CinemaCon 2018 Review: Cinema Technology catches up with the buzz in Las Vegas at CinemaCon 2018

CinemaCon 2018 was dominated by two ‘S’s — Samsung and Saudi Arabia — both  competing with a new ‘C’ (Cinionic) for attention, writes Patrick von Sychowski. Despite 2017 having seen a dip at the North American box office, there was a sense of optimism as the Las Vegas trade show was bookended by the Marvel-ous results of “Black Panther” (third biggest US film of all time) and “Avengers: Infinity War” ($250m in its opening weekend). Yet the spectre of industry consolidation for both cinemas (Cineworld-Regal) and also studios (Disney-Fox) stalked the long corridors of Caesar’s Palace, alongside delegates rushing to the screenings, seminars, trade shows and receptions.

As always, CinemaCon was preceded by the European Digital Cinema Forum’s tour of Los Angeles, with a record 36 delegates visiting the key companies, studios and institutions of Hollywood. This was the last year the tour was arranged by John Graham and Dave Monk, but probably also the best, with visits to RealD, the Motion Picture Academy, Technicolor’s VR Lab, Universal, the Harman Experience Centre, Sony Pictures and Samsung’s new Onyx LED screen in Winnetka Pacific 16 multiplex in Northridge.

As always the presentations and discussions of the EDCF tour were off the record, but the technology and presentations all impressed, while important issues such as archiving, SMPTE DCP, 3D ghosting, audio for LED screens and more were covered. At the same time representatives for cinema trade body UNIC and the Global Cinema Federation (GCF) were also in Los Angeles for meetings with the likes of the Directors’ Guild, where word leaked out that Messrs Spielberg and Nolan were not keen on LED screens (“big TVs”) in cinemas, but preferred the projected image.


International Day

International Day at CinemaCon was opened with a keynote by Jeong Seo, the CEO of CJ CGV cinemas. He dazzled the audience with images from CGV’s leading cinemas in Korea, which included their own technologies such as ScreenX and 4DX, but also had bed cinemas, Cine de Chef fine dining and Sky Box opera-style VIP booths where the projection room once was. The company, he said, is “moving from a ‘multiplex’ to a ‘cultureplex’ model.” Before him Rob Friedman, CEO of Global Road Entertainment warned that “consolidation is inevitable,” and that “content owners will continue to build direct relations with consumers,” in a clear nod to Disney’s plan for its own streaming service.

David Hancock of IHS delivered his usual numbers-heavy snapshot of the outlook for the global cinema business, noting that Asia had seen 100.6% growth in the past five years. After him a panel of representatives of Disney, Kinepolis, Cinemark and Event Cinemas (chaired by yours truly) looked at how studios and exhibitors could be “Joining forces to Attract New Moviegoers”. No surprises that Big Data is key, but there was a new tone of willingness to share and collaborate, though no quick fixes.

The afternoon saw UKCA/UNIC’s Phil Clapp interview Cinepolis CEO and GCF Chair Alejandro Ramirez Magana via video link from Washington DC. Issues of trade and barriers, but also piracy and windows were addressed. The International Day ended with a big panel on Saudi Arabia, which overtook China as this year’s big foreign focus, where AMC CEO Adam Aron and Majid Al Futtaim (Vox) CEO Ahmed Ismail got to brag about being the first two exhibitors to open cinemas in the kingdom. Fox’s Andrew Cripps injected a note of caution that tax on cinema tickets will be 25% and that we still don’t know the censorship and gender separation requirements. NATO president and panel chair John Fithian noted that Saudi Arabia was reforming with tremendous speed, while Adam Aron felt $20 tickets there were too cheap and that they’d charge $30-$35 once recliners are installed this summer.

Open for business

CinemaCon 2018 was formally opened by the twin keynotes of NATO’s John Fithian and MPAA’s new CEO and Chairman Charles Rivkin. Fithian stressed the importance of diversity, not just in Hollywood films but amongst cinema employees. “The word disruption is thrown around way too much,” he warned. ”Nothing needs to be disrupted when it comes to the basic goal of our industry: bringing people together to share a communal experience. But that doesn’t mean exhibitors won’t innovate.” He went on to emphasise ‘robust’ numbers for cinemas both in the US and overseas in remarks that were echoed by Rivkin.

At the press conference afterwards NATO’s team had a bet how long it would take before MoviePass was mentioned (Fithian didn’t bring it up in his speech), though surprisingly it took 39 whole minutes. This US cinema subscription service ‘disruptor’ was in Vegas, holding one-on-one meetings and primarily there to assure cinemas it was their friend and also financially viable. Though the latest ‘pivot’ that saw MoviePass restrict new members to four films per month, no repeat viewings, and an trial thrown in for free, had attendees speculating whether it will be around in 2019. (Anyone remember The Screening Room from 2016?)

Topics covered in the conference sessions ranged from event cinema, meeting moviegoers’ expectations, food and beverage combined with social entertainment options, to cinema concession analytics and the strength of the independent/specialty market. Several delegates complained it was getting increasingly difficult to juggle screenings, seminars, meetings and trade shows, with some pushing for an extra day. The sentiments were split on whether the trade show traffic was up or down, depending on who you talked to, with concessions and seating companies appearing to grow in tandem (is there a correlation?), while most tech companies prefer a dedicated room or two in the hallways.

