Positive synergy: Aligning the delivery of alternative content and concessions

Columns

When I attended the International Cinema Technology Association (ICTA) conference in January in Los Angeles, in my opinion one of the most productive in our industry, I listened to questions that the projection and sound group had about what the concession group does. Having the fortune to work with both of these groups, I knew many of the answers and in turn thought of a few myself. It occurred to me that with the increasing popularity of alternative content, a main topic at the conference, synergy between these groups is becoming imperative.

One question offered was: “If we can deliver these sporting events in high-definition and 3D, and customers come to spend the afternoon with us at the theatre instead of the local sports bar, will the concession stand step up to the experience?” The overall experience that we provide to the consumer will determine the success of alternative content. We are changing our offering to the consumer and changing their habits at the same time. Getting the customer to come to the theatre for a live broadcast of a sporting event takes them both out of the house and away from a bar. The amenities in the theatre have to keep up.

Sporting events, live concerts and comedy shows are just a few examples of the alternative content that is possible with digital presentation. The public has responded by attending these events enthusiastically. Martha Moore, a reporter with USA Today, recently penned an article comparing the events taking place today at movie theatres to the cinemas of old which served as community centers as much as entertainment centers. “The crowds going to these events show how movie theaters are returning to their roles as community centers by simulcasting a growing number of live events, even though the same events are often on everyone’s home TV.” (USA Today, Feb. 9, 2009).

But it is the whole experience that matters. People are social animals and they want to experience many things in a group, not alone. Having the concession stand, the box office, the lobby attractions and the main event all work together to create that experience is critical. The concession stand is so important to the event because of the associations that people have with certain diversions such as a concert or a sporting event. If we are going to attract a large crowd for a sporting event, having pitchers of beer and soda available is going to help the consumer choose the theatre over the sports bar.

This is what the question at the ICTA conference was about: whether the concession side of the equation is doing its fair share. Indeed, concession and café directors are altering their operations during alternative-content programs, applying for liquor licenses and offering retail products. Theatres have made the separations necessary to create bars; they have added coffee bars and catering contracts for special events. They have served beer, wine and dinner when the event would be enhanced by them.

There are issues that can arise out of these changes, such as regulating how you serve alcohol with minors present during a showing of the Super Bowl, for example. But for other events, such as a Hannah Montana concert, the biggest question is how to really make the event big! The Presidential Inauguration was shown live in theatres, as was the Academy Awards, both accompanied by red carpets, drinks and hors d’oeuvres.

National CineMedia has contracted live performances of the New York Metropolitan Opera in select AMC, Cinemark and Regal Cinemas locations. To accompany this, some of these theatres have added coffee and dessert bars to enhance the experience for the consumer. It supplements the incredible experience of the opera onscreen with a little more indulgence. Together, they entice the consumer to come in.

Theatre chains small and large are creating presentations that are not the normal fare and acknowledge the different media being presented. Part of the attention that the theatre is devoting to this trend is the actual construction of the theatre, to accommodate changing food and beverage needs, both in new builds and remodels. An example is the Santikos Palladium IMAX Theatre at The Rim in San Antonio, TX, which has been very successful with its division of an adult-oriented seating section on the second floor with a full-service bar. It allows the theatre much flexibility to deliver different experiences simultaneously to the public.

Dialogue, communication and synergy between the different departments and the different supply companies can enhance these two parts of the sum experience. Food and beverage are absolutely critical components of the alternative-content delivery. Concession departments that haven’t really started the process of rethinking how they deliver concessions during these events have not considered how much they can help with the return on investment in digital presentation. Providing the whole experience is what will keep this industry growing, changing and thriving.

Please send any comments to Anita Watts at anitaw@reactornet.com.