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Monday, April 30, 2012

WEEKLY CineBUZZ REPORT - 28 April 2012

This week's report is devoted to CinemaCon, the cinema industry's annual convention and trade show which I attended this week.  CinemaCon, in its second year under new management and moniker (formerly ShoWest), continues to have logistical confusion.  Trade show exhibitors are still spread over three floors in numerous suites and ballrooms making it very difficult, tiring, and time consuming for attendees.  That being said, the Show was beneficial and educational from my perspective- as a cinema equipment provider/installer and consultant.

Highlights Of The 2012 CinemaCon Show:

- Dolby's New "Atmosphere"  of Sound
- NEC - Best In Show
- Smart Bar - The Perfect Cinema Cocktail
- Christie's SKA-3D - An All In One Solution

Dolby's "Atmosphere"

A platform for unlimited sound possibilities rather than finite channel configuration & the ability to control any number of speakers or groups of speakers anywhere in the auditorium - Dolby's new Atmos system provides not directional sound but an "atmosphere of sound".

"We want the industry to know we are putting the weight of the company and our global brand behind Atmos", Doug Darrow, Dolby Senior VP Cinema, told me.  Atmos creates a sound atmosphere for the audience.  "Unlike a channel based sound system, Dolby wanted to give a solution that was unconstrained", stated Stuart Bowling, Dolby Senior Tech./Marketing Manager. "Atmos provides the ability to place sound literally anywhere in the auditorium where you want it to be for the audience".  With the flip of a joystick I was able to switch from standard 5.1 sound to Atmos generated 7.1 and compare the difference.  The Atmos is dimensionally far richer and the clarity of the sound exceptional.

For new cinema construction and sound upgrades Dolby recommends overhead speakers to be placed parallel and in alignment with the surround speakers. Says Bowling,  "If you have eight existing surround speakers on the side walls, you'd have eight overhead speakers as well on each side providing for wide sound dispersion.  Atmos moves away from channel based sound systems to an expandable sound platform. "

 For me, the best benefit of Atmos is that it provides a sound experience that will only be available in theatres, and developed so that very cinema - no matter size or sound configuration - can utilize the system.  Atmos elevates the cinema experience and will help in getting people out of their living rooms and into cinemas.

NEC Prototype - A Real Show Stopper

If there was one product that I would vote Best in Show, it would have to be NEC's prototype D-Cinema Laser Projector.  This laser-driven projector, as demonstrated, boasted 4k resolution at high frame rate in 3D - the ultimate in current technology.

The projector is small (about one half the size of a current Series II D-Cinema projector) simply because it has no lamphouse.  The laser generator is housed in a black box resting on the floor with two black cables running from it to the projector.  As Akhtar Mahmood, NEC Senior Service Engineering Manager explained to me, "the laser light is a separate unit which can achieve a light output of 68,000 lumens and lasts 25 - 30,000 hours at 100% output".

The on-screen image was - in a word - phenomenal.  Bright, sharp, and really life-like.  But don't hold your breath.  First, all of the laser projectors being demo'd  be they NEC or others must pass regulatory hurdles and then there are development and pricing issues.  According to Akhtar, "we are looking at least three to five years before commercial sells and maybe longer".

The Smart Bar
Pour The Perfect Cocktail

Serving adult drinks may be just what your cinema needs.  If so, you'll need a top-notch bartender.  Well, look no further - the Smart Bar will make the perfect cocktail (be it a gin & tonic, rum & coke, or margarita) automatically.  It measures and mixes up to 16 liquors in combination with 13 juices, sodas, or water, and its portable.

Using a touch screen and easy search to call up and mix hundreds of drink combinations the Smart Bar is easy and fool-proof.  It can be used for non-alcoholic beverages as well.

I like the Smart Bar because it can add a new and very profitable dimension to a cinema's concession menu at very little initial and on-going cost.  So, if your cinema's demographic would support alcoholic drinks and wine the Smart Bar may be something for you to consider.

