Movies à la CineMode: Cinemark uses technology to encourage courtesy


Continuing last month’s coverage about the many ways in which exhibitors are “Rewarding the Audience," we now turn your attention to Cinemark and its innovative CineMode functionality. The nation’s third-largest cinema chain—and with 263.72 million moviegoers in 2012 across 13 countries, also the world’s highest attended—has found an effective way to reward moviegoers for not using their phones during the movie.

As we all know, the challenge is tremendous. We only need to be driving to see how important it is for people to stay connected. If they are willing to risk their lives, and endanger others, for a Status Update or the latest Tweet*, what could possibly prompt them to refrain from these activities while sitting in the safety of a plush recliner seat? Other than a great and engaging film, that is.

“One of the biggest requests that we get from customers is to help out with the texting situation that happens in the auditoriums,” notes James Meredith, Cinemark’s VP of marketing and communications, choosing a rather understated term for mobile malfeasance, be that annoying cell-phone chatter or equally distracting click-a-de-click texting. When CineMode officially launched last November, the company was equally polite. As an “exclusive and interactive way to earn Cinemark rewards while being courteous during the show,” this new component to its popular Android and iOS app “was designed to address texting and other cell-phone distractions from occurring while customers enjoy the entertainment experience in Cinemark’s auditoriums across the country.”

“Our number-one priority is the comfort of our guests,” Meredith assures. And indeed, “for a number of years we’ve had messaging campaigns—and fairly aggressive ones too—asking our guests not to talk and text during the show, educating them as to what the correct behavior is in the auditoriums.” Rather than fighting the inevitable, Cinemark realized it might be best to make those stupid phones part of a smart solution. “We said: What if we could address the issue through the very device that’s causing the problem?”

Five months later, “it’s been extremely successful and very popular.” Guests are excited about the special discounts they receive for keeping their phones off, he says, making for an overall more enjoyable experience. “We really see a dramatic decrease in the number of people who are texting and using their cell-phones during the movie. So it’s been a win-win situation.”

With over two million downloads, the Cinemark app provided the perfect starting point for CineMode. “Mobile has really started to take off for us, as far as a medium that allows us to have direct correspondence and direct relationships with our customers,” Meredith confirms. “So I thought why don’t we create a functionality within that same app? And if they keep their phones off for the duration of the show, we’ll send them some type of reward at the end.”

Providing user-friendly access to Cinemark theatres, showtimes, movie info and ticketing, including purchase history and gift cards, the in-house IT team set out to expand the Cinemark app. The goal was to seamlessly integrate CineMode into the all-access offerings. “When our customers…start discovering all the different functionalities inside, CineMode is a popular function—and it’s growing. There’s an educational process… You can see usage increase week to week and month to month, which is very exciting, of course.”

Promotion is very much part of the learning curve. “When the movie is about to begin,” he continues, “we have a message come up on the cinema screen that asks our customers to launch the app. Putting their phone in CineMode then darkens the screen [on the phone] automatically and prompts them to set the ringer volume to vibrate.” As long as guests stay in CineMode, they will receive their reward. (“Hitting the ‘home’ button will stop CineMode and you will not receive your reward,” the app’s description cautions.)

Ease of use and convenience were part of the programming mandate as well. “Our goal was to make it very easy,” Meredith explains. “We wanted all of the different components and functionalities to be intuitive for our customers who are connecting with us through the Cinemark app. We didn’t want them to have to scan through three or four different screens in order to figure out what it was about. Just making it simple, so that everyone can enjoy it. Even though the programming at the back end is very complicated,” he attests, “what the customer sees…is purposefully made very easy and straightforward.”

Let’s take rewards management, for instance. “We created a cache right there in the app that holds the coupons for the customer. So there’s really nothing that they have to keep track of. All they have to do is accept the reward and then it’s stored for them on the phone. The next time they come to the theatre and they launch the Cinemark app, their reward is available for redemption, simply by scanning the barcode reader that we have at each of our points of sale.” Not only does the first reward have a longer expiration date, it is also “a pretty valuable coupon in that we offer you a free item.” Meredith says coupons expire automatically and moviegoers do not need to maintain their rewards section. Cinemark does suggest, however, that guests sign up for a “My Cinemark” account for additional safekeeping in case their mobile phone malfunctions or something is lost when trading it up or out.

