Live/online event. Photo by Jason Rost on Unsplash

The importance of venue to the online world

– opinion by Emily Ng, Mediamation Inc.

Emily Ng

Consumers are seeing an expanding content selection at home across the spectrum of entertainment including movies, music, and gaming. Through streaming platforms like Netflix, Spotify and more recently within the gaming sector (Google Stadia, xCloud, etc), content owners can promote their IP to consumers from the comfort of their couch.

At every trade show, both for the cinema and attraction sectors, there are forums for discussion about the imminent competition from home entertainment. Leading industry veterans are acknowledging the impending disruption to the out of home leisure industry, similar to the way online shopping had a huge impact on the bricks and mortar retail space. Will home entertainment platforms threaten the future of cinemas and the attraction sector?

The cinema industry has been investing in revamping the theatrical experience, ranging from immersive formats to luxury recliner chairs. Within the attraction industry, IP owners are also investing in immersive experiences to amplify their IP, with two prime examples being the War of the World Immersive Experience and Stranger Things Immersive Experience.

As venue operators look for new ways to entice consumers to leave the comfort of their own home, streaming platforms continue to invest billions of dollars in content to draw more subscribers. One may argue that the two competing entertainment platforms: online versus offline will mirror that of the retail industry. However, the data is showing that consumers that stream are more likely to also go to the cinema. There is a proven, positive statistical correlation between cinema-going and at-home viewing.  Consumers that go to cinemas are also likely to be streamers just like people who go to football matches are the same people that watch them on TV.

With this perspective, can we argue that cinemas and entertainment venues help amplify IP that will only help home entertainment streaming platforms?

Twenty years ago, with the boom of the DVD market, home entertainment was on the rise. However, even then, film economics meant that any straight to DVD film did not enjoy the marketing amplification that theatrical distribution creates. This meant any straight to DVD film will almost never outperform the films that had the credibility and marketing push of a film that had been shown in the cinema. This has not changed since the rise of the streaming platforms.

In the music industry, as streaming took over and the CD became an obsolete technology, live performances, and shared experiences become a booming sector. Touring by music artists has become a focus for any performer as fandom community engagement is key to ensure the crowd continues to enjoy magical real moments that cement happy memories (and the best way for artists to earn money from their content).

Fandom is a powerful emotion. It allows a sense of comradeship among people through the love of a common experience. This could be a song, a movie or a game. We see the most introverted young crowd turn up for massive eSport events. The profile of such events attracts awareness of the scale of fandom for the gaming industry.

Venue operators in the cinema and attraction industry, despite the rise in the home entertainment streaming platforms, continue to grow as a sector. In the last five years, we saw continued growth in the cinema sector and the attraction sector. The “You can’t get this at home” investment resulted in better quality cinemas and better use of AR/VR technology in attractions.

As the world continues to discuss the hype of streaming platforms, content acquisition and investment of Netflix, Apple TV, etc. will allow for better quality straight to home viewing content. However, just like Roma and The Irishman, the theatrical release of a film allows the celebration of great content on the big screen. The “Strangers Things Immersive Experience” proved that there is value in engaging fans in off-line venues.

Cinemas are community hubs where film fans can go and celebrate an entertainment format that they enjoy. Cinema operators, not only provide the “You can’t get this at home” experience, they also provide a platform for people to enjoy the film together with other fans. Fandom engagement is the key proposition to the big screen experience. We want to watch our favourite film in the best surround sound and the biggest screen with a group of people sharing the same experience. When we enjoyed the film, we want to tell our friends and recruit them as fans too. Home entertainment streaming platforms can provide access to a wide range of content in the comfort of people’s homes or during a boring commute. However, cinemas are where fandom amplification can happen.

The retail world continues to move towards experiential retailtainment: from offering breakfast at Tiffany’s to building an indoor skatepark by VANS. Retail brands are understanding that the consumer transaction is not sufficient to sustain its brand imprint. The celebration of brands through venue engagement of fans is an important part of growing a consumer retail brand. The world of digital entertainment is no different. Whether it is music, movies or games, the brands with content IP get a wider reach and deeper engagement if fans have places to go and celebrate them.

It is important that during this COVID-19 crisis, where venues have to shut to protect communities, we continue to acknowledge that venue operators for the cinema and attraction industry are pillars that hold together this fandom engagement. While streaming platforms grow in all areas of home entertainment, we will see more and more IP creators appreciate that the offline venues offer a real-life engagement that celebrates their work. Perhaps, it is not too bold to predict that in the post COVID19 future, a symbiotic relationship between the offline venue entertainment world and online streaming platform will blossom.

Emily Ng is SVP Strategic Business Development for Mediamation Inc and Arts Alliance Media Ltd. Mediamation Inc is a 4D cinema pioneer, with over 350 installed MX4D screens worldwide while Arts Alliance Media is leading cinema technology software company with software touching 40,000 screens worldwide.

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