SKA-3D A/V Processor
Christie's New SKA-3D All In One Processor

Dubbed the Swiss Army Knife of cinema processors, Christie's new SKA-3D combines Audio and Video processing in a single box.  The SKA-3D switches from A/V inputs including analog and digital audio from a D-Cinema server/integrated media block and 2D/3D alternative content sources, such as BluRay players, satellite receivers, PCs, or mobile devices.

Scheduled for limited release in the 2nd quarter the SKA-3D fills a real need in cinema A/V presentations.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

WEEKLY CineBUZZ REPORT - 21 April 2012

Highlights of this Report:
- Hollywood Studios Extend VPF Program Sign-up Deadline
- Christie Digital Previews Laser Projector w/High Frame Rate
- Screenvision Releases New Prefeature Show & Mobile App
- Viacom Poll Shows Tablets Are Go-To Devices For Media Viewing
- "Wearables" - The Next Devices To Go Mainstream
 VPF: How It Works
Studios Extend VPF Deadline
On Thursday (4/19) the Hollywood studios participating in the Virtual Print Fee Program (VPF) extended the Program's sign-up deadline to September 30th. from the previous April 30th deadline.  This extension was anticipated and provides wiggle room for those exhibitors that still need to work out financing for their cinemas' digital conversion. 
As of year end 2011 there were approximately 14,000 screens in the U.S. that had not converted to digital projection - the studios believe this sign-up extension will help in getting those exhibs. to convert.

Christie Digital Demos High Frame Rate Laser D-Cinema Projector
Christie HFR Laser Projector
At their worldwide headquarters in Kitchener, Ontario Christie Digital (owned by Ushio Inc. of Japan) demonstrated their new D-Cinema Laser Projector which also incorporates the High Frame Rate (HFR) option that some Hollywood's honchos would like the studios to adopt. Note: the current frame rate is 24 frames per second the new, higher rate would be 48fps.
Christie's demo, was required, as they need to keep up with the digital projection technology.  Kodak demonstrated their laser projector last year and Barco followed suit with their entry several months ago (both of these were highlighted in CMG posts last month).  NEC will demo their projector shortly and I'm sure it will also highlight the HFR feature.
The cinema industry will have to adopt laser projection and the HFR. Why?  Because the industry can not stop digitally based projection and sound technology from advancing.  And the 'latest and greatest' must be marketed and sold - this is the way consumer-driven economies function and grow.
Limelight Preshow also available as mobile app 
Screenvision's 'Limelight' to Entice Moviegoers
Preshow advertising company Screenvision has developed an application for mobile devices that the company says will entice viewers to go to the cinema 20 minutes before showtime to watch ads and play interactive games.  Dubbed 'Limelight', the new show will replace Screenvision's current prefeature (and really out-dated) 35mm slide presentations which feature movie trivia and local ads.
Viewers can download the Limelight app - called Screenfanz - and view movie trailers, search for showtimes, check in at a theatre, and earn points toward free admissions and concession.
A giant leap for Screenvision, the purpose of the preshow show is to provide advertisers a means to have their ads mixed in with interactive content and be accessible via mobile devices.  Cinemas have always offered a good space to engage consumers with ads, given that moviegoers are a 'captive audience'.  The trick is you don't want to bore them with an out-of-date slide show.  Screenvision believes Limelight is not only entertaining but provides advertisers a new format to present their message. Screenvision estimates 8-10 million people per week view their current in-cinema preshow.  The new Limelight show and mobile app are intended to provide advertisers a better, more effective means to reach consumers who also happen to be moviegoers.
Tablets Overtake PCs
Tablets: the Go-To Devices for Media After TVs
Viacom (owner of Paramount Pictures) recently released the findings of a study which found that tablets have quickly become the preferred second choice (after traditional TVs) for viewing TV shows and movies.
The study found that tablets did not decrease the use of TVs but did reduce the time spent viewing content on PCs and smartphones. This is not surprising as tablets, such as the iPad can be wired into any TV for playback of TV shows and movies via free or low-cost apps.
About 22% of tablet owners watch full-length programming on their devices, with content streamers such as Netflix providing up to 24% of that content.  68.7 million tablets were sold worldwide in 2011. For this year the forecast is for 106 million units to be sold.  The highest users were in the 18-24 age group. 
The bright note of the study was that the increase use of tablets for movie viewing as not had any negative impact on cinema attendance by the public.

