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.

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sony-prior.pngThe official press release:

Meg Prior knew exactly what type of camera she needed to shoot her latest documentary project, Afghanistan: Outside the Wire. The veteran cinematographer and filmmaker needed something "small, versatile, durable, and rugged enough to withstand the heat and dust" of an Afghanistan warzone, while "always coming up with those intimate looks I wanted." She found the perfect fit in Sony's HXR-NX3.

Prior, a civilian American with no previous military background was given nearly unrestricted access to capture footage as she deployed with different military units in Afghanistan throughout production on Afghanistan: Outside the Wire. Prior was a one-woman camera crew, shooting everything herself for the project she describes as having "incredible purpose and meaning" to her, and one in which she feels accurately "captures unimaginable moments."

"I realized that we back here in the U.S. don't know what those who serve our country do on behalf of us," she said. "This film became a personal responsibility for me to try to cover the variety of missions and show the people that carry them out."

In addition to the generous access Prior received from the military, the Sony camera was equally vital for telling her story. "The equipment afforded me the ability to access and secure reliable footage that I could depend on," she said. "If I couldn't capture really good quality footage, it wouldn't have been worth the risks - number one, to [the military] to have me as a liability with them and number two, for me to feel this responsibility but never be able to convey the story."

Prior has been a Sony user for a number of years, but really became a convert during her work on Afghanistan: Outside the Wire. She began filming the piece in 2010 on Sony's HXR-NX5U, the predecessor to the HXR-NX3, which she filmed a majority of her work on. Said Prior, "At the time, I was just looking to get another NX5, but I discovered the NX3, which is an amazing camera."

Prior explained how she came to choose Sony cameras to film her biggest project to date. "I appreciated the discussions I had with different cinematographers as we discussed the equipment [I planned to bring to Afghanistan]," she said. "I actually worked with another cinematographer friend of mine, John Leonetti, who was wonderful. He is an amazing feature cinematographer and we discussed every piece in my kit. At that time, I was in a situation that when you deploy with the military there were three stipulations: you bring everything you need, you may not use anything with wheels, and you must be able to carry all of your stuff.

So it was really simple. At that time, the NX5 was the solution, and then I had had another cassette Sony camera before that, a predecessor to the NX5. This whole project has been shot on a variety of Sony cameras."

The one feature that Prior mentioned time and again for its importance is the durability of the NX3. "When I first saw Bagram [Airfield, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan], I thought it would be challenging on the equipment," she said. "The dust was almost like cake flour, if you poured it in a bowl, dipped your camera in it for a second, and pulled it out, that is what your gear could look like in a couple of minutes, given the right conditions. So, I was very concerned about the ability for my cameras to last the duration. But they proved time and again to handle it."

The NX3 also showed its durability in weather conditions that varied greatly. "Whether it was freezing cold, out during steaming hot patrols, in wind, rain, sleet, dust; I never had [the NX3] go down," she said. "From desert to high desert to air assault units, from climbing to a remote village at 9,000 feet, on a patrol that was more than six miles over rocky, moon-like conditions - the terrain was incredible and the camera never wavered."

The demanding Afghan environment and the importance of being a one-person crew made it clear to Prior that not just any camera could work to meet all of the specifications and rigors of shooting in a warzone.

"I realized early on that my opportunity to be allowed to go on a variety of missions was going to be enhanced by being a single person, occupying a single seat in their truck," she said. "I said, it's just me, if you squeeze me onto as many types of missions, that would be great. In addition, I had to be very mobile and I believe that the kit I was carrying allowed me to be. I couldn't use a backpack at times. Remember, I'm wearing body armor and a helmet, I've got a first aid kit and I'm wearing boots and I've got eye pro on and I'm carrying a compass. I had a lot of required gear that had to be worn, and because I'm a female I had to have a scarf in the event we took our helmets off, since we are in an Islamic environment. Knowing all of that, and realizing backpacks can have things stolen out of them easily, I wanted to make sure I had my equipment with me, on me at all times, as opposed to in a backpack, so I packed batteries in certain special little pockets that were worn on my body armor and that's how I made sure I had my extra battery power. SD cards as well. Everything needed to be with me at all times."

Another inherent challenge of shooting run-and-gun in a warzone like Afghanistan is having just one chance to capture a shot. Prior explained, "I'm doing run and gun. If I'm on a foot patrol, the soldiers move at a certain speed. If I didn't run ahead, stop and film them coming by, and then turn and run ahead, I'd only be filming elbows and butts, so I had to be very mobile. We are always so spoiled by the ability to block and plan shots, when we have that benefit of a scripted setting or project. It is so amazing when you become almost intuitive, and you can film somebody saying something, pan out and then something happens right in front of you that you could try to block 100 times and never get it right. You need to always be prepared, on the fly, always looking for what's happening in front of you. It's the magic of immersing yourself into what you are trying to capture."