The big brands on show

The world’s largest cinema event marked the coming out for Barco’s Cinionic, its joint venture with China’s ALPD and CGS. The brand and its colour-splash logo were everywhere, from hot-off-the-press lapel pins and business cards to a multi-color water ballet at Barco’s traditional Belgian beer party at Caesar’s Neptune pool.

“We are in the midst of a changing cinema landscape, where exhibitors must deliver increasingly immersive entertainment to captivate today’s moviegoers,” was the message from Cinionic’s CEO Wim Buyens. The company was determined a make a big noise and impressed delegates with its offerings from laser projectors to the Vision 2020 enhancement and immersive lobby augmented reality and virtual reality entertainment — and a Barco RGB laser also powered the presentations in the Colosseum.

Having played coy and held invitation-only demos at last year’s CinemaCon, Samsung was front and centre this year. The week prior, Samsung opened its first US cinema location in Northridge’s Winnetka Pacific 16 multiplex, post-production installation at the Burbank-based Roundabout and unveiled its new branding (‘Onyx’). The company went out of its way to wine and dine the press with dinners, breakfasts and one-on-one interviews. Interest was already sky-high, with lines for the Samsung demo booth running round the trade show block. As well as regular and HDR clips, Samsung also showcased 3D clips, using active 3D glasses. Images were as bright, crisp and colourful as you’d expect, but there was no news on studio support for content mastered for the format.

Inevitably other projector makers were somewhat overshadowed by Samsung and Cinionic. Christie stressed its projection heritage and Vive audio offering. NEC offered up its RGB laser, which is winning praise from customers like Marcus Theatres, as well as a prototype LED display that offered passive eyewear 3D, albeit at a limited resolution. Sony, meanwhile, brought back its Crystal LED display (no longer called CLEDIS), which it was at pains to stress is different from Samsung’s, as it is powered by micro LEDs. No word on when it will ship, but Sony is definitely in the cinema direct display race [see the separate Cinema LED article on pXX]. No less impressive was its HDR-ready SRX-R800 laser projector line, showcased with the new SRX-R815P model, which had the best demo short of recent years (Joseph Kosinski’s “The Dig”). There were even whispers of a ‘baby’ Sony laser projector model coming soon.

Diversifying the offering

If there was a unique theme emerging at this year’s show it was that the post-VPF reality meant that vendors were increasingly urging exhibitors to diversify their offerings, with ‘jukebox’ capabilities that allow for a wider film selection, back catalogue titles and alternative content. GDC pushed this with its Cinema Automation 2.0 solution that allows the TMS to stream straight to the projector without the need for IMB storage. Coupled with it was the company’s newly launched GoGoCinema that gives audiences the ability to pick movies in a cinema-on-demand fashion previously only offered by companies such as Tugg (US) and OurScreen (UK). A new entrant in this space was Swiss Nagra/Kudelski with its myCinema, that was both a platform and content source, though it was treading carefully and claiming that it was neither competing with content owners or distribution platforms, but keen to work with operators such as Fathom Events. Ymagis is also active in this space with its EclairPlay and EclairLive platforms.

The world’s turning faster

More than ever, cinemas are being pushed to innovate and upgrade, whether in presentation, customer amenities or insights and analytics. By its end, CinemaCon attendees who had not returned early for the opening of “Avengers: Infinity War” were wilting in the desert heat. Some took heart from the observation that even as the world moves quicker, “The movie theatre is the only place that stops time. And that’s good,” said Benicio Del Toro as he accepted CinemaCon’s Male Star of the Year award at the closing night Coca-Cola gala. It won’t stop for long. Only six weeks separate CinemaCon and CineEurope this year, with some vendors joking they would just ship their kit straight to Barcelona.


Studios Out in Force

This year, no fewer than 11 studios and distributors presented in Vegas and several changes had to be made to accommodate them all. For the first time there were no screenings of full features, with ShowEast largely taking the role of preview showcase. Studios took turns in trying to impress cinema owners with their 2018-2019 slates, Disney with its Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, live action and animation titles, including “The Lion King” which looked as real as a BBC wildlife documentary. Universal got Cher to sing on stage for its “Mamma Mia!” sequel. Sony Picture’s twin aces were Quentin Tarantino and Leonardo DiCaprio. Warner Bros, as always, wheeled out the most stars, including most of the “Ocean’s 8” ensemble.

Netflix was absent, having also recently fallen out with the Cannes Film Festival, but Amazon Studios was present, asking Alexa on stage for film recommendations. Smaller studios like STX and Lionsgate held their own with diverse slates. Paramount flew in Mission: Impossible’s Tom Cruise, the recipient of the Pioneer of the Year award from the Will Roger’s Foundation – the first actor to be awarded it. While Disney showed off live action footage of its “Dumbo” remake, it didn’t show off the star, nor did it address the elephant in the room of the 20th Century Fox acquisition. Fox, however, did not shy away from the topic, with “Deadpool” sending a raunchy video greeting that involved Hugh Jackman in a dressing gown and a hung-over Disney character.