Apple's iBangle Wrist Computer
Wearables: The Next Wave In Mobility

Tattoos that vibrate when your cell phone rings. Dual-focus contact lenses with data displays. Termed wearables these communication devices are destined to have a huge impact on humanity and the way we work, play, and socialize.   Wearables will have enormous potential in health and fitness, navigation, social networking, business, the media, and is areas of human endeavor that we can't even imagine today.

Asus Waveface Web-based PC
How about reminding you of the latest movie via a trailer played on your watch or a GPS device embedded into your clothing.  Wearables are here now, it's just of matter of roll-out by the tech manufacturers.  You'll be hearing, seeing, and using wearables within the next 2 years.

Best and Happy Movie Going!
Jim Lavorato

Thursday, April 19, 2012


13 years ago I pinned an article for Film Journal International entitled, "Theatres Become Viewing Venues" (September 1999) in which I stated that alternative content would (some day) be common place in cinemas and it would be delivered by various electronic means. In August of 2000, I wrote another piece for the Film Journal entitled "Broadcasting Sporting Events @ Theatres: A Digital Beta Test" whereby, Entertainment Equipment Corp. sponsored a demonstration where a Pittsburgh-area high school's football game (supplied by a local TV station) was projected via a conventional Panasonic video projector on a 40ft. wide cinema screen, and predicting that the day would come when cinemas would be used as venues for presenting relevant but local community content.  Needless to say, neither of these prognostications have yet come to be.

After 13 years it seems that the alternative content (AC) market may now be at the make of break stage.  What has been learned is that, as I predicted, the content has to have relevance to the local demographic to be successful.

The players in the alternative content field: NCM Fathom, Cinedigm, Emerging Pictures, BY Experience, and D&E are pushing hard but finding that delivery points that provide a consistent and loyal audience is difficult.
"Local marketing is where alternative content lives and dies," states D&E's Evan Saxon, "so the engagement of the exhibitor and the local audience is essential." 

What makes for success (just like TV or films) is a series (a franchise) - such as the opera or ballet.  One off showings are costly in terms of content and marketing and don't always pay off.  A series enables on-going marketing and more importantly time to build an audience. Consumers must view AC as not just a substitute for a movie, but relevant content that stands on its own.

Hollywood, for its part, hasn't really embraced AC, which is not surprising given the output of films (there will be well over 600 releases this year) and the non-predictability of the box office, coupled with the studios' preoccupation with the on-going challenge from the internet. Additionally, there are the alternative providers, such as Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Google, just to name several that are providing ex-movie content of all sorts.  And unfortuneately, as some AC providers believe, 3D will not be their savior. YouTube already provides all of its HD downloads in 3D format.

From a Bruce Lee docu to the Nutcracker what matters most for AC providers is offering high quality content that is of relevance to a local audience - that scenario was proven 13 years ago and it still holds true today.

Jim Lavorato

Monday, April 09, 2012

WEEKLY CineBUZZ REPORT - 9 April 2012

In This Week's Report:

 - Internet Outpaces Hollywood in 3D Format
 - Paramount Inks Deal with Google
 - Apple To Intro 3D Camera in Next iPhone ?
 - CinemaCon 2012, Anything New ?

YouTube Goes 3D - Big Time and Outpaces Hollywood.  As of last Thursday, users that access HD 1080p short-form videos posted on YouTube will be given the option (click on Quality settings) to view that video in 3D.

Beta tested since last September, Google (owner of YouTube) has developed a way to obtain the 3D effect by analyzing a video's "components" and developing a depth perception for each frame of the video.
Cross you eyes for the 3D Effect
It appears that many people are interested in bringing 3D content to YouTube - as it has converted "hundreds of thousands" of videos to 3D over the last several months.

