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NORTH AMERICA: Weekend Estimates: 'Fifty Shades of Grey' Holds Off Newcomers to Remain #1 with $23.2M; 'McFarland, USA' Leads Openers with $11.3M; 'The DUFF' Surprises with $11.0M; 'Hot Tub Time Machine 2' Drowns with $5.8M on February 21, 2015

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Sunday Update: Universal's Fifty Shades of Grey held onto first place at the box office this weekend with an estimated $23.25 million. However, the successful romantic drama was down a massive 73 percent from last weekend's three-day debut. Initial front-loading driven by the film's pre-existing fanbase and Valentine's Day along with mixed word of mouth and poor critical reviews are all having an effect on the film. Fifty Shades of Grey held up well during the midweek, so it is likely the film will perform relatively stronger on weekdays than during the weekend going forward. In the bigger picture, Fifty Shades of Grey is still performing very well and continues to run towards the higher end of expectations with $130.15 million through ten days. That places the film a very impressive 50 percent ahead of the $86.93 million ten-day take of 2010's Valentine's Day (which fell 70 percent in its second weekend to gross $16.67 million).

Fox's Kingsman: The Secret Service took in an estimated $17.53 million to remain in second place. The Matthew Vaughn directed graphic novel adaptation starring Colin Firth was down 52 percent from last weekend. That represented a respectable second weekend hold, especially with last weekend's debut having been inflated a bit by the dual-holiday weekend. Kingsman continues to exceed expectations with a healthy $67.11 million in its first ten days of release. The film is currently running 54 percent ahead of the $43.52 million ten-day gross of 2010's Red.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water held steady in third with an estimated $15.5 million. That represented a 51 percent decline from the previous frame. While The SpongeBob Movie has been relatively front-loaded for a family film so far, the film continues to exceed expectations in a very big way with $125.17 million through 17 days. That places The SpongeBob Movie 36 percent ahead of the $92.34 million 17-day take of 2011's Rango. With no new family films entering the marketplace each of the next two weeks, The SpongeBob Movie could still stabilize going forward.

Disney's McFarland, USA led this weekend's openers with an estimated fourth place debut of $11.32M. The well received sports drama starring Kevin Costner opened on the high end of expectations. McFarland, USA opened 16 percent ahead of the $9.78 million start of last year's Draft Day.

McFarland, USA opened with $3.62 million on Friday, increased 25 percent on Saturday to gross $4.53 million and is estimated to decline 30 percent on Sunday to take in $3.16 million. That gives the film a promising estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio of 3.12 to 1. McFarland, USA also received a promising A rating on CinemaScore. The audience breakdown for the film was evenly split between genders and skewed heavily towards moviegoers over the age of 25 (70 percent).

The DUFF followed closely behind in fifth place with an estimated $11.03 million. The PG-13 comedy from CBS Films and Lionsgate exceeded pre-release expectations and was helped out this weekend by relatively high levels of online buzz. The DUFF opened 26 percent stronger than the $8.93 million start of last year's That Awkward Moment.

The DUFF opened with $4.28 million on Friday, essentially held even on Saturday with $4.26 million and is estimated to decline 42 percent on Sunday to gross $2.49 million. That places the film's estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio at 2.58 to 1. The audience breakdown for the film skewed heavily towards female moviegoers (75 percent) and moviegoers under the age of 25 (68 percent). With an encouraging A- rating on CinemaScore and no real new direct competition until Cinderella and Insurgent open in March, The DUFF has a good chance of holding up nicely going forward.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 stumbled out of the gates this weekend with a seventh place estimated debut of $5.8 million. The R-rated comedy sequel from Paramount opened below pre-release expectations and 59 percent below the $14.02 million start of 2010's Hot Tub Time Machine. Clearly Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is a sequel that audiences weren't excited about.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 opened with $2.3 million on Friday, decreased 5 percent on Saturday to take in $2.19 million and is estimated to decline 40 percent on Sunday to gross $1.31 million. That gives the film an estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio of 2.52 to 1. Going forward Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is unlikely to hold up as well as its predecessor did, especially after receiving a lackluster C- rating on CinemaScore.

