The motion picture industry convenes April 22-26 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for the sixth edition of CinemaCon. Vegas has always struck me as the perfect place for the National Association of Theatre Owners to holds its annual convention because the movie business itself is a gamble: for every movie that wins big there are too many others that don’t. Meanwhile, in a world of ever-increasing competition, exhibitors have to find enough steady customers to maintain and, ideally, grow their business. Then there is technology. Today most of the movie theatres in the world operate on a digital platform, which means that a Pandora’s box of technology enhancements are there for the taking. There are a wide range of choices that can boost movie theatre attendance, productivity and profitability. But which ones are right for your theatre? Choosing the right technology and, paying for it, is the challenge. Success requires understanding the opportunities.
The backdrop of all of this is that the industry is experiencing a second year of disappointing box office returns. There are many reasons for this, which don’t need to be belabored here, and only the most cynical among us thinks the trend will not reverse itself. Good movies bring big pay offs and the next big hit opens this Friday.
Or so the thinking goes.
The risks of the business have not stopped exhibition from growing, and at a rapid pace, mainly in China and South America. One industry expert I spoke with estimates that there are now 175,000 movie theatres worldwide. He predicted that number will grow to 200,000.
Meanwhile, the industry is going through a period of consolidation of both exhibitors and the technology companies that supply them. It seems reasonable to suggest that we haven’t seen the last of that.
Finally, there is the ongoing challenge of the various streaming services, especially Amazon and Netflix. The old guard in Hollywood and around the world has made it clear that neither of them is welcome. But how long can that last, given that Hollywood continues to make fewer films each year and that most of those films are increasingly geared toward the international audience?
What happens next?
Would anyone be surprised if Netflix or Amazon bought a theatre chain in the coming months? Would it be a big surprise if they both did? What if they both choose not to become traditional exhibitors? Could that be even worse news for the existing motion picture distribution-exhibition chain?
Time will tell. Some of these questions may be answered during CinemaCon. One thing seems certain: if the five previous editions are any indication, there will be surprises during the week. Many of them will be in the exhibit halls and suites where new technology companies show up every year.
What follows is an overview of the technology we know will be on display at the show. And, for the sixth year in a row, Digital Cinema Report will present Catalyst Awards to what we believe is the best new technology introduced at CinemaCon.
Samsung and Sony made news last year with their LED Cinema Screens. Both have made advances and both will be back this year. But laser projectors are becoming a staple in exhibition and that will be the case for the foreseeable future.
One highlight of Barco’s exhibit will be its new Smart Laser High Contrast projectors that the company says are highly efficient and cost-effective, overcoming the typical challenges associated with creating high-contrast movie images, especially for smaller screens. Barco developed these new laser models based on market research indicating that exhibitors wanted to offer patrons rich, immersive cinema entertainment in every theatre, not just their largest or premium large format auditoriums.
Never-before-seen in this footprint, the DP4K-13BLPHC is ideally suited to small- to mid-size screens while the DP4K-18BLPHC is designed for mid-size screens. Both models will be available for shipping beginning in April.
All Smart Laser projectors also have the option of Barco SmartCare – a 10-year light output guarantee ensuring a decade of worry-free operation. With the addition of these high-contrast, laser projectors, Barco unequivocally offers the widest portfolio of laser projectors (18 models) to offer the perfect match for every screen.
The NEC Display NC3541L digital cinema projector provides customers with the best projection technology in its class thanks to its low total cost of ownership and innovative RB laser technology delivering unsurpassed image quality. As the latest DCI compliant RB Laser DLP cinema projector in the industry, NEC's NC3541L is designed for auditoriums equipped with screens up to 105 feet wide. With precise 4K resolution, the projector captivates audiences with excellent image quality to create an immersive movie experience. Its high brightness output of 35,000 lumens creates spectacular images and the 3-D capabilities will take theaters into the next generation of cinema and give operators a competitive edge. The NC3541L is easy to operate, user-friendly and requires minimal maintenance. Cinema operators will enjoy an overall lower cost of ownership with up to 30,000 hours of lifetime keeping costs to a minimum while delivering the best cinema experience for moviegoers.
Most theatres have invested significantly in audio and that trend seems likely to continue.
