Big and Ultra: Carmike and Cineplex supersize their screens


After catching up with the first and the fastest to go big (September 2010) and analyzing the X-factor (October 2010), the final installment of FJI’s in-depth look at the bigger digital picture covers two brands that spell out what the trend is all about.

Carmike Cinemas’ The BigD stands for digital, of course. And, with UltraAVX, Cineplex Entertainment brings an entirely upgraded audiovisual experience to Canada.

“UltraAVX was designed to create the best and most immersive entertainment environment possible for Cineplex guests,” says the circuit’s VP of communications and investor relations, Pat Marshall. UltraAVX features screens manufactured by Strong/MDI Screen Systems “that are significantly larger on average than our traditional screens.” For the benefit of our readers, she further mentions “a superb digital surround sound system utilizing the latest in Dolby digital sound technology, Christie Solaria 2230 DLP Cinema projectors with Doremi CDP2K4 servers, reserved seating and larger high-back rocker seats from Seating Concepts.”

The same elements of sight, sound and seats allow Carmike Cinemas to create the “Ultimate Entertainment Experience." For director of marketing Dale Hurst, The BigD represents “the perfect entertainment environment, with exceptional picture quality, giant picture size, incredible sound and comfort, more luxurious seating. Guests will be immersed into the events they attend. Whether it is a movie, sporting event, concert, motivational speaker or religious service, we want Carmike to deliver the ultimate entertainment experience and demonstrate our leadership in providing the best environment in which to enjoy an event.”

At Cineplex as well, leadership provided the audiovisual motivation, Marshall says. “One of Cineplex’s key corporate strategies has been to continually enhance our guests’ moviegoing experience through the use of improved technologies and amenities. To date we have accomplished this through a variety of means including our VIP theatres, IMAX theatres and our RealD 3D experiences. We knew we wanted to take it to another level by creating an enhanced entertainment experience for our guests and also one that would be complimentary to these other experiences.”

Whereas the 78 x 35-foot BigD (24 x 11 meters from Harkness) launched with an equally big pinch of Salt on July 30 at Carmike 15 in Columbus, Georgia, UltraAVX made its public debut on June 30 at Cineplex Odeon Queensway Cinemas in Toronto (, and at the grand opening of SilverCity CrossIron Mills Cinemas and XSCAPE Entertainment Centre near Calgary, Alberta. As part of the celebration, some 200 contest winners experienced an advance screening of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse in those new audio-visually enhanced auditoriums.

“The response to UltraAVX has been tremendous!” Marshall enthuses after several weeks of operation. “Guests love the experience and are telling their friends. Our two UltraAVX theatres have experienced many sellouts in both complexes since opening. Guests are even exchanging their tickets at the box office when they discover UltraAVX is available, so we couldn’t be more pleased.”

After all, during the past year, Cineplex “conducted some market research and asked our Canadian moviegoers what they would like to see in a new entertainment concept. Moviegoers responded by saying they wanted bigger screens, excellent sound and picture quality, bigger seats and reserved seating. Our guests wanted a new and affordable entertainment experience and we are delighted to be able to provide that experience with UltraAVX.”

“It is apparent that customers want a much bigger sensory theatre experience,” Carmike’s Hurst agrees with Marshall. “As moviegoers began to appreciate what digital had to offer,” Hurst “found that patrons wanted a bigger, more dynamic picture presentation with sound that would engulf them and bigger seats with exceptional comfort.” From that “sensory overload,” the “Ultimate Entertainment Experience” of The BigD was born. “We designed a name that would appeal to guests so they could easily understand the bigger theatre experience concept. We wanted an image that would portray the entire experience as something that would be memorable and of great value. The concept, brand name, logo and other designs have been developed using a mix of internal and external resources.” Similarly at Cineplex, the name was created in-house, Marshall recalls, “and then tested via market research. The logo was created by Shikatani Lacroix and the launch marketing campaign was created by one of our ad agencies, Capital C.”

Attaching the capital letters AVX to theatre façades and entranceways certainly requires “one of the largest auditoriums in the complex,” Marshall observes about retrofits like Queensway. “The renovation includes the installation of a new and larger silver screen, a new Dolby digital surround sound system, a new Christie projector, all new larger rocker seats, new carpeting and improved acoustic treatments among other items.” As for the time involved, “currently the renovation takes approximately four weeks to complete.” And in ground-up UltraAVX-construction like CrossIron Mills, “new builds don’t require any down time,” she confirms. This year, “six of the seven additional UltraAVX theatres will be retrofits and one will part of a new theatre scheduled to open in November 2010. Next year and beyond, they will be a combination of retrofits and new builds.” The first UltraAVX for the spring of 2011 will be one of seven screens at the new Cineplex Westshore Town Centre in Langford, British Columbia.