Warner's American Sniper continued to have a presence at the box office with an estimated sixth place take of $9.65 million. The blockbuster Clint Eastwood directed Best Picture nominee starring Bradley Cooper was down a very solid 41 percent. American Sniper has grossed $319.61 million after 38 days of wide release and continues to march closer to becoming the highest grossing release of 2014 domestically (a mark which is currently held by The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 with $336.41 million).

Saturday Update: Universal reports that Fifty Shades of Grey easily retained first place on Friday with an estimated $8.0 million, down 74 percent from its massive opening day last week. With $114.9 million in the bank so far, the adaptation is pacing 10 percent ahead of the original Twilight and 51 percent ahead of Valentine's Day. BoxOffice projects a sophomore frame of $24.1 million, easily repeating atop the weekend box office.

Holding onto second place Friday was Fox's Kingsman: The Secret Service, off 49 percent from opening day to $5.3 million yesterday. The graphic novel pic has displayed healthy early legs thanks to positive word of mouth and, with $54.9 million totaled so far, leads Jumper by 26 percent and Kick-Ass by 95 percent through the same respective points in release. BoxOffice projects a solid $17.7 million second weekend.

Lionsgate and CBS Films report that The DUFF surprisingly led all newcomers on Friday with an estimated $4.27 million. The sleeper pic notably topped the $3.95 million opening day of last year's That Awkward Moment despite boasting less star power. The studios behind the teen-centric flick successfully generated positive word of mouth through social media outlets after pre-release screenings in select markets, often drawing comparison to the 2004 hit, Mean Girls. DUFF's 73 percent Rotten Tomatoes score and "A-" CinemaScore back that up even further. Some front-loading to Friday could be expected, so BoxOffice is conservatively projecting an $11.1 million opening weekend.

Paramount's The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water added another $4.0 million yesterday, down just 38 percent from last Friday. The sequel has earned an impressive $113.7 million domestically thus far, and its legs continue to showcase strong word of mouth among families. BoxOffice projects the flick will move back into second place for the weekend with an $18.9 million third frame.

Disney's McFarland, USA bowed to $3.62 million yesterday, in line with last year's Draft Day ($3.56 million) and Million Dollar Arm ($3.47 million). The latest Kevin Costner sports drama is performing in line with expectations, and could see healthy legs to come with positive critics' reviews (78 percent) and early audience word of mouth (86 percent). BoxOffice projects a $10.4 million weekend.

American Sniper landed just outside the top five yesterday, easing 27 percent from last Friday to $2.72 million. The film has amassed $312.7 million to-date, and looks to bring in around $9.8 million for the weekend as a whole.

Meanwhile, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 was unable to capitalize on its predecessor's goodwill. The comedy sequel opened to $2.3 million on Friday, less than half of the original's $4.85 million first day five years ago. Unfortunately, reviews (14 percent) and early word of mouth (49 percent) don't suggest the sequel will achieve anywhere near the same cult-like hit status as the first film. BoxOffice projects a disappointing $6.3 million opening weekend for the $14 million-budgeted sequel.

Check BoxOffice on Sunday for official weekend estimates from the studios.

Friday Update: Sources tells BoxOffice that Fifty Shades of Grey is headed for $25 million-$26 million during its sophomore frame, which will be more than enough to put in on top of the box office this weekend. Nobody will be surprised by such a steep drop after the film's staggering debut frame. 

None of the three newcomers this week won't crack $15 million. Hot Tub Time Machine 2 leads the bunch, and it's on pace for $12 million-$13 million. McFarland, USA should hit $10 million, while The DUFF is on pace for $8.5 million.

Check back tomorrow for updated projections and official studio numbers.

NORTH AMERICA: 'Fifty Shades of Grey' Takes $106.9M in Seven Days After Leading Thursday with $4.23M; 'Kingsman' Claims $49.6M in First Week on February 20, 2015

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By Daniel Garris

Universal's Fifty Shades of Grey took in $4.23 million on Thursday to continue to lead the daily box office. The highly anticipated erotic romantic drama was up a solid 1 percent over Wednesday's performance. After experiencing sharp daily declines on Sunday and Monday, Fifty Shades of Grey stabilized during the midweek. Fifty Shades of Grey was easily the week's top film with a seven-day start of $106.90 million. That was on the high end of the film's massive pre-release expectations and was an impressive 52 percent stronger than the $70.26 million seven-day start of 2010's Valentine's Day. Fifty Shades of Grey is widely expected to remain in first place this weekend.