Dolby has announced an upgraded line of multichannel amplifiers that allows users to replace up to 16 stereo amplifiers, while saving space, reducing heat and lowering overall costs. Available in either 16, 24 or 32 channel configurations, with the 16 channel configuration now available with enhanced power handling for lower impedance loudspeakers, the changes allow the amplifier to work in traditional 5.1/7.1 multichannel audio rooms as well as continuing to provide amplification for Dolby Atmos surround channels and screen channels.
At CinemaCon, the company is demonstrating the latest in SLS cinema surround speakers, screen channel modules, line arrays and subwoofers. Additionally, Dolby is displaying the MA460AS high-power two-way loudspeakers. These provide pan, tilt, and rotation capabilities for larger cinemas and auditoriums, provides an asymmetrical dispersion pattern for more uniform coverage in all seating locations across the auditorium, and are housed in a spherical-shaped molded enclosure that enables quick installation and easy three-axis aiming for fulfilling Dolby Atmos aiming configurations.
Dolby Atmos has become the preferred choice for next generation sound in the cinema and has been embraced by major studios, directors, and exhibitors around the world. Currently, more than 3,200 Dolby Atmos enabled cinema screens have been installed globally, and over 850 titles have been mixed in Dolby Atmos. Dolby Cinema, which features Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, has more than 360 Dolby Cinema sites installed or committed to across the globe with more than 130 titles released or announced, to date.
Dolby offers a full range of audio, imaging, accessibility and content management solutions designed to give audiences the most spectacular, fully immersive cinema experience available to date. The Dolby IMS3000 Integrated Media Server coupled with the multichannel amplifier and SLS series offer a complete, integrated solution from 5.1 to Dolby Atmos, regardless of the size of an auditorium.
Theatre Management Systems
Arts Alliance Media will be basking in the glow of the news of a big sale to Cinépolis. AAM’s Screenwriter theatre management system and Producer Enterprise TMS software are being deployed in all 273 of Cinépolis’ screens, which span 51 sites across India.
Producer is designed to control and monitor the status of all the sites in a circuit, displaying playback details in real-time and highlighting any upcoming issues for proactive resolution. Content can be managed remotely and pre-show packs of ads and trailers built from head office- saving staff time at sites and reducing the possibility of human error.
Screenwriter acts as a central hub capable of monitoring and controlling hardware, playback, content, and KDMs from a single interface, it presents exhibitors with the opportunity to streamline their processes and automate their day-to-day.
This will be the first CinemaCon for Patrick Foley as AAM’s new CEO.
GDC Technology will unveil Cinema Automation CA2.0, which the company says is the first-ever centralized solution to automatically manage content storage and playback, show scheduling, power supply and screening quality. CA2.0 leverages machine intelligence to revolutionize cinema management for improved efficiency, enhanced reliability and reduced human intervention, all made possible due to what GDC calls three breakthroughs:
SCL-2000 Centralized Storage Playback Solution
Automatic Content Management and Show Playlist Generation
Intelligent Cinema Equipment Management
Also on display will be the GDC SR-1000 Standalone IMB, the company’s sixth-generation DCI compliant digital cinema media server designed for near-zero maintenance and minimal total cost of ownership. Key benefits include:
CineCache (built-in cache memory), content playback can be performed without the need of local HDD storage
Ultra Storage technology that enables the playback of over 1,000 movies when combined with Cinema Automation CA2.0
Seamless integration with series 1, 2 and 3 projectors including Barco, Christie and NEC
There is probably no technology that has attracted more attention in recent years than immersive seats.
CJ 4DPlex, one of the leaders in that sector, is launching 4DX with ScreenX to create what the company says is the next revolution of immersive cinema. The concept is a combination of the 4DX and ScreenX cinema formats. In other news, CJ 4DPlex is also introducing 4DX VR Cinema. Both concepts will be showcased in the U.S. for the first time at CinemaCon.
4DX VR (virtual reality) Cinema offers VR-exclusive feature films, short films, promotional movie trailers, games and other entertainment content at 4DX theatre auditoriums. VR will be installed in movie theatres, with head-mounted device packages available as an add-on option for any 4DX auditorium.