So, with one click you can turn the 2D video you are viewing into a 3D presentation.  3D glasses are, kind of, required but at least half of the U.S. population should have a pair of glasses received from viewing a 3D movie over the last 5 years at the local cinema. YouTube 3D videos can accommodate every style of 3D glasses, and if not available, just cross your eyes ( yes,it works).

YouTube claims to have the most HD online content - 10% of all posted videos on YouTube can now be viewed in 3D.  So, Google has just offered another reason for the folks to stay in their living rooms and postpone that trip to the cinema.  We'll see and keep you posted.

Paramount Inks Deal With Google

Last Wednesday (4/4/12) Paramount Pictures agreed to allow YouTube (owned by Google) access to 500 films for online rental.  This makes Paramount the fifth major studio (Fox is now the only holdout) to join the YouTube online video store - that charges $2-4 per movie rental.

Online movie and pay-per-view options have brought on heavy competition between Google, Apple (iTunes), Amazon (Amazon Plus), and Netflix. The deal with Paramount, brings the YouTube movie library to 9,000 titles.  Renters are given up to 30 days to began watching the movie after purchase but must complete the viewing within 24 hours after starting.
Apple's 3D Glasses-free Camera Image
 Next iPhone to Sport 3D Camera

As Hollywood falters with 3D acceptance by the public, others (such as YouTube) have taken the format to new levels.  Not to be outdone, rumor has it that Apple's next iPhone will sport a 3D camera!  Apple has a patent filing for cameras that incorporate laser and light-detection and ranging sensors for determining depth as well as color accuracy. The pictures will be glasses-free.

If the 3D iPhone becomes reality it will be the second on the market, HTC's Evo phone is 3D capable, but Apple claims its camera will be a vast improvement over anything currently on the market - and you don't want to doubt Apple's ability to intro superior products.  The 3D cameras will also be standard on  iPads.

CinemaCon, Anything New?

CinemaCon (previously called ShoWest), the cinema industry's annual convention and trade show, will take place April 23-26 at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Should I expect to see anything new?  Probably not.  I will however be looking for anything related to digital laser projection systems (the next phase in the development of digital cinema).  Now that the digital genie is out of the bottle, cinema exhibition is open to continued developments in the technology, which will be a big switch from film's 100+ year virtually unchanged run.

I'll be providing a full report on CinemaCon and the usual best and worst in Show.

Best and Happy Movie Going!
Jim Lavorato

Sunday, April 08, 2012


The Current Status of the U.S. Cinema?

It seems every time I speak with anyone associated with the industry - exhibitor, booker, distributor, manufacturer, or just run-of-the-mill rumor-monger or luminary - I'm confronted with a different set of "facts".  Being such, I thought it would be beneficial and enlightening to ferret through the litter and make proper hash out of the myriad of gestalt.
Let me start by stating that the U.S. cinema is currently in a steady state of performance.  The gross box office in 2011 totalled $10.2 billion, about 4% below 2010's $10.6 billion take. This downward glide was due entirely to lower admissions, which declined by 60 million (tickets sold) for 2011 and continued the decade-long trend of lower movie attendance by U.S. consumers.  Admissions totalled 1.28 billion (which equates to 3.9 admissions per U.S. citizen) at an average admission price of $7.93. 
Frequent moviegoers (those that visit  their local cinema at least once per month) accounted for 50% of all tickets sold and are the real drivers of the box office. These frequenters make-up roughly 10% of the U.S. population and are split virtually 50/50 between male and female moviegoers. These "frequent 10% ers" are in the 18-39 age group - with Caucasians and Hispanics responsible for 56% and 24% respectively of their total.
In 2011, the 25-39 age group went to the movies must often as the younger frequent moviegoers (in the 18-24 age group) posted a decline in attendance by over 1 million admissions. As that  group continues to gravitate to internet movie viewing and portends a trend that the cinema industry must address if it is to remain viable in the longer term.
At 2011's end, there were 39,641 cinema screens in the U.S., of which 25,621 had been converted to digital projection.  Of these conversions, 12,620 (about half) were equipped for 3D playback.  The number of conversions accelerated in 2011 (there were 10,886 during the year) and the studios hope that the remaining (approx. 14,000 screens) will be converted by 2014.