Fox's Kingsman: The Secret Service held steady in second place with $2.31 million. The Matthew Vaughn directed graphic novel adaptation starring Colin Firth was up a healthy 3 percent over Wednesday. Kingsman placed in second for the week with a seven-day start of $49.58 million. The film continues to exceed pre-release expectations and is running a massive 95.5 percent ahead of the $25.37 million seven-day take of 2010's Kick-Ass.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water took in $1.93 million to remain in third. The successful 3D animated film from Paramount increased 3 percent over Wednesday and was up 26 percent over last Thursday. The SpongeBob Movie placed in third for the week with $46.54 million. That represented a 26 percent decline from the film's opening week performance and brings the film's two-week total to a stronger than expected $109.67 million.

Warner's American Sniper continued to claim fourth with $1.16 million. The Clint Eastwood directed blockbuster starring Bradley Cooper was up a strong 12 percent over Wednesday and down just 22 percent from last Thursday. American Sniper placed in fourth for the week with $22.26 million. That was down 25 percent from last week and brings the film's total gross to $309.96 million after five weeks of wide release.

Fellow Warner Bros. release Jupiter Ascending rounded out the day's unchanged top five with $0.58 million. The expensive 3D sci-fi film from The Wachowskis was down 1 percent from Wednesday and down 35 percent from last Thursday. Jupiter Ascending placed in fifth for the week with $12.74 million. The film was down 45 percent from its opening week performance and has grossed a very disappointing $35.86 million in two weeks.

A New Lobby Experience: Interview with Keith Yanke, Senior Director of Product Marketing, NEC Display Solutions on February 20, 2015

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Every time Carmike Cinemas wanted to roll out a special concessions promotion, the fourth-largest exhibition chain in North America faced a logistical challenge. The chain had to notify individual managers across its 280 theaters, and then send the appropriate materials ahead of time. With NEC's digital display boards, Carmike could make subtle but important updates-introduce a new product or change a price-seamlessly and efficiently throughout its theaters. In addition, Carmike was able to transform the concession stands in its circuit to deliver a more visually engaging presentation to its patrons. NEC's digital-display business has reached many other leading exhibitors in the United States as well, including AMC, Fridley Theatres, Santikos Theatres and Wehrenberg. 

BoxOffice spoke with NEC Display Solutions senior director of product marketing, Keith Yanke, to learn more about how the company is making an impression in the digital-signage sector of the business. 

NEC might be best known as a leader in digital projection, but the company offers exhibitors much more than that. Could you describe your product line for exhibitors?  

NEC is an industry-leading manufacturer of commercial- and professional-grade, large-format LCD displays (32"-98") that are designed for digital-signage applications. Within the exhibitor vertical, these equate to ideal products for digital menu boards, auditorium signage, electronic movie posters (both indoor and outdoor) and box office displays.We also have a special financing program to help the remaining 1,000 screens at movie theaters across America make the conversion to digital cinema. It's called "Ticket to Digital." It's an affordable monthly payment for a complete digital projector system. The Ticket to digital include the complete projector system and installation.  

The marquee, lobby cards-they're a staple of the cinema experience. How has digital signage transformed that experience for consumers?  

Consumers are now immersed in a more interactive, sense-compelling experience with Full HD movie trailers, videos of melted butter poured over a fresh bag of popcorn, and touch-screen kiosks for pre-ordered ticket printout. Digital displays also provide for a more tech-savvy look and appeal for the theater itself. The benefits for the exhibitor are numerous. These include promotion and price flexibility, compliancy, both from a corporate marketing perspective in addition to forthcoming FDA nutritional laws, advertising revenue streams, reduction in print/static sign production and distribution costs, and regional segmentation efforts.   

NEC can put on the hat of a general contractor and assist in supplying all components that are necessary for a successful deployment. This includes PCs/media players, content management software, cabling, video distribution, mounting and power suppression along with installation and logistical services. Our full turnkey approach even offers design from a content perspective (videos, images, copy writing, storyboard development).   

