which is scheduled to open later this summer,” says Van Lange. “We always think of our cinemas as an entertainment destination that offers compelling reasons for people to stay with us in the theatre longer, and as places that give them more reasons to arrive early and have fun before watching the movie.”

Playtime is always a good reason. And, indeed, as Van Lange is “trying to figure out what I can say without giving away too much,” there is plenty of more play coming down the road. “This family-oriented auditorium will have playful seating and will more consistently play movies that appeal to a younger and family crowd. It is going to have a play structure on one of the walls for children to use before the film, with a large slide going from one level to another. We think it is going to be really popular.”

“In addition to the opening of this new theatre at East Hills,” she continues, “we announced that one of our more popular theatres in Calgary, Cineplex Odeon Crowfoot Crossing, is getting recliner seating and UltraAVX,” all the while staying open during the upcoming renovation. “And we are also opening, later in the year, the city’s first VIP Cinemas. Lots is going on in Calgary right now. And we just opened The Rec Room there late last year as well.”

All of this activity comes into play as we return to Sarah Van Lange’s opening remark about leveraging Cineplex’s “industry-leading” capabilities in entertainment that includes amusement gaming, food service, content creation, digital media and its relationship with SCENE, Canada’s largest entertainment rewards program. “It is about combining various components of our business that people may not necessarily associate with Cineplex, because we are largely known as the country’s largest film exhibition company. We are looking at our business holistically as an entertainment and media company that is putting all those strengths into one building. And that is really what our guests will experience when they come into one of these new Playdium locations, when they visit The Rec Room and/or play at the XSCAPE Entertainment Centre before watching a film with us.”