I tend to hear a lot of things at work. Rumors, gossip, fact, fiction, praise, and complaints. But I just had a whole bunch of new information about the possible future of the theatre industry shoved down me all at once recently that I found very interesting. Unfortunately, most of the consumers out there don’t know about these plans.
Now, granted these plans won’t happen for another few decades, if even then. But it does make you think when you hear the what’s and the why’s to some of the ideas. So here are the big ones that I think you guys will be interested in.The Next Generation of IMAX
It’s nothing new for movie theatres to have some kind of gimmick to get people to come to the movies, be it 3D films or IMAX formats of movies. The most recent endeavors include full service bar, sit-down style meals, and the ever-mentioned D-Box seating.
The next big thing: a floor-to-ceiling screen that is long as a football field. What? Sound impossible? There’s already a projection system like this in existence in Disneyland right now.
The World of Color water show at Disney’s California Adventure boasts several numbers of high definition projectors capable of showing a 400 ft. tall image with a seamless panoramic range somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 yards.
And the movie theatre industry is looking into bringing that kind of projection system indoors. The idea is to have anywhere between three and five digital projectors, all synced via a computer, to project a film that is so wide, it will envelope your peripheral vision. Assuming you aren’t sitting near a wall.
World of Color’s viewing area, while completely absent of any kind of accurate seating count due to a lack of benches, is said to be able to hold between 1500 to 2000 guests. The theatre industry wants those kind of numbers, and if they price it as high as they do the IMAX films, then it’s a sure bet the gimmick will bring in both customers and cash.
The reason why you won’t be seeing this kind of thing outside of Disneyland is pretty obvious. Space. A lot of theatre chains lack the space needed for this kind of venue. If they are serious about even considering this idea, new theatre buildings will have to be constructed exclusively for it. In other words, this new format will follow the exact same path the IMAX did. At first, it will be in certain locations that can afford to house the projection system, mostly as an attraction to bring in local and outside business. The films will be mostly nature documentaries so that film makers can get a sense as to how the equipment works and how the presentation will feel to the viewer. And since this is a digital system, 3D versions of this format are not too far behind during this testing phase. We probably won’t see a feature film that will utilize this concept for several years after this initial phase. Assuming Hollywood is willing to experiment with this format.
But hey, whose to say it won’t happen? Like I said, the system is already in use at Disneyland.The Automated Theatre
This one kind of scares me a bit, as it compromises my job security. Nonetheless, this idea is more or less designed to keep operating costs of your local megaplex down if at all possible. While I am one of those assholes out there hoping that the concession stand is replaced by a bank of vending machines, that isn’t going to happen due to the obvious reason. Vending machines suck.
What’s rumored to be in store for the theatre to help bring down operation costs is automate the areas of theatre that don’t require much human interaction or a human to being with. We are already seeing the advent of this with Box Office Kiosks (most of which are sponsored by Fandango or MoviePhone) and the Digital Theatre Management System (DTMS), a system currently used in all digital theatres.
What DTMS does is all but eliminate the need for a projectionist. Yes, you’ll need a tech of some sort to trouble shoot the system should something happen, but those in that position will be “on-call” instead of “on the clock.” With a DTMS, all a theatre has to do is punch in the show times that each theatre has scheduled for that week. The system then automatically will play those movies when it sees that its time to do so on its clock, similar to how one would automate a virus scan to happen at exactly midnight every first Friday of the month. Some DTMSs can link up to the Box Office computer and see if a show time has sold any tickets or not. If no tickets were bought for that particular show time, the system won’t start the show in order to extend the life of the light bulb and prevent wear on the hard drive that stores the movie.
The next step in this automation process is to eliminate the ticket taker by installing a turnstile gate. You think I’m joking? Well, I’m not. This is one of many practices going on in Europe right now in their own movie theatres, and one of two things that the US theatre industry is said to be looking into. (More on the second one in a bit.)
Basically, it works like any subway turnstile you would come across in a big city like New York. You buy your ticket from the Box Office or a Box Office Kiosk and when it’s time to go to your movie, you slide your ticket through the reader, and the gate opens for you. If it isn’t time for your movie, the gate doesn’t open.
Now, this is a good idea on paper, but in practice, it’s bound to have a lot of room for human error. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried those print-at-home movie tickets, but that system relies on a functional wireless internet connection for those laser guns to read the bar codes. If something is wrong with the in-house internet, then the system doesn’t work. On top of that, if the customer’s printer doesn’t print the bar code correctly, the scanner can’t read it. Who’s to say the same won’t happen with this system? I accidentally demagnetized my subway card when I took an art sabbatical to New York after failing my graduating class in college. I’ve also somehow managed to damage the black box on my plan ticket once that the airlines use to scan when I check in.
If this system does get installed in America, it won’t be for a long time. Or at least until they can figure out a reliable way of preventing these kind of things from happening. Otherwise, you’ll have turnstile hoppers instead of theatre hoppers.Premium Seating for a Few Extra Bucks
Here’s the second idea that the US theatre industry is toss around that is a regular practice in Europe! Believe it or not, theatres over there actually have assigned seating. Customers can actually pick where in the theatre they want to sit, with the most expensive seats going to those that are right in the middle of the auditorium. If you don’t feel like paying a lot but want to still see the film, you may find yourself stuck in a corner against the back of the room.
The idea is no different than how sporting and concert events go about selling their tickets. It’s also one of those gimmicks that could work in the consumer’s favor if played properly. You want the optimal seating position for the next big film? You pre-order like you normally would, but you also make sure to get the best seats in the house you can. The bragging rights goes to the ones who can get the center area, much like getting front row or box seats.
This kind of system has been in effect across the pond for as long as I remember being told about it, and I don’t know how they go about policing it. Right now, Americans have the luxury of a “first come, first serve” style of seating at the movies. Switching over to the assigned seating method may actually backfire in a lot of cases. While it is a great concept to have should a film sell out that night and people start complaining about not being able to find a seat, it may also be a useless policy if you go into a film with six other people and you’re stuck in a less-than-ideal position with the best seat in the house wide open for you to steal. There’s no real way of figuring out if a movie will sell out or not for any individual theatre house.
But, hey, if you are willing to spend a few extra bucks just to make sure you have the best seats you can possibly get, then who knows? Maybe that alone will actually get you to come out to the movies on opening weekend.