Are these offerings better suited for multiplexes, or can they also transform community cinemas with smaller screen counts? 

The key benefit to digital signage is that it offers scalability and control from one to thousands of screens and locations either via cloud-based or LAN/WLAN networks.   

We hear a lot about new innovations that help filmgoers get off the couch and keep coming back to the theater-from new digital projectors to luxury seating and enhanced dining options. Do you consider these NEC products to be part of this larger trend toward giving filmgoers a more valuable experience at the movies?  

Whether it is receiving your movie ticket from an interactive kiosk, reviewing up-to-date nutritional information from a digital menu board, or viewing the latest movie releases via a digital cinema projector, NEC is an integral part of the larger trend toward giving filmgoers a value-add experience.

Mobile Tech Takes Over the Multiplex on February 20, 2015

Mobile devices and start-up culture are changing the business of online ticketing in the United States.

by Daniel Loria

It's not just about beating the rush to the box office anymore. The way we buy movie tickets has been transformed by the rising popularity of smartphones, tablets, and other portable electronics. The online ticketing business has changed so much that it would be better referred to as mobile ticketing, reflecting the shifting focus of consumer behavior. Online ticketing companies Fandango and MovieTickets.com are evolving right alongside these new trends, and are now joined by upstarts who are staking claim to different segments of the business. These companies may use differing approaches and strategies in their pursuit of a portion of the ticketing market, but all of them appear to be taking notes from Silicon Valley. 

DealFlicks is one of those start-up success stories. "I went to see The King's Speech but the theater was empty, and I wondered if there was a way to sell that back inventory and have theaters make extra money and consumers get a good deal out of it," says DealFlicks co-founder and CEO Sean Wycliffe. DealFlicks was launched in 2012 as a web portal offering discount movie tickets at partner theaters. Audiences can search for a movie theater in their area and select an available title and showtime without having to enroll in any sort of membership program. Mobile tickets or print-at-home vouchers are redeemable at participating cinemas, and the service has quickly grown since its launch. DealFlicks is available at around 500 locations in the U.S. and has established partnerships with 13 of the top 15 exhibitors in the country. "We evolved to become a platform where [exhibitors] can choose the level of discount that they would want to explore," explains Wycliffe. This means exhibitors have the flexibility to include the discount level they'd like for a specific showtime and the ability to bundle concessions into a voucher. 

Mobile has become crucial to the company's business model, according to Wycliffe, because "a lot of the decision making of people purchasing through DealFlicks happens at the last minute." The DealFlicks mobile apps help consumers nab discounts whenever they feel like catching a movie. "Mobile has been making up a bigger and bigger percentage of our business. It accounts for about half of our transactions on a monthly basis, and it has been growing every single month."

Fandango.pngPaul Yanover, President of Fandango, is vocal about the strong presence that mobile occupies in today's market. Fandango's mobile apps, offering ticketing to 25,000 screens in the U.S., have already registered more than 45 million downloads. "Fandango now sells more than half of our movie tickets on mobile, and the mobile consumption of our video trailers and original series has increased significantly," he explains. "Today's consumers are often making their moviegoing decisions on the go and buying and redeeming their tickets on mobile." MovieTickets.com is seeing a similar surge from consumers, reporting a 43 percent increase in total tickets sold via mobile in 2014 as compared to 2013. 

Whereas DealFlicks can be compared to Priceline, MoviePass has been dubbed the "Netflix of movie theaters" for its all-you-can-see proposal with the relatively low price-tag of $30 to $35 a month, depending on the area. MoviePass acts as a subscription service for film enthusiasts, offering the ability to attend up to one screening a day for a monthly fee. The avid film fan is the ideal consumer to get the full value of the service; average attendance figures in the United States suggests the general population would underuse the benefits of membership. 

