Where the show begins... An enhanced lobby experience offers a new dimension in cinema


As movie exhibition continues to rapidly evolve, we’ve been examining a number of aspects of the Cinema of the Future. In previous articles, we’ve emphasized the immersive large-screen experience, primarily enabled by image quality and enveloping sound. However, the cinema experience will take on many more dimensions in the future. It will no longer be limited to those 90 to 120 minutes when the moviegoer is in his auditorium seat: It will start at home when preparing to see their favorite actors on the large screen, continue when they drive up to the cinema parking lot, and remain with them well beyond departing the theatre.

Once inside, visitors will no longer be quietly and anonymously walking through your lobby; moviegoers of the future will want to be immersed in an interactive experience where they can truly participate and interact. Enabling this in the future for your cinema means identifying use cases and enablers today that, when strategically designed and implemented, can bring value to you and your patrons.

Redefining the Lobby Experience
The building façade or the entrance of your lobby is the first impression moviegoers receive of what they’re about to experience. This used to be a place of grandeur and amazement but, in many cases, appears to have evolved into the most undervalued and under-utilized location in the cinema. Packed with cardboard stand-ups and exuding a smell that often combines the best and the worst of food and beverages, it is not a place where most moviegoers love to spend time. Add to that people arriving late, queuing up at the same peak moments, and rushing through the lobby to their show, today’s lobby environment is not really how an immersive experience is ideally supposed to start.

Fast-forward to the lobby of the future: People arrive early to begin the fun before the movie begins. It’s a lively place where they are both entertained and informed. Along with featuring pre-show trailers, this is the ideal location and moment to make them aware of your upcoming events and releases, immediately impacting your ticket sales. In fact, studies show that people who spend more time in the lobby with the opportunity to select from your products at ease spend more money. And, beyond boosting existing revenue streams, a robust lobby experience could serve as your access point to new ones!

Marketing 101

Many people still believe digital signage is about replacing your paper posters with digital versions on flat-screen monitors. When looking at it solely from this angle, there is no reason to convert: Savings in labor costs resulting from employees no longer having to replacing wall posters will unlikely compensate for the investment and operational cost of digital screens. More than just a collection of flat-screen TVs hanging on your walls, a robust digital signage solution combines reliable hardware and flexible, scalable software to enable strategic placement throughout your site to create a unique environment:

* Post large screens outside to attract the interest of passersby.
* Display posters and trailers close to the entrance for a “wow” and easy movie selection.
* Prominently post concession promotions above the food and beverage and ticketing stands to incentivize and promote your best deals.
* Establish signage conveying the latest ticketing and seating availability at the vending desks to inform your visitors and enhance your operations.
* Post announcements for upcoming events and future releases in the waiting area to incentivize people to come back to your cinema sooner.

It also provides the flexibility to allow you to fully embed digital signage into your cinema to maximize ROI by:

* Integrating your existing ticketing and scheduling systems to automate operation and prevent data duplication.
* Accommodating multiple users with a vested interest in the digital signage system: the marketing department to communicate the brand, local theatre managers to promote their events, external advertisers to sell their products in front of a captive audience.
* Automating content for quick adoption into the system with minimal operating time/costs, such as trailers, posters, synopsis, advertising, and more.
* Creating brand-new opportunities beyond the day-to-day operations, such as leveraging major movie premieres, and directing patrons to other events.

When selecting and configuring your digital signage system correctly, be sure to check that all these options are available. When set up correctly, it will transform your cinema lobby into that exiting and unique place people want to come early to enjoy, increase concession and tickets sales, and enable you to tap into new revenue sources such as advertising and events. Best if all, it will arm you to take advantage of all the opportunities that the Cinema of the Future provides.

Big Screen, Little Screen
Tests with audience interaction have seldom amounted to more than gimmicks so far, like enabling a patron to drive a car by waving their arms or giving them a bucket of popcorn for winning the local movie quiz. But they don’t really bring value to the exhibitor. However, audience interaction can be a powerful driver to learn more about your audience, better target them with promotions, and increase the money they spend with you.

As mentioned previously, the average moviegoer is an anonymous visitor wandering through the lobby with the goal of getting from the front door to their seat as fast as possible. But imagine the power of knowing that the girl in the red dress is a huge Tom Cruise fan and would be willing to spend 50% more on an exclusive ticket for the opening night of his next movie. Consider seizing the opportunity to give the man in the white shirt, whose kids love popcorn, an overview of your combos the moment he walks in the door. These types of merchandising techniques can be achieved through interaction.

To interact, you need two parties. One of them is you: the cinema owner who wants to grow his business. The other party is the moviegoer, who selected your cinema and expects a fun movie experience. You also need a medium to communicate. The most obvious one for the exhibitor is using the most powerful medium he has: the large cinema screen. Combining this with the lobby screens makes the messaging even more powerful. The most widespread, flexible and accessible medium available to moviegoers today also happens to be a screen, albeit a miniature one: the smart-phone. This so-called “second screen marketing” is gaining a lot of traction in other markets, and can fit perfectly into cinema. Imagine having your patrons voting on the trailers you show and enabling a “Remind me when it premieres in this theatre” function. In the lobby, it’s possible to identify your guests based on their phone identification and welcome them. Why not automatically present and propose to them their favorite brand of crisps that they ordered during their previous visits?

It might seem strange to encourage people to pull out their smart-phones in your theatre after educating them for years to shut them off. We must realize, however, that the moviegoer of the future is part of a generation that is used to being constantly connected. Not just online, but truly using the smart-phone as a social medium to connect to friends and family. That is why audience interaction is the perfect tool for cinema to reinvent itself as the ultimate social experience. It’s fun to play around on your smart-phone, but it’s thrilling to do it with 500 others on a big screen!

Integration Is Key

The enablers to kick this off are very similar to those of digital signage we mentioned earlier. And it’s not just about developing an app. Only when making maximum use of the cinema experience—from large screen, to lobby screen and onto the smart-phone screen—will this work. This makes it possible to transparently share and distribute information across these screens and make the moviegoing experience truly immersive. Make sure your digital signage solution offers this integration and scalability is built in and it can cope with the functionality and format that is unique to smart-phone interaction. If you’re just hanging five standalone displays on the wall, you won’t be able to use these to interact with your 500 patrons. If your system is built to just stream videos to displays, you won’t be able to offer the interaction and feedback or manage different types of information such as user profiles.

The Cinema of the Future is already emerging. Enabled by digitization, but still centered around the large-screen experience, moviegoing will grow in all facets. Exhibitors need to act now and understand the requirements and enablers. The lobby environment and pre-show experience will be important drivers of the business. Turning your lobby into a lively and entertaining place to spend time will build loyalty and drive new revenues, arming you for growth in the future. Adding audience interaction will allow you to get to know your customer and understand what he wants. All this will help make cinema the social experience of the future.