Cinema: Technology to entertain

Cinema is growing in Asia Pacific and yet at the same time facing increased competition from new forms of entertainment options. Can projection technology help cinema retain its dominant position?

Going to movies is fast becoming Asia’s favourite pastime and the numbers back this claim up. A report from PwC pinpoints Asia Pacific as the primary source of growth for the global cinema industry with box office revenue expected to be worth USD20.4 billion by 2021.

Furthermore, Asia Pacific’s box office revenue will significantly eclipse that of North America, and the region will have more than double the screens (over 100,000) when compared with about 46,000 screens in North America by 2021. The growth of the cinema sector is good news for projector manufacturers as projection remains the display technology of choice for cinema.

Brian Claypool, vice president of product management for cinema at Christie, says: “Christie continues to see substantial growth in APAC for our cinema products and solutions, as our customers add new cinema installations and upgrade existing venues. The cultural aspect of having ‘a night out at the cinema’ continues to be one of the most attractive and accessible avenues for entertainment available.”

Carl Rijsbrack, CMO at Cinionic, a joint venture between Barco, China Film, Appotronics and CITICPE, provides further detail and says: “Cinema is growing in Asia, with newer markets in the lead like Indonesia, Vietnam and India. The expansion is fuelled mostly by new builds in the rural areas. Cinema in India is poised for rapid growth as the country adopts the DCI standard more broadly, allowing it to show a wider array of movies. Korea has a particularly unique dynamic and it’s the most innovative market. CGV, Lotte and Megabox have initiated many industry firsts in driving a new cinema culture.

“Exhibitors there are very creative and novelty- oriented; they’ll try anything to differentiate themselves and attract customers. The variety ranges from giant and multi-format screens, to beds and beanbags in the auditoriums, to unusual games and unique dining concepts.”

While cinema might be growing, this does not mean that it is not facing challenges. The popularity of streaming services means that cinemas have stiff competition as video on demand becomes a viable option for content consumption and as a source of entertainment. As Rijsbrack mentions, cinemas are looking for an edge and technology might be able to provide it.

Transforming technology

The Laser Illuminated Projector Association (LIPA) reports that the industry has witnessed continuing strong growth over the last two years in the worldwide adoption of digital laser projectors. By the end of 2017, the global installed base of high-end RGB laser projectors had reached nearly 700, an increase of nearly 100% since 2016, according to industry analysts at IHS Markit.

The advantages of laser projection are clearly defined and Rijsbrack details: “Laser projection for cinema provides a host of benefits to exhibitors and moviegoers. Theatre owners realise significant operational and cost savings compared to lamp-based projectors - no more lamps and maintenance. Energy costs compared to Xenon lamps are typically 50% less, but can be as much as 75% lower for some exhibitors.

“We see laser being a universal solution because of the economics, finding that it works particularly well in markets with lower ticket prices and admission numbers. With laser, exhibitors can be more profitable in the long run.”

Cinemas are keen to cut down costs and manufacturers report rising demand for laser projection from cinemas as well. Rijsbrack from Cinionic says: “Laser is growing everywhere and Asia is leading the way, driven mostly by brand new cinema construction. When it comes to new builds, laser projection is the logical choice for most exhibitors. It’s already part of the complete budget and they are eager to embrace it. We have multi-year deals with large exhibitors in China, Japan, India, Indonesia and Korea.”

Claypool from Christie says: “The adoption rate of earlier, first generation RGB systems was based primarily on equipping premium large format (PLF) auditoriums. Christie is seeing a similar uptake among mainstream cinemas as it develops and introduces its line of Christie RealLaser projectors, which are in fact designed for mainstream cinemas.”

The major hurdle for the adoption of laser projection is identified by Rijsbrack from Cinionic: “The only obstacles we’ve encountered are that exhibitors may not want to switch before their VPF agreements expire, yet the expiration date on such a decision is getting closer.”

While projection has held supremacy in the cinema sector, it is now facing a new challenge from LED tiles.

Rijsbrack says: “Like with any innovation, there are early adopters who are curious and eager to test it. But the business model is not viable for most exhibitors. The future will have to show whether the economics for an LED solution in cinema will make sense. We believe that projection quality will continue to increase and provide an improved viewing experience.”

Claypool from Christie believes that the threat from LEDs for cinema has yet to fully develop: “Although the entrance of LEDs as a cinema- illumination technology has garnered a lot of press in the past few years, there are still less than a dozen actually installed worldwide. LED cinema solutions still need to evolve to meet the requirements of cinema. It is essential for exhibitors who are analysing the technical features, costs and benefits of these LED cinema offerings to consider the costs, colour accuracy and range, regulatory, and a multitude of other display and installation considerations before taking the leap.”

New avenues

Looking towards the future, cinema operators are seeking to find secondary uses for their spaces. Rijsbrack from Cinionic says: “We’ve seen many forms of alternative content appearing in cinemas around the world; the focus usually depends upon the region. For example, hockey games are popular in Canada, and opera – which seems to be the most prevalent option – seems to be successful in the US and Western Europe. In APAC, there isn’t any one thing that works well with alternative content in terms of generating secondary revenue. However, we’re starting to see international video gaming tournaments, such as online multi-player championships, gain a strong following in APAC cinemas.”

With regards to projection when it comes to enabling these secondary applications for cinema spaces, Claypool says: “No matter what the application for a cinema screen, projection can enhance the viewer’s experience, alongside leading audio technologies such as Dolby Atmos and Christie Vive Audio solutions. LEDs do not enable these options any better, at this point, than projection.”

Though secondary revenue streams might be good, Rijsbrack says they do not factor into the buying decision: “The bottom line is that movie exhibitors are focussed on getting the best solution for their core business (movies). It wouldn’t really be feasible for a cinema to make a purchasing decision based on the best equipment to present alternative content. Moreover, any integrated server technology allows streaming, either projection or LED, and is compatible with any secondary revenue activity. The success of secondary revenue opportunities relies more on the quality of the content and the promotional campaign behind it, not the equipment.”

Projection manufacturers are keen to explore how technology can take cinema further. Claypool sheds light on Christie’s efforts: “The Wanda-Christie Cinema Technology Center of Excellence (CTCE), announced in April by Wanda Film Holding, with Christie as the sole partner to exclusively operate this high-tech facility for advanced research and development of digital cinema projection systems, will lead the way in cinema developments.”

Efforts at continual improvement are important as Rijsbrack believes there is room for growth down the road. He says: “Asia still has a lot of capacity. There are many opportunities for growth via new builds as they are far from reaching the saturation point compared to other regions. Smaller cities offer the best opportunities, and with affordable boothless projection cinema now a reality, smaller exhibitors have a better business case for cinema.”

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