Cinema is all about creating a stunning sound and vision experience, so AV has a lot to offer. Covid has put the brakes on investment, but the great outdoors may provide fresh opportunities, as Paul Bray discovers.
AV has wrought huge changes in cinema over the last decade, with digital distribution replacing film and breathtaking advances in the audience experience. Before the Covid crisis, cinema was the leading AV sector in terms of expansion, according to IOTA.
“There’s always significant innovation in sound, picture and seating in cinema, with immersive Dolby Atmos sound and Dolby Screen, IMAX, and laser digital or LED projection,” says Rob Arthur, senior consultant at cinema consultancy, The Big Picture. “Those are the most talked about areas which have significantly enhanced the quality of the cinema offer. But major advancements in seating, even incorporating additional built-in sound (Ferco), have added greatly to the experience. Add to that Screen X, 4DX and D-Box for extra sensory cinema, and it’s a dynamic market.”
“Increasingly operators are aiming to create a super-immersive experience,” explains Chris Welsh, CEO of Saturn Visual Solutions. “Some are introducing dedicated facilities such as 4D cinema experiences with effects like water, wind, scent, strobe lighting and moving seats, or 270-degree projection screens. Others are refining all screens through improved seating or using directional sound.”
Home cinema upgrades
Improvements in home cinema have been a major spur, according to Jérôme Michel, sales director at MAG Cinema. “Now that TV and home cinema are so technologically advanced, with HDR and 8K content, cinemas must invest a lot of money in new technology to compete.”
But there is more to cinema than what happens in the auditorium. “Cinemas have changed dramatically in the past ten to fifteen years,” says Mark Mayfield, director of global cinema marketing at QSC. “The economics of operating a movie theatre have forced operators to seek new revenue sources beyond the usual ticket sales, concessions and on-screen advertising. Many are reinventing themselves as ‘entertainment centres’ and renting out their sites for other events and content programming. This has dramatically expanded the use of AV technology within the cinema complex. Background and foreground business music systems are installed in common areas, cafes, bowling lanes and gaming areas. Even the concession stand has been updated, replacing static pricing boards with dynamic digital signage, and traditional posters are being replaced by networked digital signage.”
“Many operators are starting to use their available space more effectively to enhance the cinema-going experience or introduce new revenue streams,” adds Welsh. “This can be through introducing new foyer facilities, for example providing virtual reality pods where customers can feel part of the action. Others are refurbishing corridors and foyers and introducing digital signage, and LED lighting on ceilings, to make the building a more immersive and exciting experience.”
Digital signage can be employed throughout a venue, from drumming up excitement before the main event to promoting loyalty deals at the box office or the chef’s special in the cafe.
With dynamic signage, different zones can be created for different types of cinema-goer, says Welsh. “Alternatively, intelligent signage can be used, whereby customers leaving one showing can be shown trailers of a similar genre to the movie they’ve just watched. We’ve worked with one operator on using touch screen digital signage to show different variations of trailers for the same film and track which are most successful, so the information can be sold back to film production companies.”
“Realtime content synchronisation allows multiple displays to show a single piece of media giving the illusion of the content wrapping over several displays of various shapes and sizes,” adds Stephanie Scott, head of marketing at Tripleplay and Onelan. “A single content management system can seamlessly push content to, and manage the complex combination of, digital signage players and systems-on-chip across a network of almost a hundred screens.”
“Outdoor advertising is often managed with LED screens or LFD totems, either in the shopping centre close to the cinema or outside the cinema entrance,” says Mark Kendall, EMEA cinema business development manager at NEC Display Solutions. “Mostly they’ll show posters or small clips of the latest films, but in some cases they also advertise concessions, combos or cinema loyalty schemes. In recent weeks they’ve also been used to explain Covid-related safety procedures.”
The enforced closures during the Covid crisis, and now the need to maintain social distancing, have naturally hit the cinema sector hard. “Before Covid-19, cinema was a nice and growing market in different regions in the world, especially Saudi Arabia, Asia, the UK, France and the US,” says Michel. “But for the moment, nobody knows (what will happen) as Covid-19 is strongly affecting the market.”Kendall believes the market will ultimately bounce back, but fears that AV investment may not return to pre-Covid levels until the end of 2021…