The NX3 is also known for being able to capture high quality footage in low light environments, which was a boon for Prior. "I took it into a few rare opportunities on this trip," she said. "One was a girls' school that looks like a hollowed out abused warehouse without any electricity and broken windows. This camera captured what we needed in very dark conditions. I was rewarded with a rare opportunity, that you don't get a second take on - it has to work that time - no one is waiting for me!," she said.

A warzone with multiple terrains and fierce emotions is interesting backdrop for filming. Prior notes, "When I first got here, I wondered how you could make anything look beautiful here? Everything was loud, busy, brash, and aggressive."

But she was able to capture the human element of the troops. "When you're attempting to capture a war environment and you're trying to personalize the people in your pictures, you need to be close enough and need to be intimate and share their expression," she said. "You need to show their eyes, their hands, be close enough that you're not dependent on zoom to get there. That is when I'm looking for a clear, stable, color resonance that depicts smoothness and clarity and the camera always came up with those intimate looks I wanted."

Prior also relied on the zoom function during intense scenarios. "When you're in a combat environment, you have to be showing where the soldiers are looking and you're always concerned about spotting something they are looking for- which is enemy indicators," she said. "I was constantly zooming out at a ridge line or another vehicle or in the air, zooming at the horizon and pushing out on things so people could see what a dwelling looks like from the overhead view of a helicopter. The zoom capability on the NX3 had an additional two times, which was an amazing benefit to helping me compare where we were to where we were going or what we were worried about or to see something we weren't going to approach anytime soon. That was extremely important feature."

Overall, Prior learned a great deal about war, military practices and living abroad. She saw hardship, faced adversity and experienced loss. "People don't understand how challenging it is to walk and shoot simultaneously, and to do that for six straight hours, or be out for 10 or 13 hours on a patrol," she said. "You don't get to go back and plug in gear. Once you are outside the base, once you're outside the wire, you are dependent upon whatever you brought with you."

While it was a transformative experience for her, she is glad she was able to capture all of her experiences, using Sony's durable and portable cameras to help further the understanding and recognition of what the military does to ensure the safety of the American people and she feels privileged that she can soon share this meaningful story with the world.

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By Alex Edghill

Friday Morning Update: For the second week in a row Insurgent led all upcoming films with 117,043 tweets, almost more than the rest of the top 5 combined. With Fifty Shades Of Grey waning massively on social media after its spectacular opening Insurgent has stepped up as the clear favourite to carry the flag of domination for the next few weeks until its release. It has not dipped below 12,500 tweets at any point since last Tuesday when its last trailer dropped online. Its predecessor Divergent came in at a similar ~90k tweets the same distance before its release. The slight bump in tweets is good to see but considering that virtually all sequels to successful films get a bump in tweets by default I'm not sold on a massive opening week increase yet. Not that its backers would be disappointed with another $54 million opening per say, but with the reportedly bigger production price tag and marketing outlay it would appear they were hoping to close the gap between it and The Hunger Games franchise.  

Perhaps what was more interesting on the week was the appearance of Paper Towns at number three on the Twitter buzz list. The upcoming John Green adaptation is especially interesting since the last adaptation of his was The Fault In Our Stars which was the most talked about movie on Twitter for all of 2014. In other words, the force is innately strong with this one as it is going to appeal to the exact same audience. Buzz has been heating up as fans are clamouring for an official trailer and poster, so much so that numerous fan made offerings have popped up online. This appears to be set to follow in the footsteps of Stars and be one of the big success stories on the year.

The rest of the top 5 were made up of Focus, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, and Furious 7 despite the fact that they were all in decline from their tally last week.

Twitter Top 10 Movies for the week of February 13th to February 19th

Date Movie Tweets Rank Change
3/20/15 The Divergent Series: Insurgent 117,043 1 (-) 38.46%
2/27/15 Focus (2015) 33,707 2 (+5) -12.75%
6/05/15 Paper Towns 31,977 3 (+6) 5.22%
5/01/15 Avengers: Age of Ultron 31,133 4 (+2) -27.54%
4/03/15 Furious 7 29,571 5 (+3) -4.69%

Subscribe to Box Office for more social media insights/coverage.

Please check the methodology page for information about our Twitter project or here for historic data.

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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.

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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. 

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