MoviePass had a rocky start when it first launched in 2011, as major exhibitors and studios clashed with its proposed business model, but the company turned around the negative perception and announced its first partnership with a major U.S. exhibitor earlier this year. MoviePass and AMC agreed to launch a pilot program that seamlessly connects the service to the No. 2 exhibition chain in North America. The service will be available in Boston and Denver as a pilot program, with the possibility of expanding to other cities if the partnership proves successful. The partnership will allow members in Boston and Denver to attend up to one screening a day for $35 a month, and would allow cinephiles to opt in for a premium pass (which includes the IMAX and 3D screenings) for $45 a month. Stacy Spikes, CEO of MoviePass, views the premium offering as most appealing to the key 18- to 34-year-old demographic; a big part of the appeal is a new online ticketing feature. MoviePass has traditionally worked in tandem with a GPS-supported mobile app and physical card, but the AMC partnership will allow clients to access the theater by scanning their mobile phones or retrieving tickets by swiping their cards at the desired location.

Scanners are increasingly commonplace in movie theaters across the country, where ushers simply scan digital barcodes from a ticket printed at home or a consumer's mobile phone. This is a process that has worked particularly well at airports but might not be the best fit for movie theaters. The principal drawback of this system is the requirement that exhibitors invest in scanning equipment-not so much a problem for major airports, but a significant expense for regional circuits and community-based cinemas. 

The future is likely to bring mobile ticketing solutions that do away with the bulky scanners. Fandango and MovieTickets.com are currently working on their respective scanner-free mobile tickets. "It's our key differentiator to all the other mobile experiences out there," says MovieTickets.com CEO Joel Cohen. MovieTickets.com partnered with New York City-based start-up Bytemark in bringing the V3 (visually verifiable virtual ticket) technology to cinemas. The V3 system involves secure delivery of a ticket to a user's mobile device. A theater employee would then visually validate the ticket by identifying a number of security features embedded into the digital ticket, allowing for a virtual "tear" option to act as the customer's digital ticket stub. Bytemark's V3 technology is already being used in several transit services across the U.S., and Cohen expects it to reach pilot locations very soon, while Yanover says Fandango will roll out its barcode-less ticket tests with exhibition partners in the next few months. "We expect the new mobile ticket to completely change the way tickets are redeemed," explains Cohen. "Comparing it to the popularity of print-at-home ticketing, this is much more efficient and comes at no cost to the theaters (unlike print-at-home). This solution is solid-it's great for consumers and theaters alike."

Overall, the online ticketing business is gaining more ground across the board. " It's definitely playing a bigger role in people's moviegoing experiences, and we expect mobile and online usage to accelerate with the greater number of highly-anticipated movies and major franchises this year," says Fandango's Paul Yanover. "In order to make the most of the excitement building for these upcoming releases, we have made Fandango available wherever consumers are thinking about movies, on our own multiple platforms, or on our partners' platforms, including Twitter, Google, Amazon/IMDb, AOL, MSN, Yahoo!, Apple (including iTunes, Siri and Passbook), Samsung,  Roku, and most recently, Hulu. We're working closely with exhibitors to launch new ticketing innovations, and with the studios on value-add programs for moviegoers such as gifts with purchase, bundling packages like SuperTickets, and high-end sweepstakes, all to drive more people into theaters."

"Consumer attitudes regarding mobile and online ticketing have never been stronger," agrees MovieTickets.com's Joel Cohen. "We added about 5,000MovieTickets.com.pngscreens last year, which helped us, but mobile and greater adoption of reserved seating by the theaters are driving our business higher." 

The increased presence of luxury and reserved seating in the United States has also opened up opportunities for DealFlicks, which is working on introducing dynamic and variable pricing based on reserved seating in late 2015/early 2016. This would allow DealFlicks customers to maximize their savings depending on the showtime and their desired seat. It is part of DealFlicks' focus on bringing back a sector of the population that feels priced out of the cinema. Some of their current online advertising geo-targets this specific demographic via an inventive strategy.

"We can hit people who are searching for specific movies, or we can even target people who are doing searches looking to pirate a movie," says Wycliffe. "Someone does a Google search on ‘The Hobbit' and ‘Watch Online Free,' for example, and we can target them and try to drag them back to the theater." 

