Wide-ranging, close focus

A number of focus session seminars in a special auditorium on the tradeshow floor involved a range of organisations, including ICTA, EDCF and IMIS CTC

Innovative Ways to Add Screens to an Existing Multiplex was the title of the first session on the trade show floor. Bernard Collard (ICTA and ECCO Consulting) introduced an expert panel containing a cinema architect, an integrator, and a cinema operator, asking them to consider the new technologies and how they are likely to affect cinema design in the future. Walter Achatz from Atelier Achatz Architekten in Munich gave an overview of some of the cinema designs they have been responsible for over the past 20 years, explaining how they use tried and tested methods, but are constantly addressing new challenges, and finding ways of integrating the latest technologies, to benefit both the cinema owner and the customer. Walter gave several examples of new, exciting designs, including Kinomax Irkutsk, Siberia, opened last year.

Integrator Graham Lodge, whose company Sound Associates fits out and maintains cinemas in many parts of the world, provided much practical advice about adding screens to existing multiplexes, noting the current trend to smaller screens, often with luxurious furnishings. He said that many ‘little or no maintenance needed’ claims from projector manufacturers are simply not true if reliable operation is to be assured. He warned that ideas of fitting projectors in small pods in order to squeeze in an extra screen or two need to be carefully assessed during the design phase. Access for maintenance will be required, and services like electricity and ventilation will need to be provided to the projector — this should be considered well before the design is finalised. All too often providing ventilation can be a challenge, and even projectors that claim to need little extra ventilation will undoubtedly last longer if installed in environmentally benign positions.

Sound systems too need to be thought about — where are amplifiers and the processors to go if there is no projection room? Putting them behind the screen can work, but at the design stage you need to think about how sufficient power can be provided there, and where cables between amps and speakers will be routed.

In a new cinema the position of the concession stands needs careful thought if you are to maximise footfall and profits, and building in the extra facilities required for event cinema is easier if you consider this at the design stage. When modifying existing sites it is often the case that real-life situations differ from the architects’ drawings created years earlier. Graham recalled finding a huge water pipe running across what the plans showed to be an empty space. He concluded by saying that cinemas considering the addition of extra screens should work with their integrator to make the best of every particular situation.

Laura Fumagalli, an independent cinema operator from Northern Italy who runs the family cinema business, Arcadia, with several locations in commercial areas, stressed the importance of continuing to invest in technical innovation. They have introduced laser projection and Dolby Atmos as well as comfortable modern seating, and their customers appreciate the quality of their theatres, and love the overall experience.

Feedback from the floor
The session led to an interesting discussion on designing new auditoria for multi-purpose uses. It was agreed that there may need to be compromises, the designer and architect may not appreciate the ‘black room’ decor cinema purists desire, but new LED lighting systems could completely change the ambience between events. Graham pointed out that it is possible to have two different sound equalisation set-ups for different events in the same auditorium. If active screens do move into cinemas there will be some advantages, in that it may be easier to arrange the auditorium layout if projection angles don’t need to be considered, but there will undoubtedly be problems in optimising the sound, and consideration will need to be given to removing the heat from the front of the auditorium. There was general agreement that when working with designers and architects the choice of screen type will need to be considered earlier, and that integrators need to be brought in to work with the architects much sooner than is now usual.

The case for diversification

“Diversifying the Cinema Going Experience — The Business Case” was a session chaired by David Hancock of EDCF. Mike Thomson from Light Cinemas said that diversification plans depend on which market is being considered. His experiences in the Middle East and in Nordic countries showed great differences, but the overall message is that you must tailor the offerings to the needs of the local market. He felt that the changes that digital cinema had brought had not actually resulted in much movement in the business. We have some more content in the form of event cinema, but really haven’t ‘cracked’ sport in cinemas, and the increased flexibility that electronic distribution could have brought has not happened. Although more films are released than ever before, the choice that customers are given is still restricted, due to the way the distribution system works.

Light Cinemas has identified the need to serve a more mature audience and often chooses films to suit. It provides  a ‘premium multiplex’ experience and each of its cinema offerings is tailored to provide what that particular community wants — a local business moulded to suit each l community, a ‘social space’, a venue for local people rather than just a cinema — the opposite of a big cinema chain. The opportunity to provide ‘cinema on demand’ has so far not been taken up widely. Secret Cinema and Pop-Up cinema are providing new experiences and bringing in audiences, but it is notable that these are being provided by ‘non-cinema’ outsiders rather than regular operators. Mike said that cinemas need to develop new relationships with content distributors and that the industry ‘isn’t yet out of the starting blocks’ as far as diversification is concerned.

Bringing in the big brands

Christine Costello of More2Screen was more sanguine about diversification, saying that event cinema has come a long way in a short time — it didn’t exist ten years ago and now is a thriving world-wide business. It had initially been difficult to persuade the ‘biggest brands’ in content industries such as ballet and opera of the advantages of diversifying into the new audiences that cinema can provide, especially as the whole process could prove expensive, and they need to make a profit on their investment. But gradually things developed, with cinema initially being seen as a ‘loss leader’ to get people to attend actual live events, and we now have more diverse content and more diverse audiences attending the cinema. Independent cinema has played a major part, being flexible enough to include a range of different event content for different audiences.

Domien De Witte of Barco explained how digital cinema had led to more options, with different demands from older and younger audiences. Youngsters want to see the content that they choose, and they want it ‘now’ — not something the traditional cinema industry has provided. The cost of the experience is secondary.They are more interested in being able to make the best use of their time, and this could provide a huge business opportunity for exhibition. Cinemas need to know their customers and to know what works in each location and community. There are immense opportunities by offering experiences at different price points, mirroring Barco’s strategy to offer ‘Business Class’ Flagship laser projectors as well as less-expensive Smart Lasers more oriented to family cinemas. He noted that in China, Video on Demand performances are already popular in cinemas.

David Hancock kicked off the discussions by saying that in many ways cinema has been the same for 100 years, and we now need to find ways to keep the core of the cinema experience whilst diversifying to provide a more social experience. The panel, with contributions form the audience, agreed there is the need for flexibility to put on content — the traditional way of a cinema having to book a film for two weeks perhaps needs to change. Currently we have more films being made than ever, but with less choice for the customer— of the 900 films made in a year, 94% of come from just the top 100 of these.

Although the conference tends to concentrate on the move to premium cinemas, it is also important to keep ‘economy class’ happy. Light Cinemas effectively supply a premium offer at a standard price, with more legroom and comfort — the all-important ‘value’ that customers appreciate.

There was agreement that diversification is the way to keep cinema alive — there must be a re-modelling of what we offer customers. Lessons from event cinema show that the new technologies are bringing forward new content in a financially viable way, and it is important to ask customers what it is that they want to see. Competition from the likes of Netflix makes it plain that different content must be available to cinemas, in order to diversify to maximise its strengths. It has to keep evolving.