A Grand Screen Indeed: B&B Theatres unveils the world’s largest ScreenX

Cinemas Features

The new reality is that all companies are now technology companies. As a result, inevitably, technology has become the centerpiece of innovation for all businesses, determining the trajectory of a company’s success.

B&B Theatres, a family-driven operation, exemplifies how mid-sized and small theatres can stay ahead of the curve by embracing innovation, propelling itself from the 37th-largest theatre chain in North America to now the seventh-largest circuit.

On July 11, B&B Theatres launched the largest ScreenX theatre in the world with the grand opening of its new flagship Liberty 12 in Liberty, Missouri, a city with a population just over 30,000, once again demonstrating the importance of instilling a forward-thinking culture.

At a massive four stories high and seven stories wide, with the capacity to seat 244 attendees, the new ScreenX is on the B&B Grand Screen, a premium-large-format (PLF) auditorium that allows the audience to enjoy an immersive 270-degree experience. This is only the fourth ScreenX in the USA; the other locations are in Los Angeles (two screens) and Las Vegas.

“This ScreenX opening is both a reflection of B&B Theatres’ commitment to innovation and to the value of continued enhancement of the cinema experience to exhibitors, studios and moviegoers alike,” said Brandon Choi, CEO of ScreenX U.S. parent CJ 4DPLEX Americas. “As our expansion across the U.S. continues, we are proud to be working with a partner that shares our vision for the future of cinema.”

In the past 12 months, ScreenX has seen a surge in the number of installed auditoriums, which has grown from 107 to 142, a 33% increase year-over-year. Additional screens are expected to be equipped with the unique technology across China, the U.S. and Europe in the coming months, expanding current total screens by more than 30% by the end of 2018.

Despite the momentum, the jury on ScreenX is still out, but what B&B Theatres has achieved, without question, is an innovative culture focused on growth that has positioned it as a leader in the industry.

During my past seven years in the industry, it has been a personal joy to watch a family-driven operation break its way to the top and repeatedly prove you don’t have to be a publicly traded corporation to be both cutting-edge and an example of small-town values.

After attending the grand opening of Liberty 12 this week, I had the chance to sit down with executive VP Brock Bagby and ask about B&B’s approach to business. “According to my dad, Bob, the reason B&B has been successful is because of the next generation,” Brock asserted. “We are a fourth-generation theatre chain and with each generation we try to get better. When my sisters [Brittanie and Bobbie] and I started to run the theatres, we helped out in all aspects of the business. Bobbie was in charge of marketing and started to focus on adding a new website and proposed we get on social media such as SnapChat, YouTube and Facebook and build our digital presence. Brittanie completely revamped the corporate structure and the way we did our concessions, while I fell in love with the technology side of the business. I am constantly scanning the business environment and I read Film Journal and BoxOffice magazine cover to cover for each edition.”

Bagby continued, “A turning point in B&B Theatres’ trajectory was when we built a theatre in Hannibal, Missouri. It was ahead of its time. We kept improving our facility at that time and it gave us the confidence we needed to build in bigger communities. The next year we built a theatre in Wildwood, Missouri, and it was our first Marquee Suites location with the Grand Screen, as well as the first to have a dine-in [venue] and reclining seats. It was a big move for us. After the Dickinson merger happened in 2014, we doubled in size and continued to grow and improve our facilities. This is when the industry began to take notice.”

One thing I noticed during the opening gala was how well-trained and courteous the theatre staff was. Coming from Los Angeles, I may be underexposed to Midwestern hospitality, but by any measure the customer service was just as impressive as the panoramic ScreenX.

“Starting in the small markets, you have to have good service,” Bagby observed. “If you provide bad service to an influencer, you are in trouble. You have to give great service in small cities and that culture has stayed with us. We think our biggest secret weapon is in fact our customer service.”

The marriage between new school and old school seems to be B&B Theatres’ secret recipe. At the Liberty 12, one easily notices how the past is meeting the future. Of course, you have the latest and greatest with ScreenX, MediaMation’s MX4D, and the recliners with heated seats, but the complex also features the Lyric auditorium, a tribute to B&B’s first theatre built in Salisbury, MO in 1924. The wall sconces outside the auditorium came from that exact theatre and there’s a wood finish on the floor. Additionally, Johnnie’s Jazz Bar is a tribute to the Bagbys’ late grandmother, Johnnie. The Jazz Bar includes the very piano that Johnnie once played and the signage is a digitalized version of her signature.

As I left the gala Wednesday night, I could hear 1930s music playing from speakers in the parking lot. “We had to make sure the height was just right so it’s noticeable but not too loud, to make sure the sound doesn’t echo into the convenience store across the street,” Bagby noted.

Perhaps that’s the lesson we can take away from B&B Theatres’ grand opening at Liberty, a lesson for the future of not just our industry but all businesses. Yes, we live in an era in which all companies are now technology companies, but it may be the human touch that is the Midas touch for success.

Kevin Hong is chief of business development at Sinemia, co-founder of Dealflicks, and the author of  The Outlier Approach.