Targeting consumers is a key part of the mobile-ticketing business, and Fandango has invested strongly in recent years to ensure its brand is part of the conversation. Fandango acquired Movieclips, the leading provider of movie trailers and movie-related content on Youtube, in April 2014. It followed that up by launching its own movie-discovery channel on Hulu this year, providing another major platform for its various original video series. "We want to be wherever people are thinking about and discovering movies, as well as sharing their passion with others," explains Fandango's Paul Yanover. "That includes the newest smartphones, tablets and smart TVs, and on popular social-media platforms, which are some of the most powerful ways movie fans discover and share content and opinions about new films."

On-screen advertising specialists Spotlight Cinema Networks, a company that caters to art-house and independent cinemas in the U.S., also realizes the importance of having a presence wherever conversations about cinema are taking place. That is the driving force behind the creation of CineLife, an app designed for art-house theaters and their audiences that incorporates theater listings, showtimes, trailers, filmmaker appearances, and ticket purchasing among other features. "We are thrilled to bring an app to the art-house community that encapsulates the film enthusiasts' world and drives revenue, attracts new moviegoers, and increases repeat business for our exhibitor partners. It's a win-win," says Spotlight Cinema Networks CEO Gerald Rakfeldt. 

International markets continue to perform well at the box office for Hollywood studios and have retained their allure for ticketing providers. MovieTickets.com has a presence in more than 20 countries and hasn't slowed down its interest in adding new territories. "We've done a good job maintaining our presence internationally, but there is an opportunity to expand, especially in Mexico and parts of South America," says MovieTickets.com's Joel Cohen. "We achieved a significant growth in screens domestically in 2014, and we'll grow substantially more in 2015-so we have tremendous momentum. Those gains allow us to bring some focus to the international markets as a part of our global strategy." DealFlicks also has an international expansion in its sights and is looking to reach screens in Canada and Latin America as early as this year. 

Just as advances in consumer electronics changed the strategy and direction of traditional online ticketing services, future tech trends are likely to bring about a new set of emerging players. The diversity of competitors and options can only benefit consumers and exhibitors-making it easier for customers to secure movie tickets through a variety of portals. 

The year 2015 promises to be a big one at the box office, but don't be surprised if the line for a sold-out show at your local theater seems shorter than it should. A lot of those folks might have bought their tickets well before setting foot in the cinema. 

Leaving the Living Room Behind: Luxury and Interactive Seating is More than a Trend on February 19, 2015

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by Daniel Loria

The trend is impossible to ignore. Nearly every investor presentation from North America's biggest exhibition chains highlights enhanced seating options as the best way to maintain a competitive edge in the market. Seating upgrades are quickly becoming a staple of today's exhibition world as both large circuits and local players alike compete in an arms race to enhance customer comfort. Luxury seating formed part of Marcus Theatres's $50 million investment in premium features across its circuit, a push that also included large-format screens and expanded food and beverage concepts. The company plans to continue expanding its seating options in 2015 after installing its DreamLounger premium recliners at eight of its theaters across six states this year. AMC is crediting recliner seats as a catalyst for enhancing the productivity of existing assets after average attendance in theaters with premium seating options went up by 76 percent despite a seat loss of 62 percent. The company has deployed recliner seats across 505 screens in 44 locations. Regal, the largest exhibitor in the United States, plans to have recliner seats at approximately 25 sites by the end of year.

Seating manufacturers who contributed to this story all noticed an uptick in interest toward luxury seating around the turn of the current decade. Seating Concepts is a fifteen-year veteran in luxury-seat manufacturing but only began to see more of an emphasis in this type of offering over the past three years. "The concept was popular among exhibitors already active in premium offerings, like Cinepolis and iPic, but I started noticing a more widespread appeal after AMC installed luxury seating and other players saw their success," admits Marixa Flores, cinema sales manager for Seating Concepts. Dolphin Seating had a similar experience with its premium offerings. "Our factory has been making luxury seating for the European market for many years," explains Dolphin Seating's Sam Snell. "Now that the U.S. market has become interested in luxury cinema seating over the last few years, we started focusing on the requirements of luxury seating and recliners in the U.S."