The distributiors' Virtual Print Fee (VPF) Program is on-going and will most likely be extended beyond its expiration date of April's end (rumors are already circulating regarding the Program's extension) so as  to prod the remaining conversion holdouts.  It has always struck me sort as funny but I believe the VPF Program is backwards. The studios should have told exhibitors that if they wanted to convert to D-Cinema fine but if they didn't,  they would be charged a "print fee". Therefore, the inducement for the exhibitor to convert would be money savings and if they didn't the studios received reimbursement for the cost of the film print. Needless to say, the studios opted for the much less tolerable current VPF scheme whereby the studios reimbusrse the exhibitors once they convert.

Regarding 3D, half of all moviegoers in 2011 attended a 3D movie. Young people, aged 12-24, were most likely to attend a 3D movie, while only 15% of those over age 60 attended a 3D presentation. At present, 3D remains a mixed bag, as the format has failed to deliver on its potential - a faux pas that rests entirely at the doorstep of the studios, and which they are trying to correct.

There were 610 bonafide films released in 2011 of which 45 were 3D. As in prior years, the top 25 films dominated the U.S. box office, amassing $4.48 billion of the total $10.2 billion gross or 44%.  Of the top 25, 15 were PG-13s, 5 were PG, 3 Rs, and 2 G rated. Ten were released in 3D format.

International the Bright Star in the Movie Universe

As static as the U.S. cinema market is, the international scene is all about growth.  Overseas the box office totalled $22.4 billion or double the U.S. total and represented a 7% increase over 2010. The largest growth came from Latin America (24%) principally from Mexico and Brazil. Asia Pacific grew by 6% principally from China - which grew by 35% and moved it into 2nd place as the largest overseas movie market behind Japan. 

There are about 124,000 screens worldwide of which 61,000 are still film-based. Of the 63,000 that have converted to digital, 35,479 are 3D equipped. Growth of the international market, like the U.S., will slow over the next several years, and in turn become a steady state market as well. Again, the real threat for the cinema will come from the internet and the enhancement of the "living room" entertainment experience.

Best and Happy Movie Going!
Jim Lavorato

Sources for this article included: Cinema Mucho Gusto, Motion Picture Association of America, ScreenTrade Magazine, Google Media, The Numbers, Variety Magazine, and The Hollywood Reporter.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


Not only their movie projection but cinemas need to digitize their lobbies as well - to better serve the digital-savvy patron.

For example, those moviegoers that have pre- purchased their tickets online should be greeted at the cinema entrance and ticket-verified via an iPad.  The lobby should be renamed, "the reception area" and for example, be revised to look like a WiFi coffee-shop (cafe).

Cinema Lobby Should Resemble Hotel.
Lobbies should be equipped with power outlets for charging laptops and other devices.  The reception area should be adjacent to the concession area (which should be enhanced to include special cafe type items) so patrons can snack while using the internet via free WiFi.  The goal is to give the patron a comfortable place to hangout so they don't have to visit Starbucks after the movie.  The idea is to bring new life to the cinema lobby, evolving from the stuffy, stark, and bright to the comfortable and living room like - evoking a positive and less formal atmosphere.

Going forward, the cinema's biggest competitor will be the living room, so you have to make the patron "feel at home" in a relaxed and tech savvy space.  People are more social today then ever before and cinemas need to be in that linked mix. It's not enough to offer traditional environments selling same old snacks. The cinema of the future needs to be more and investment in technology at all levels is rewarding because it boosts loyalty.  The once staid cinema lobby should become the substitute living room for patrons.