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Exhibiting Vision: Seizing Opportunity in the Cinema Business

By Jason Vanderground

March 3, 2020

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It is an exciting time to be in the movie business. This is true not only for filmmakers in Hollywood and other parts, but the other side of the business: the more than 1,500 exhibitors located throughout North America. Whether it’s an expansive suburban multiplex or a small local cinema, the theater business is evolving almost as quickly as the latest comic book franchise.

In recent years, theaters have undergone a transition from entertaining the masses to catering to the needs of frequent moviegoers. This means offering concierge-level patron services. It means upgrading from 3D digital to the next immersive viewing technology. It also means upgrading from standard soda, candy, and popcorn offerings to complete in-theater dining experiences.

With the uncertain nature of the entertainment industry, the goal of cinemas large and small is to remain ahead of the curve. Now more than ever, exhibitors need to keep an entrepreneurial eye on what people are looking for next.

A Unique Business Model

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Exhibitors are up against several competing business forces. Foremost is their dependency on compelling content, which has its pros and cons. Blockbusters can be counted on to put people in seats and keep them coming back for more. But while a great franchise draws people in, exhibitors need to continue to differentiate the movie experience by introducing novel services and amenities. More and more, theaters must balance the investment in an innovative guest experience with maintaining operational excellence.

With budget always a factor, everything from the carpet to the seating to the light fixtures needs to stand the test of time, both aesthetically and in terms of durability. At the same time, exhibitors are looking for solutions that can streamline theater upkeep and support the efficient turnover of screens between showings.

To lessen their dependence on content, a growing number of exhibitors are designing multi-use spaces. With a reconfigurable floor plan, for example, theaters can offer a mix of entertainment offerings and more revenue streams to go with them. Trivia night, anyone? It’s happening more and more.

Competing At The Highest Level

There was a time when movies were an easy option for a fun outing. The advent of Amazon Prime, Netflix, and other streaming options has changed things. Given the comfort and convenience of staying at home, movies can no longer compete on convenience alone. Meanwhile, there’s no end to the competition for a night out. Concerts, dining, sports, and the arts all are taking their share of today’s entertainment dollar.

Is Streaming Truly The Enemy?

While steaming options like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Apple TV vie for market share, their presence may not be such a bad thing. Box office returns are showing a boost in theater attendance in genres such as documentary films. With people being exposed to these mediums on the small screen, tastes are beginning to shift. A growing number of people are taking their home viewing habits to the large screen.

With so many competing factors, exhibitors are emphasizing the guest experience and finding ways to engage their interests, offer greater luxury, and play to one of a movie theater’s greatest strengths: community.

While dining, concierge services, and immersive technologies all have the potential to bring value, seating is where it all comes together. It’s a good idea to invest in a great seat. After all, the two hours guests spend in a single place has to compete with the comforts of home—maybe even exceed them.

For exhibitors, creating the optimal guest experience isn’t as easy as it sounds. Many face a difficult decision:

Create a high-end restaurant/cocktail experience OR Present the best possible cinematic viewing experience.

This is where venue design and seating selection come into play. An ideal seating partner not only offers higher performing recliners and rockers, they also have the experience and expertise to design the space so that it plays to your strengths.

So What's The Best Seat For You?

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Theater seating is rarely a one-size-fits-all proposition. Exhibitors have a range of needs. The right seating partner can meet you where you are and develop solutions around your market and your goals.

A common challenge for theaters is finding the right rocker-to-recliner ratio. The solution requires weighing space and capacity constraints with your overall business vision: is the goal to hold more patrons (thus limiting the number of recliners) or to hold fewer patrons (and offer a greater number of luxurious recliners)? These are important questions to consider.

Seating materials, colors, and amenities are further areas to explore. Irwin rockers and recliners can be outfitted with center flip-up arms to create a love seat. Other options include seat position remotes and a swivel table, which makes it easy for guests to dine in or enjoy a cocktail. What isn’t an option is seating that offers comfort and support from the opening previews to the final credits.

On the maintenance side, it’s important to choose a seating partner with a proven track record, one that exceeds industry standards for durability. One way that Irwin is making theater clean up and changeover more efficient is with a clever popcorn deflector. Designed to channel loose snacks directly to the floor, it minimizes maintenance by keeping food items from getting stuck within the seat’s internal mechanisms.

With any long-term partnership, service is a priority. Look for a partner who can provide responsive service, easy-to-order parts, and teams focused on your investment long after it’s installed. If a seating issue were to arise, you need a partner working alongside you to minimize downtime.

Looking Ahead

We expect seating to be driven by consumer demand for wireless charging, 5G network speed, and even higher levels of comfort. Irwin is even looking into seating that allows guests to enjoy greater privacy, even within a filled theater.

So far, we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible. What can’t be ignored is that people want to be in a community rather than alone, night after night, in front of the television. Through seating and a range of other services, the goal is to make that communal entertainment experience compete at the highest possible level, and keep people coming back for more.