From humble beginnings in the world of radio, in Barco Peter Knight discovers a firm that has refused to stay static — as the new Cinionic joint venture demonstrates.
How does a company get its name? Often, it’s a manufactured marketing-led moniker, but in the case of Barco, the name speaks precisely to its history. Established in 1934, the Belgium American Radio Corporation (Barco) assembled radios from imported parts. Barco has come on a bit — it is now a multinational that develops visualisation solutions to help professionals work together, share information, and project images in cinemas and elsewhere. Its focus is on enterprise, healthcare and entertainment. With more than 3,600 employees in 90 countries, the company has 400 granted patents. Headquartered in Kortrijk, Belgium, Barco has facilities in Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific and is listed on Euronext Brussels.
The view from the top
Cinionic vs Barco?
At CinemaCon 2018 Barco launched Cinionic, its joint venture with Appotronics (ALPD) and China Film GroupCFG (CFG). Headquartered in Hong Kong and with offices in the United States, Belgium and Mexico. The name “Cinionic” combines ‘cinema’ and ‘ionic’, and we define it as the “coming together of forces to create energy in the Cinema industry.” The company focuses on innovative cinema solutions, flexible financing and a comprehensive service model that enables exhibitors to focus on engagement with their moviegoers while simplifying their technology and operations.
How does Barco fit within Cinionic?
Cinionic is a joint venture with Appotronics and CFG, where Barco is the main driver with and has 55% of the company, with each of the partners having a 20% stake, the remaining 5% being taken by a finance partner.
In other words Barco has spun off its entire cinema division into this new venture and has found partners to help them go beyond just the technology that Barco is famed for. The full organisation is built on Barco’s heritage and talent. Barco will be the exclusive partner to Cinionic for all projection and image processing technologies in the joint venture. ALPD will provide industry-leading laser technology and retrofit solutions while CGS contributes high-quality solutions for Premium Large Format (PLF) screens.
“In a post VPF world, it’s no longer enough to provide superb engineering and market leading products,” explains Wim. “Our customers are asking for future-proof technology and more complete financial and service solutions. That’s what Cinionic, with the strength of all three JV partners, will deliver.”
The result is a new breed of entertainment company says Wim: “We’re listening to exhibitors and taking action. We’ll deliver everything to ensure operational peace of mind while elevating the audience experience, from the latest visualisation solutions to a comprehensive service care offering and affordable financing.”
Cinionic is about allowing, Barco, a technology company, to go beyond just technology. The idea is that the joint venture will help to de-risk the introduction of technology for customers, giving them confidence to adopt a technological advance without the danger of it being obsolete tomorrow. Part of this strategy can be seen with the ALPD retrofit laser option — users can opt to either buy outright or via a pay as you use hourly method. This “technology as a service” approach can be seen in a variety of other industries and sectors, notably within software.
A similar example is how the purchasing of cars has changed. Previously, buying a car meant going to the showroom, paying money and keeping the car until you no longer needed it, then selling it on before buying a new one. Now there are a range of methods available, including monthly deals where everything except the petrol is thrown in. Providing similar financial flexibility is one of the three pillars of Cinionic — “wow experience”, “peace of mind” and “financial flexibility”. These are core to the company and its focus. Experience is important, people hate bad experience and “wow experience” is about raising the bar. Bringing in the wow factor is important to Cinionic — and that can be a big screen, or simply the provision of a cinema for the first time in a rural community, for example in Brazil, where the technology is now affordable.
Cinionic is confident these experiences will boost attendance. Not only will moviegoers attendance frequency increase, new audiences will be attracted as well. Technology integration is happening more and more, and making it easy to use is important. Wim hinted at some exciting developments in these areas to come from Cinionic, but he wasn’t in a position to elaborate!
The “financial” and “peace of mind” elements of Cinionic go hand in hand. Investing in any technology is a potentially risky business, so Cinionic is able to provide different financial models that go beyond the traditional. Here Cinionic differs from Barco, too. It is able to provide a range of options to customers to help provide peace of mind — that is essential to Wim, as it means a customer can make a purchase decision without fear there will be something new and better next week, month or year.
A Year in Review
Wim has been with Barco for 20 years, joining as the industry moved to digital. The launch of Cinionic at CinemaCon was the result of two years work by Wim to bring the idea to fruition. While the number of new screens worldwide has slowed to 180,000 there is an expectation that will increase to more than 200,000 over the next 5 years. Growth is slowing, maybe, but growth is strong in a number of regions and territories.
For Wim it has been good to get feedback from customers, enabling Barco to grow from a technology provider to a service solutions company many of whom are encouraged by the new business model. Now that the model is there it is about getting this out to the wider audience and to start adding it to the portfolio.
Wim is quick to point out that the Barco brand is still a key ingredient of Cinionic and that there is still a lot of work to be done in the years ahead. Barco’s industry partnerships, with integrators and channel partners remains vital.
There is still a lot of work to be done, including building the trust and recognition of the Cinionic brand with the customers. The work now starts on implementing the joint venture’s new strategy and to show that Cinionic is more than simply a technology brand (that which makes it fundamentally different to Barco). Wim strongly believes that Cinionic can improve occupancy levels across exhibition and sees the company helping to make incremental changes that will stimulate the industry as a whole.