“Concession items are very popular,” Meredith notes, “so when we initially launched the program, we were focusing on concessions. But now we’re starting to develop relationships with the studios that allow CineMode to offer special items that may be related to an upcoming movie, for example. We can go many different ways because we control the rewards. There are additional talks going on right now. The way in which they are designed is that the rewards can really be anything that we want them to be.”

While concession coupons obviously have the additional benefit of driving traffic to the snack bar, Cinemark is also further developing a database of its customers. “We are focusing on growing that database,” he confirms, “mainly so we can get to know our customers a little bit better.”

Cinemark is equally interested in creating loyalty within that client base, although the circuit does not have a points-based system like many other exhibitors do, Meredith advises. “We have what I call a ‘benefits component,’ if you will. For example, Cinemark offers refillable tubs and cups that we sell at the concession stand. We have our e-mail newsletter that goes to about two-and-a-half-million people every week. We have CineMode through our app. We have different components in place to create loyalty from our customers. But we don’t have a point-system reward program. Our strategy is different and we feel that these benefit-type initiatives add to the overall experience of going to Cinemark.”

Returning to the main objective, Meredith says, “CineMode does a lot of things. It has great functionality within the app, but at its base it is really more of a courtesy component that has been designed so that we can help preserve the movie-watching environment. We want our customers to come to us because the experience that they get at our theatres is going to be so much better than they can find anywhere else. All these different components are designed around that premise.”

“We are trying to do everything in our power to preserve the experience,” Meredith reiterates. “Because that is the main reason that our customers come to the theatre: to watch movies and because they want to escape for a little while. They want to sit down in a dark auditorium with all the latest and greatest technologies that we have,” he says, citing the Cinemark XD experience, cafeteria-style concession areas and NextGen theatre design, “and enjoy a really good story… Having CineMode functionality as part of our app enables us to address an issue that had started to grow just because of the technology. But now we’re actually using that technology to help solve the problem. And it seems to be working extremely well.”

* According to a survey published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 69% of drivers reported talking on a cell-phone while driving within the last month, despite the fact that 89% believe other drivers doing so are a threat to their personal safety. Motorists who use cell-phones while driving are also more likely to engage in other dangerous behaviors such as speeding (65%), driving drowsy (44%) and without a seat belt (29%), and sending texts or e-mails (53%). Source: AAA Southern New England, March 2013

What About CinemaSync?

For cinema advertising and promotions, Cinemark theatres are part of NCM Media Networks. As NCM has developed its own apps to engage moviegoers, we wondered if brands and marketers might be able to use all of these options to reward moviegoers—be it for engaging with advertising in cinema lobbies and on the big screen (, or for keeping all that excitement turned off during the show via CineMode.

“We are trying to prepare ourselves for the migration to digital media by having compelling consumer offerings,” explains NCM’s president of sales and marketing, Cliff Marks. “NCM by definition is a business-to-business company and our MovieNightOut and CinemaSync apps are part of our foray into talking with consumers directly and having a relationship with a cinema customer rather than a business client.”

“The audience rewards are going to be operationally driven,” he opines. “We envision that when CinemaSync is fully operational and fully scalable, using the app should be rewarding in of itself. Hopefully, brands are offering some type of reward or deal, and other types of engagement linked to a sync that happened in the cinema.” Calling the example “completely fictitious,” Marks suggests a coupon for free French fries with purchase of a Big Mac at the Golden Arches after the movie. “That’s our long-term vision. CinemaSync is up and running in various theatres, but in more of a beta test. We still have work to do to fix some of the technical challenges and to bring it out in mass scale.”

Going forward, “CineMode and our CinemaSync will be integrated into a single consumer experience,” he predicts. “It will do what Cinemark intends the app to do, which is to reward their customers for not using their phones during the movie. CineMode is very innovative and creative and it also speaks to Cinemark’s commitment to maintaining the purity of experience for their customers.”