Over the next decade, exhibitors will try innovative solutions to bring back movie audiences. Variety compiled the top 5 expert opinions that gauge the challenges and opportunities facing theatrical exhibition.
Differentiation: The largest obstacle facing exhibitors is the need to differentiate themselves from one another. Recently theaters have been taken up-market, with advance ticket sales, reserved seating, alcohol and more. It comes down to giving "more value back to the customer," says Stuart Bowling, senior worldwide technology marketing manager for Dolby Laboratories. Cinebarre, Cinepolis and iPic Theaters, among others, have launched such premium and upscale models.
"It won't do it anymore to have a big screen and have the volume cranked up," says Jeff Martens, director of operations at Cinebarre. His chain is luring return customers by pairing high definition sound and picture with amenities like restaurant-style wait staff delivering food and drinks to patrons in their seats, says Martens.
Upgrading Presentation: Exhibitors will also have to improve the visual experience at their theaters. Such upgrades have become more complex as d-cinema has replaced 35mm prints and the industry has introduced 4K, digital 3D, new sound systems like Dolby Atmos, and high frame rates, all of which can require new hardware.
One innovation shown at ShowEast promises to address issues that have plagued 3D: laser light for movie projectors. Laser projection "has the potential to be a bit of a game changer in visual experience," says Matt Cuson, cinema market segment senior director of marketing at Dolby Laboratories. It promises to increase picture quality and brightness, and so improve the dim images and muddy colors many critics have complained about with 3D.
New technologies including "3D projection solutions [and] those capable of showing high frame rate content … can leverage the investments of the past few years in ways that can turn into new revenue streams," says Mike Esch, senior director of product development at Christie Digital Systems USA.
Affordability: However, all these solutions come at a price, and exhibs must keep the cost of a night at the movies reasonable or risk driving auds away.
Technology costs are ramping up, and even food prices are rising. but "not crushing [patrons] on the ticket prices" is key to filling the seats, says Martens.
Diversification: Diversifying on-screen offerings, say experts, could spark growth in untapped audiences. With d-cinema systems, theaters can show everything from opera, ballet and Broadway to sporting events and rock concerts to draw crowds, especially on off-days.
Martens adds thinking of new, creative content ideas, like developing relationships with YouTube and other online content producers will keep exhibitors current.
Flexibility and adaptability are key for exhibitors in the next decade, whether it's adjusting to new content or adopting new projection and audio technology to keep up with Hollywood.
Coping with Competition: Video streaming in all forms, including video on demand, Netflix and YouTube, and advanced in-home technology threaten exhibitors, as they keep customers at home for budget-friendly movie nights.
Esch adds "Soon the average moviegoer will have better resolution in their home-entertainment centers and standalone TVs than what many exhibitors have, including 4K."
As studios experiment with shortening the window between a movie's release and its availability on video streaming sources, exhibitors worry that it could put second-run movie theaters out of business. John Carey, VP of worldwide sales for D-Box, says the National Assn. of Theater Owners (NATO) is working with "studios to try and encourage them to protect that window so that theaters continue to grow and be successful in this business."