Krian Cinema is a relative newcomer to the luxury-seating scene. The company began developing seating this year after noticing that premium offerings were more than simply the latest fad. Rob Poindexter, international sales manager for Krian, points to the central role that luxury seating has taken in the exhibition world. "The reality for most theaters in the current marketplace is either do it now and keep the market share you have or let your competitor do it first and lose some of your market share to them," he says. The stress of keeping up with the competition has especially affected smaller exhibitors still recovering from the costs associated with the digital conversion. After devoting a large investment to keeping up with larger players at the projection booth, local exhibitors are now facing the challenge to upgrade their seating in order to maintain a competitive edge. Krian is marketing itself to these exhibitors with a low down payment with a per-admission-ticket revenue-share program, offering financing as low as $99 down with 50 cents per ticket sold. "Pretty soon, most theaters will be faced with a choice," continues Poindexter. "Either make these seating upgrades or be relegated to a discount-theater status."

Implementing luxury seating comes with its share of challenges for exhibitors. Marixa Flores from Seating Concepts approximates that about 60 percent of a typical auditorium space is reduced with the installation of full recliners. Richard Murphy, president of Stadium Savers, has ample experience dealing with both new constructions and retrofits for exhibitors who want to install enhanced seating alternatives. Murphy gets to the point when advising exhibitors on their options. "Luxury recliners require more horizontal space than the current ‘standard' recliners," he says. "This added space requirement will widen the established floor/platform dimension. As a result, the concrete floor/platform will need to be adjusted with additional concrete. Two important issue come to light: First, will the existing structure allow the introduction of the additional weight? And two, the widening floor/platform will be expanded, preferably with lighter-weight material. Lightweight foam is a good material for establishing the floor/platform configuration with less use of heavy concrete."

Murphy says he believes that middle-sized theaters work best in incorporating recliners, while clarifying that any size auditorium can be converted to incorporate enhanced seating. "Large theaters would be somewhat less desirable to widen because of the greater loss of seats. The mid-size theaters are the most desirable because of less total seat loss with a more intimate environment. The small theaters would be the least desirable, but can potentially be marketed as specialty screens."

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Gaylord Stanton, VP of sales at First Class Seating and a proponent of the concept, cites costs, occupancy rates, and competition as prime factors to consider before making a decision. "Only upgrade to luxury seating if you are in a competitive market," advises Stanton. "The loss of seats could have a negative effect, and the investment may be very difficult on an ROI basis."

For Stanton, luxury seating has gained popularity in U.S. auditoriums because of an ironic cyclical dynamic between the home media and theatrical markets. "For years now the home-theater market has been trying to bring the movie theater experience into the home," he says. "Now, exhibitors are bringing the comfort of home to the theaters." But the seating conversation doesn't end with rocker backs and recliners, however, as immersive and interactive seating continues expanding its presence in the United States. These options look to bring an entirely different dimension to the theatrical experience.

"The cinemas and the studios are in a constant effort to drive people to the theaters. They are battling against ever increasing home-based and mobile-based entertainment options and are constantly looking for consumer-driven enhancements and technologies to make the theater experience a destination of its own and keep people coming back, as well as drawing new people," says Alison Jamele, president of MediaMation, a leading manufacturer of 4D products. The company's Twitter hashtag goes to heart of the matter: #YouCantGetThisAtHome. "Real 4D Motion EFX theaters such as ours add a tremendous value and excitement to the moviegoing experience that enhances the visuals, audio, and story to bring people into the movie like never before."

A panel on the topic at last year's edition of ShowEast outlined the concept's mission-to stand apart from existing technology as the emerging premium format on the big screen. "Immersive cinema should involve more than just sight and sound; a true immersion comes from a multisensory experience," said Theodore Kim, SVP, head of theater development and relations, CJ 4Dplex Americas. The company has a strong international presence in key markets like Japan, Russia, and Mexico.

Angela Killoren, senior VP of marketing at CJ E&M America, can remember when she started noticing increased interest for the format in the United States. "2013 was the first year we had a booth at CinemaCon," she recalls. "I think it helped to have a booth sitting next to a lot of the very large companies that work with exhibitors around the world, and it was when our partnership in Latin America with Cinépolis was fairly advanced. Sometimes what's happening in Asia can seem quite foreign and look like it might not translate directly to U.S. audiences, and perhaps considering that Latin America is closer geographically and maybe culturally, it started seeming more tangible."