At Carmike, plans call for as many as 24 more locations by the end of 2011. Theatres participating in the initial BigD rollout include Carmike 15 in Canton, Georgia, Carmike Thoroughbred 20 in Nashville, and the Majestic 12 in Chattanooga, both located in the state of Tennessee. The site selection process is a mix of demographics and physical dimensions. “We are looking at theatres in markets that have existing strong consumer demand, particularly those where we already have at least one large auditorium,” Hurst elaborates. “We are considering existing theatres that have at least 400-seat auditoriums.” Since “we want to provide the biggest expansion in screen size,” the physical challenges “relate to configuring the largest possible screen, both in height and width, within the auditorium dimensions.” BigD requires that “the entire screen is filled with a clear picture and every seat in the auditorium has unobstructed viewing with clean sightlines and full surround sound. In some cases, the ceiling must be raised to accommodate such a large screen.”

In Canada, demographics dictate the expansion plans too, Marshall confirms. Initially, Cineplex wants “to roll out UltraAVX theatres into our key theatres located across the country in both major and medium-sized markets.” While there will be one UltraAVX theatre per location at first, “based on guest demand, this could change in the future.” Already clear today is that “UltraAVX will be available in some of the Cineplex theatres where we currently operate our VIP, IMAX and RealD 3D theatres. They are all different brands and offer different experiences.”

Continuing on that thought, why did Carmike decide to create its own format rather than going with an already established big-screen brand? Hurst responds that the circuit “wanted a fresh, next-generation concept in the large-format environment. We feel that our formula of using truly custom-engineered, leading-edge technology will enhance the moviegoing experience for our guests without the need to go to a third-party supplier. We believe Carmike’s BigD Ultimate Entertainment Experience goes far beyond the existing, arguably dated formats of other technologies.”

By way of example, Hurst discusses digital sound. Similar to Dolby 7.1, with Carmike’s “uncompressed digital audio 7.1 DS, there will be eight discreet channels: front-left, front-center, front-right, left surround, right surround, left-rear surround, right-rear surround and subwoofer.” (Just like Cineplex, Carmike utilizes QSC Audio products for speakers and amplification.) Nonetheless, “our goal is not to go louder. It is to have a more dynamic sound with more channel separation [to make] you feel like you are in the middle of the action. BigD sound will be cleaner and sharper than in a traditional theatre auditorium. We are always striving to push the envelope in cinema technology… More sound formats are coming that are more advanced and we are ready for them. We will be going bigger and better. It makes sense to go bigger, because technology will allow it and patrons are asking for it.”

As long as Carmike and Cineplex, along with the other circuits we profiled over the past two months, keep pushing that envelope, audiences will continue to enjoy an even better theatrical experience—be it bigger, louder, brighter, happier or deeper.

Like many others of the large-format and experiential brands featured in this series, Cineplex UltraAVX Ultra Audio Visual Experience™ and The BigD Ultimate Entertainment Experience are protected trade- and/or service marks of their respective operators.

The ‘Giant’ International Market

North American giant screens rose by one-third in 2009, outperforming the global rate of 21%. Digital screens now account for 43% of North American locations and 33% globally. 3D-capable screens accounted for a record 65% of all giant screens in 2009.

The total number of giant cinema screens increased year on year to reach 578 worldwide in 2009, based on data from LF Examiner. A total of 103 screens opened, the majority of which can be attributed to digital projection systems from leading manufacturer IMAX, against just three which shuttered—incidentally the highest number of both new openings and lowest number of closures respectively since 1999. Canada was the only territory to register an annual decline in giant screens in 2009, while 15 of the total 53 territories reported an overall increase.

The base of giant screens in North America showed a net addition of 76 screens and in turn now houses the vast majority or 78% of giant screens in digital projection format. North America’s share of the giant screen market rose to 56% in 2009—its largest contribution on record and up from just 48% ten years prior. Again, this can be traced back to the continued rollout of digital systems from IMAX, as well as “own brand” digital-based systems from major circuits. However, it should be noted that there is not yet a digital solution suitable to upgrade the largest large-format film screens.

Internationally, digital screen activity is also increasing with 38 systems installed across 15 territories, up from just five screens in two territories (U.K. and Australia) in 2008. Outside of North America, Asia now has the highest penetration of digital with 19 screens active and in turn accounting for 15% of total regional giant screens. China retained its spot as third in the giant-screen rankings, behind USA and Japan, after it received the second-highest number of net new openings (four) in 2009, jointly with Japan. Russia moved up to fifth place in Europe, overtaking Germany as it doubled its network of giant screens from three to six in 2009 alone.

However, it was Austria that experienced the largest overall growth rate with two new IMAX digital systems at Apollo Vienna and CineplexX Graz. Meanwhile, at 15 giant screens, the U.K. retained its position as top in Europe with three new ones coming online, all IMAX digital in partnership with Odeon & UCI Cinemas Group, who recently signed on for Liverpool as well. There was one new territory to come online, namely the IMAX MPX system in San José, Costa Rica.

