No crystal ball needed: Pathé utilizes new software to optimize film scheduling


Let me take you back to 1957, when Nat Taylor, owner and operator of the Elgin Theatre in Ottawa, Canada, became frustrated over having to replace still-profitable films with new releases. For this reason, he opened a second screen and put older releases in the second theatre while keeping new releases in the first one. Deciding which film to play in each screen was probably not a very difficult choice.

Fast-forward to 2013, to a world filled with multiplexes sometime up to 30 screens, and you immediately come to realize that scheduling such a multiplex can be a challenging experience.

So how do programming departments and theatre managers around the world cope with high demand, tight deadlines, resource-intensive film scheduling and programming of large multiplexes? Well, at the moment there is very little help they can use. Instead they have to work long hours, most often on the weekends, and use complex Excel files that leave very little time for in-depth analysis of film performance for each theatre location. Most programming departments play one or two feature films per auditorium throughout the day, play the same schedule every day of the week, and struggle to meet the film distributors’ demands at the same time.

The digitalization of all theatre screens means that programming restrictions imposed by 35mm films are no longer there. One no longer needs to carry rolls of film from one projection booth to another or plan for complex interlocks; the theatre management systems and DCPs take care of that with a click of a button. However, film scheduling, forecasting and programming is still a manual process associated with programmer’s intuition rather than data-driven analysis.

The software development team at Share Dimension has worked for the past years with Pathé, the largest cinema chain in the Netherlands, to develop Cinema Scheduler, new software with forecasting ability. Yes, you read it right: software that can forecast what the best showtimes are.

Smart software
Cinema Scheduler generates daily or weekly film schedules in agreement with all cinema and distributor constraints. The sophisticated algorithm combines advanced forecasting based on historical box office with state-of-the-art scheduling technology. It integrates with leading ticketing systems and provides automated schedules that maximize cinema attendance.

Cinema Scheduler uses a set of intelligent, scientific rules and algorithms that can identify the best results after analyzing past shows and theatre information. The software uses historical information (What were the exact admissions for the last play week?) and actual information to forecast how each film will perform in the coming week.

Of course, all the information on films and theatres is used as well. Without knowing the film length, you could not do that. For a certain genre (for example, family films), the software learns that one showtime is better than another. But what if the software can also tell you how much time is needed to clean the auditorium?

Until now, maybe it hasn’t been rocket science. But it really becomes interesting when Cinema Scheduler also uses the times of the local public transport (When does the last bus leave for each location?) in its calculations, or local events such as music concerts or football games (Does Ajax Amsterdam play at home?), or even weather information.

Our intense cooperation with Pathé does not mean that other exhibitors are being pushed away. There are at this moment seven or eight different exhibitors all over the world who are extremely interested in our solution.

Centered around the programmer

Cinema Scheduler, which once started as an academic pursuit, has for the past five years transformed from a custom-made project developed with Pathé to a full-blown software application. There is a clear need for the film programmer in the scheduling process. Cinema Scheduler helps with the process, and the work becomes much more efficient when man and machine work together.

Taylor’s idea, back in 1957, to put older releases on a second screen was the first time a choice was offered at a North American cinema box office, and Taylor is credited as the inventor of the multiplex.

The cinema industry needs to serve the demand of today’s moviegoer and always improve the moviegoing experience. Getting the best showtime for each of your films is part of that, so enhance your film programming with advance cinema scheduling and capitalize on the opportunities that have arisen in the new digital era.

Jeroen Huijsdens contributed to this article.