The format's overall success in Latin America can be considered the spark that led to its introduction to the U.S. market. "A story we love to tell is one of our Latin American customers that signed on for three theaters to be installed over the next 18- to 24-month period," recalls MediaMation's Alison Jamele. "One month after the opening of their first theater, they called us up and ordered four more right away!"

The reception north of the border has been just as positive. Enhanced seating alternatives form an important part of leading Canadian exhibitor Cineplex's commitment to premium offerings. "More than 40 percent of our box office revenue is derived from premium tickets, more than double our U.S. peers," says Pat Marshall, the company's VP of communications and investor relations. "Premium charges range from three dollars for 3D premiums to as much as 12 dollars for VIP Cinemas, depending on the day of the week. Guests really enjoy the variety of options we offer and the varying amenities that go along with them. Reserved seating has been a big hit in Canada."

Among their premium offerings, Cineplex operates 11 VIP cinemas across Canada with seven additional locations scheduled to open by the end of 2016. Immersive and interactive seating is also part of Cineplex's strategy, with 21 theaters featuring D-Box MFX seats. The companies recently signed an agreement to add D-Box to 20 additional Cineplex locations.

Moving Image Technology is preparing to start shipping their new immersive-seating product, Cine-Sation, early in the first quarter of 2015. MiT originally approached talks with Korean-based company Acouve a little over a year ago to consider the possibility of a distribution deal. "We wanted to take it a step further as soon as we saw the technology and its advantages. We started positioning ourselves to do more than just distribution," recounts Joe Delgado, executive VP of sales and marketing at the company. "Because the product was developed in Korea, it needed productizing, and by that we mean for the Americas you needed to automate it. We also needed an American chair, a physical chair. The Korean chairs tended to run on the narrow side, cup holders were a bit smaller. Those were the things we started to discuss, negotiate, and implement. We automated the system and then went on to a sturdier processing platform. It runs off a processor that takes the time code from the DCP file, and that's where the effects come from."

When it came to manufacturing a chair, MiT went with the experience of Irwin Seating Company to design the physical chair for Cine-Sation. "For me it was pretty simple: the criteria had to meet certain benchmarks," says Delgado. "A, logistically, we liked the fact they were in the middle of the country, that part just made sense. B, I've known [Irwin] forever, I've known the company for about 25 years. And C, as one of the leading seating manufacturers in the world, we knew that they could handle the engineering involved. There had to be a ton of back and forth on the engineering side to get the chair to accept and transmit the effect correctly. [Irwin] met all those criteria, so it was a pretty easy decision for us to make."

TremorFX is another company that has called upon seating manufacturers to help complement the physical design of their product. "One of the things that sets TremorFX apart is its lower cost for theaters," says Joe Sorenson, CEO of RedSeat Entertainment. "The price for tickets is set and controlled by the theaters, meaning there's no revenue sharing with TremorFX's parent company, RedSeat Entertainment. TremorFX chairs are easily installed and require low voltage, and we've partnered with some of the leading theater-seat providers to provide premium seating and maximum comfort for consumers. TremorFX has a patented processing technology that allows chairs to respond in real time, meaning the technology works with any movie the day it's released. There's no programming required, and the technology also works with live events and other media.

"We have worked to make retrofitting a theater with TremorFX chairs as simple as possible," Sorenson continues. "The voltage requirements are relatively low (one circuit per 10 chairs), and from there the only requirement is to run a data cable (cat5) from the projection room that connects to the electronics mounted on a riser behind the chairs. TremorFX chairs are also floor-mounted so they are easily installed the same as any other theater seats."

Dolphin Seating offers an intermediary solution for theaters that want to take a more cautious step into the expenses associated with interactive seating. The company's VIB product vibrates from the audio hooked up into the sound system and can be added to any Dolphin Seat model for $200. While the affordability of implementing interactive seating in a theater varies by auditorium size and product type, there appears to be few arguments from exhibitors who have embraced the format. "What we're seeing is that it's driving higher occupancy through the customers' interest in the format, and the surcharge is obviously driving higher revenues," says Angela Killoren. Whether the seat rocks back, reclines, or vibrates, it looks as if the focus on seating will continue to surge in the exhibition market in the coming years.

 


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