A significant point to note is that of new screen openings, all venues had 3D capability in 2009 without exception, as they also did the previous year. As a result, 3D LF venues now account for the majority 65% of the giant-screen market (as at March 2010), up from 51% the previous year and just 46% in 2007, indicative of how mainstream Hollywood movies in 3D are now a significant component of the IMAX commercial model. IMAX’s share of the manufacturer market rose to 75.8% as of March 2010, up from 65.2% in 2004.
—Charlotte Jones, Senior Analyst, Cinema, at Screen Digest, Global Media Intelligence

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IMAXimizing China

The months of June, July and September recorded six big developments for the IMAX Corporation in the People’s Republic of China ( The September announcements of 15 new IMAX digital systems with CJ CGV Holdings and two new installations with China Film Group Corp. brought the total number of IMAX theatres scheduled to be operating in China to 96 by 2015. With this announcement, IMAX said, its “announced number of theatre systems signings year-to-date has increased to 168 worldwide, which compares to 35 system signings in all of 2009.”

Guangzhou Jinyi Film & Television Group also expanded from four already contracted to 12. Jinyi currently operates 27 of its own theatres, with another 100 theatres in backlog, and more than 40 cinemas in a joint venture with Guangdong Pearl River Film Company. “The IMAX brand is highly regarded by consumers in China, where IMAX screens are significantly outperforming conventional movie screens in both 2D and 3D,” said Shirley Ye, general manager of the Guangzhou Jinyi Group.

“IMAX theatres are changing the way people in China experience movies,” concurred Jimmy Wu, chief executive officer of Lumiere Pavilions at the announcement of their three-system agreement until 2012. Named “one of the fastest-growing private movie exhibition companies in China” by IMAX Corp., Lumiere has plans to open 40 to 60 cinemas across the country.

Similarly, the large-format provider announced that “one of the fastest-growing and most competitive cinema chains” there has also extended the existing agreement. Wanda Cinema Line contracted three more systems in addition to the four they already operate and the seven IMAX locations scheduled for completion by 2012. By that time, Wanda hopes to have opened some 1,000 screens at 110 locations, up from 400 and 50 theatres today.

Of the 15 Stellar Cinemas located in major cities, the ones in Shanghai and Beijing were contracted for two digital IMAX systems. While the announcement was made on June 3, the Shanghai Stellar Zhengda Multiplex in Shanghai was readied in time for the July 28 Aftershock, the first Chinese film to be digitally remastered by IMAX. No wonder Bruce Ren, president of Stellar Cinemas, was “particularly pleased with the speed at which a digital IMAX theatre system can be installed.”

For the 10,000-people premiere of that film about the Tanshan earthquake, producers Huayi Brothers utilized two of Barco’s “ultra-bright” DP2K-32B digital-cinema projectors (the 6.5kw lamp provides 33,000 lumens). With a width of almost 33 meters (108 feet), “the screen used for this screening was 10 meters wider than an IMAX screen, making it the largest screen in the world,” the Belgian manufacturer announced. The outstanding performance at the premiere, added Barco’s managing director in China, Yan Fei, “has increased our potential and our expertise in the area of digital cinema, and that has strengthened Barco’s leading position in the Chinese digital projection market.”

As Big as the Galaxy
“Great response,” Amy La Sala, senior public-relations account executive at Crosby/Wright, reports for us from the Sept. 9, 11:59 p.m. unveiling of Galaxy DFX at the Cannery Casino in North Las Vegas, Nevada. “We did the debut screening last night and the screen is pretty spectacular!” After our three-part survey about large-format screen brands, we too would like to ask our readers the Galaxy tagline: “Are you ready for this?”

“DFX stands for Digital Fusion Experience,” Frank Rimkus, chief executive officer of Galaxy Theatres, says about the in-house design. “And that’s exactly what we are providing: a highly advanced combination of cutting-edge audio and visual technologies fused with Galaxy’s signature theatre comforts and exceptional services.” That edgy technology includes 16,000 watts of power for JBL speakers delivering Dolby Surround 7.1, Christie Brilliant3D “with triple flash technology” and “a towering multi-story movie screen” from Harkness. DFX dimensions at Cannery are 64 feet wide by 36 feet high with a 96-foot throw. Cannery also has one of currently four D-Box motion-seat installations at Galaxy Theatres, albeit in a different auditorium.

“Being a first-class company means being in tune with our customers and providing them exciting new movie entertainment experiences. DFX, we believe, delivers innovation that engages new patrons and enhances the experience for existing loyalists as well.”

While DFX does go bigger and plusher, “the sound is not louder,” Rimkus notes, addressing the audio side. “It’s deeper, fuller and richer. It’s more about the quality of the sound and not the decibel. Our proprietary DFX design standards bring more depth to the moviegoing experience.”

Rimkus explains why Galaxy decided not to go with a more established brand. “We took a good, hard look at the overall experience of IMAX. It’s a large-format delivery product. Galaxy’s DFX is an entire large-format ‘experience.’ From audio and picture to our own unique customer service and amenities, we believe DFX offers more.”

All of the above will continue as the digital fusion moves forward at Galaxy Theatres. “We are in the process of rolling out DFX in several existing locations over the next 12 months,” Rimkus assures, “and DFX will be featured in all new builds.”