New Technology What Exhibitors Say - ICTA New Technology What Exhibitors Say - ICTA

New Technology What Exhibitors Say

February 25, 2020

Approved for All Audiences  – New Technologies Must Provide a Return, Exhibitors Confirmed  

 Joe DeMeo, Sales Director for Cinionic, convened an impress roster of exhibitors to discuss new technologies that are improving the customer experience. These included Jon Kidder, Director of Cinema Technology, National Amusements Inc. (NAI); Mark Louis, Sr. Director of Presentation, Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas; Bill Menke, SVP, Digital Projection & Sound, Marcus Theatres, and Scott Barden, Regional Director of Digital Operations with Malco Theaters.

Mark Louis said Alamo Drafthouse begin with a big differentiator, as one of the few dine-in theatre chains, but as time progressed, more chains have incorporated kitchen-to-seat food offerings. Primarily based with screens in Texas, Alamo is growing another 14 screens across the USA over 20-2021. To stay unique, different themes for the circuits’ bars and lobbies are de-rigueur, while maintaining the overall brand standards. “One of my goals is reducing distractions, which can be a problem with servers but we have spent a lot of time and money training them not to distract from the presentation,” said Mark. “Another differentiator is the myriad titles we show, with Comscore recently stating that Alamo showed a thousand more titles over a year than our closest competing exhibitor.”

Bill Menke said he focuses on investigating and delivering alternative content, new technologies and generally liaising with projection and audio gear manufacturers. Acquisitions and new expansion are hallmarks of Marcus Theatres’ 85-year history, with the circuit growing from 64 locations to 91 locations and from 684 screens to 1106 screens in 17 states, in just three years. Another differentiator is the preparation and serving of fresh foods – one of the reasons for the acquisition of Movie Tavern chain – from concessions and menu items available for pick-up, to a casual lobby, lounge and in-theatre dining experience. “We are more than a theatre; we aim to be entertainment destinations, and that will include lots of alternative content in our business model, going forward” said Menke.

Jon Kidder said that the private company that is National Amusements has been around since 1959 and has grown to 900 screens across the US northeast, UK, Brazil and Argentina.

Scott Barden of Malco Theaters says the circuit has 372 screens in 36 sites in five states, and operates bowling facilities as well. “We’ve kept on the current edge of cinema technology from back in the film days to now, with IMAX and Premium-Large Format (PLF) screens increasing as well,” said Barden.

PLF is a diverse term, noted DeMeo, and he asked panelists, beginning with Kidder, how they define the PLF experience and what standards are necessary.

“Our PLF is Showcase XPlus, with the first venue established in 2013 in Rio di Janerio, and XPlus screens are never smaller than 50 ft. But it’s an evolving format, witness our Showcase XPlus-CGS Enlightened format debuting in Boston in November 2019, using a Cinionic Giant Screen (CGS) and Barco laser projector, with high brightness, along with incorporating Dolby Atmos sound,” said Kidder.

Menke noted that Marcus has SuperScreen DLX and UltraScreen DLX auditoriums, both featuring premium large format (PLF) screens, with the UltraScreen being the largest, 65 ft. or larger. “DLX further differentiates itself with Dolby sound, heated lounger seating – which few competitors do in the markets we’re in,” said Menke. Silence from outside the auditoriums is important so Marcus insulates the lobbies well and inside uses Dolby Atmos in its 115-plus PLF auditoriums. DLX signage is very important, as a form of marketing and as well we operate three IMAX theatres. “By the way, our venues that have DreamLounger recliner seating are sell-outs and the overflow demand in those complexes increased our business overall,” said Menke. Marcus is also retrofitting all its screens with laser-illuminated projectors going forward.

Scott says its PLF is branded as MXT (for Malco Extreme Theatre) and with those “we incorporated Dolby Atmos sound, laser projectors, screen sizes up to 74 ft. as well as acoustical panels with LED lighting, to really wow the audience,” as well as operating three IMAX theatres.

Louis said that when first brainstorming a PLF brand, he asked Alamo Drafthouse’s CEO what he wanted it called, and was told “I don’t care…as long as it doesn’t have an X in it,” sparking an appreciative murmur from the ICTA crowd. “So we settled on The Big Show and to differentiate with service, so we had important decisions to make and felt it necessary to justify an up charge with something impactful” and so Alamo went with premium-quality, high-gain curved screens that are at least 66 ft wide. “Obviously we wanted immersive sound and the current standard is Dolby Atmos, although we might consider others, but bottom line, we needed to find differentiators.”

DeMeo asked panelists what new technology, or ones that don’t even exist yet, excited them and would support the best experiences for ticket buyers?

First up was Menke who said that any new builds would include laser projection technology and noted several new openings for Marcus, and how to put together distribution systems within our venues that facilitate alternate-content shows, to multiple screens with different content players – whether DCPs or streaming formats,” said Menke. “We’re content driven, not food and beverage driven, so we’ve been working with Bright Star Systems Corp. on a system to send one signal into multiple screens, so we can fill our seating capacity using popular concerts or sporting events.”

Kidder noted that National Amusements was upgrading its technology to achieve better transfer times and all-laser projection, “particularly because of the higher electrical efficiency of lasers over xenon-bulb projectors.” And Barden of Malco made the adoption of laser projectors for PLFs moving forward a unanimous choice among panelists.

“Looking at new technology, I always ask if this technology is going to add to Alamo’s movie-going experience, or could it be a distraction,” noted Louis. “Laser projection, like digital projection over film, will help us maintain quality presentations, easier than with xenon, as the lamp – with its flicker – is eliminated.”

DeMeo then went to the audience for questions and the first one asked if PLFs should include motion-seats and the like, besides projection and sound. Louis wryly replied that the shaking seats didn’t fit Alamo’s beer and food services persona, but the addition of D-BOX seating might enhance those auditoriums showing live sports and other alternate uses.

Menke chimed in, saying that lounge seating is a number one selling point when Marcus renovates, as it makes for an immediate attendance growth when opened. “We do complete face-lifts, with new carpets, walls, signage as well as the recliners, and we’re pleased with our D-BOX installs as well.” Menke noted that 3D glasses are not conducive to in-seat eating and drinking. Studios should step up the production of good 3D movies that deliver a wow-factor, and then it might take off, he noted.

Is there a sweet spot for screen sizes, since larger takes up more room, asked an attendee?

Louis noted that having room for recliners and the servers moving about them dictates the ratios and auditorium screen sizes. “Done right, even in an auditorium with a small screen, one strives to give the audience – viewer the impression that they are looking at a big screen,” said Louis.

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