Event Cinema & Pre-Shows
Too few exhibitors have taken full advantage of the opportunities that event cinema offers. Some of this can be attributed to the restrictions of various virtual print fee agreements. But as those continue to expire and as now kinds of event cinema are offered, that is certain to change.
Similarly, pre-show entertainment has been long overdue for improvement and there are signs that is happening.
Industry leader National CineMedia is pioneering interactive augmented reality gaming in theatres this spring with the launch of Noovie ARcade, a companion app to NCM’s Noovie pre-show and Lobby Entertainment Network. Noovie ARcade is available in the iOS and Android app stores. NCM expects it to be rolled out nationwide this spring on over 20,600 screens in 1,700 theatres across the country including AMC, Cinemark, Regal Entertainment Group, and 49 other regional and local theatre chains.
To play, audiences only need to download the app and arrive at their local Noovie theatre early to catch the Noovie pre-show, which will prompt them to take out their phone when it’s time to play. Then, the big screen and other triggers around the lobby will unlock larger-than-life games enabled by patrons aiming their cell phone.
CinemaCon audiences will get the first chance to download the Noovie ARcade app and play NCM’s Noovie Arcade augmented reality games in the pre-show before the National Association of Theatre Operator’s State of the Industry presentation in the Colosseum on Tuesday before it launches in theaters nationwide that Friday, April 27 as part of NCM’s Noovie pre-show.
At CinemaCon, digital content distribution and protection provider Nagra, a Kudelski Group company, will unveil myCinema, which it calls “a ground-breaking service designed to transform the cinema experience.”
“We are partnering with theater owners that are looking forward to growing their audience and maximizing venue utilization. As an Internet platform, myCinema enables diversified and flexible programming,” said André Kudelski, chairman of the board and chief executive officer, Kudelski Group. “Thanks to its AI-based analytics, myCinema identifies the unique fandoms active in a cinema’s local community and recommends targeted content choices. myCinema also features an app-based loyalty program tailored for each local cinema that allows consumers to express their programming wishes. Another key benefit is that myCinema significantly enhances image and sound quality, which are critical to drive people to the theatres.”
“Content creators will find in myCinema an internet platform that connects their valued creations to any theatre screen in a cost competitive way. This is a dramatic shift in the content distribution model, allowing theaters to screen a wide variety of content, including national interest or niche, recent or vintage and recorded or live,” Kudelski, added.
Screen manufacturers continue to keep pace with changes in projector technology and theatre design. Evidence of that will be on display.
Harkness Screens has confirmed that the show’s auditorium in the Colosseum at Caesars Palace will feature an 18.2-meter by 7.85-meter (71-feet by 30.25-feet) Harkness Clarus XC 170 screen to showcase both 2D and 3D content from major distributors. This is the fifth consecutive year that Harkness has supplied the screens for CinemaCon.
Designed to work with all polarized 3D systems and regarded as the screen of choice for polarized laser 3D presentation due to its speckle reduction properties, Clarus XC screens create visibly deeper 3D content, which draws in the audience creating a more captivating viewing experience. A whiter look under projection mean that colors look visibly richer and more accurate both in 2D and 3D resulting in a more defined, sharper and crisper picture.
“We’re delighted to continue the long association with Cinemacon providing our Clarus XC technology for the fifth time to the Colosseum,” said Richard Mitchell, vice president global marketing and commercial development at Harkness Screens. Each year Mitch (Neuhauser) and his incredible team along with Boston Light and Sound transform the Colosseum into one of the best cinema auditoria in the world creating a truly magnificent environment for major Hollywood studios and manufacturers to showcase the best of cinema. We’re very honored to see our products performing such an important part in this.”
Severtson Screens will debut its enhanced SēVision 3D GX-WA projection screen coating at the show.
“Our enhanced SēVision 3D GX-WA projection screen coating is a brilliant example of Severtson Screens’ continued quest for quality, improvement, and innovation,” saod Toby Severtson, president and CEO of Severtson Corp. “The SēVision 3D GX-WA coating provides the benefits of the standard SēVision 3D GX coating, but offers increased uniformity and brightness typically seen more often on 2D white screens. It is also engineered specifically to increase the viewing angle over standard silver screens while also reducing hotspotting.”