Inside the product range
By far the largest product range is the projector portfolio Barco provides. It has more than 200 all-laser complexes globally, and has one of the largest Smart Laser Projector portfolios of any manufacturer with 18 different models to select from, meaning a projector for any requirement.
Laser projectors fall into two categories ‘Mainstream Smart’ and ‘Premium Flagship’. Long-term, Cinionic believes laser is the technology for projection, with many different flavours available. Despite the large portfolio, many of the parts work on multiple models, meaning that TCO is lower and makes sense business wise. One solution Cinionic is able to offer is Laser as-a-service — rather than buy an entirely new projector in order to convert to laser, Cinionic offers a retrofit kit. that can be bought on a pay-per-hour basis that equates to the cost of a bag of popcorn per movie.
An innovative factory and new offices
In May 2016 Barco moved to a purpose-built headquarters that not only combined the offices but the factory as well.
The design is light and airy, but also aims to bring all the different parts of the company together. There is now an experience centre designed to show off the range of Barco products, from their control room, enterprise and medical products through to the entertainment and cinema. Located at Beneluxpark in Kortrijk, the 230,000m2 ‘One Campus’ is a landmark — an all-glass, circular building surrounded by green spaces, connected to three state-of-the-art Barco facilities — the Silicon Valley of Belgium.
Barco needed a centralised infrastructure because the distance between sites in Kortrijk and Kuurne was getting to be too much for employees. This centralising structure has been located next to existing corporate buildings in Kortrijk. The campus’s crowning jewel is ‘The Circle’, Barco’s new headquarters. With a diameter of 75m and a height of 25m, this monumental building can be seen far and wide.Designed by Jaspers-Eyers Architects, the glass façade and roof systems form a skin around the circular building’s open-plan interior and central atrium.
The new One Campus includes 48,000m2 of general facilities, surrounded by a pond and grass. Standing proudly, at
the heart of the campus, is The Circle, connected to the Lab (the R&D and test-unit), the Pulse and The Engine (the production facility), by a footbridge. The Circle comprises airy, flexible offices, R&D offices and test areas, a 170-seat auditorium, a training centre, a three-tier meeting deck and an atrium with a first-class restaurant. The showpiece of The Circle is the Barco Experience Centre, equipped with Barco’s most advanced visualisation solutions.
The Experience Centre is built around how Barco’s solutions help people enjoy entertainment experiences; how they foster knowledge-sharing and smart decision-making in organisations and help hospitals provide patients with the best possible healthcare. There are four dedicated demo pods for Entertainment, Enterprise and Healthcare, as well as customised demonstrations. The movie theatre showcases Barco’s immersive audio and cinema technologies.
Barco has two global manufacturing facilities, one in China for the Asian market, in operation for eight years, and one in Belgium, where all of Barco’s projectors for the EU market are made in “The Engine” in Kortrijk. Here they have been investing in extending and refurbishing the facilities, as well as the way the whole factory operation performs.
Within the 19,000m2 of manufacturing space there is 1,500m2 of clean room where delicate work of assembling light engines takes place. This clean room is able to produce 70 pristine cinema projector light engines each day, with each taking between three and five hours to complete. In this area, Barco controls the temperature, humidity and airborne dust particles as is required to maintain the quality of its products.
Four rows of assembly take place in the factory, two for projectors, two for healthcare. Within the projection area are eight dedicated steps, with each having a screen with the latest assembly instructions. Barco is in the process of building an additional extension to the factory to enable it to have an automated warehouse for parts giving greater flexibility, scaling and efficiency opportunities. With this fully automated warehousing solution scheduled to become operational in 2019, it will support the company’s continued development in this new area, and will, naturally, help support the care and attention that Barco puts into the manufacture of all of its projectors.
Throughout our interview Wim hinted at developments in a variety of areas that are likely to be revealed in due course.
Out of interest I asked about 8K — with TVs now 4K and entertainment projectors offering 8K for certain applications, is it time cinema started thinking about it? In short, ‘not immediately’. While technologically it is easier to achieve 8K than was 4K in 2010, there are other implications, notably data size in post and distribution. More importantly, there isn’t enough 4K content as is. This needs to be increased before other resolutions are seen — unless you are in Japan where it is likely to be seen sooner. On its own technology is not the most important element, however. It is about the audience experience and the added value and it must make sense commerically for exhibitors. “At CinemaCon, we gave a hint about the technologies we are working on, like HDR, which we showcased,” explains Wim, “and we received positive feedback, confirming we are on the right track.”
Barco and BAFTA
Barco, and now Cinionic have been a technology partner with BAFTA since 2005 and the beginning of digital projection, when they installed a DP100 projector into the main auditorium, the Princess Anne at 95 Piccadilly.
As the evaluation of digital technology has developed so have the projectors installed, first with a 4K projector and now with the latest flagship 4K laser projector DP4K-20LHC projector (the biggest possible for the size of screen). Cinionic sees the relationship as a platform for them and regularly uses the venue to present to studios, projectionists and others, the relationship with BAFTA allowing Cinionic to obtain valuable feedback and lots of useful data.