#1165 – Defining Super Premium Cinema

While many had attempted to write off the cinema and amusement trade during the worst of the Global Lockdown, the reality of the situation was revealed in Las Vegas and Indianapolis, with two major events that acted as a perfect lens to review the success of the industries as April came to an end.

Cinema Entertainment Development

The importance of the cinema sector was reflected at the annual trade event, with CinemaCon 2023 taking place at the Caesars Palace casino resort, located both on the ballroom show floor and also in numerous private hotel suites dotted across the property and neighbouring Las Vegas hotels. This was a pivotal year for the sector, having been reported as dead by mainstream media during the Global Health Crisis, and the reality of the sector was only revealed at the show.

The cinema trade revealed how hard the US movie theater business was impacted by the past Global Health Crisis – with a state of the industry report by the Cinema Foundation (a non-profit arm of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO)). It was reported that some 2,000 theater screens were lost across the country. It was also reported that average ticket prices have risen from $9.16 to $10.53 during the period of 2019 to 2022. Much of the findings paints a picture of the industry not just battling with the aftermath of the pandemic, but with current economic conditions. 

How much of the impact on the box-office is the continued impact of the depression in the movie theater business, fuelled by the fires of the Streaming TV revolution, was not made clear in the report. With the movie industry gathered in Las Vegas during April for the show, attracting some 6,000 attendees, further moves to address the downturn were revealed. Many of these new investments are seeing a greater entertainment component added to the theater operation mix. 

CinemaCon’23 saw an appearance by Sony Pictures Entertainment, with a booth that included four race-rig simulators running the PS5 smash hit ‘Grand Turismo 7’. These race-rigs used the brand-new D-BOX motion system (their new ‘HF-L4’ – being employed on several rigs). The reason for the promotion was in another movie tie-in with video gaming, with the August release of ‘Gran Turismo – the Movie’, charting a story of a gamer’s rise in professional racing. This is based on the smash hit series of racing games across the Playstation family, and marks the latest “game-to-movie” crossover. The simulators will be rolled out in theaters to promote the film.

Speaking of race simulation, Spider Entertainment announced a partnership with Base Performances to represent their amazing race-rig platform (the ‘Phoenix’) in the LBE and entertainment sector. The simulator was recently installed at Andretti’s indoor carting location in Orlando (covered in our IAAPA’22 report), and the two companies will be announcing a major rollout of the system for venues that need to have a reliable and profitable sim-racing solution for their guests. 

Returning to CinemaCon’23, and amusement had a place on the trade show floor, with Betson Enterprises showing a selection of amusement pieces for theater operators to consider – including the deluxe ‘Fast & Furious Arcade’ motion racer from Raw Thrills. The popular movie franchise is immortalized in its own deluxe amusement release, in a compelling crossover from big screen IP into amusement ROI.  

The CinemaCon’23 exhibition floor included amusement representation focused on the FEC ambitions for some cinemas operators, such as from Shaffer Distributing, Amusement Products (AP) – representing the VEX Solution VR platform. Meanwhile, bowling was also promoted from QubicaAMF and Brunswick. The inclusion of new attractions into cinema amusement spaces also sees LaserBlast presenting their releases. Also, there was a strong showing of frictionless platforms, such as smart cards systems from Sacoa Cashless, Semnox, and Intercard. For many in the traditional amusement trade, the cinema scene has been a difficult market to fathom, but the move to greater entertainment technology to draw the audience was starting to increase its viability.

Also at the cinema trade gathering was VR360ACTION – the company brought a selection of their turnkey VR amusement to present to the industry, with their two-rider ‘Dream Simulator’, and the child-focused ‘Baby Shark VR’. VR and MR entertainment tech was also being discussed behind closed doors of numerous hotel suites. Cinema chains such as AMC and others had installed lobby-based VR attractions from the likes of Dreamscape, while developer Immersive Gamebox had also installed, at some movie theaters, their MR-based “Immersive Enclosure” system. The industry is paying close attention to how these entertainment additions are accepted by the audience.

The investment in the cinema business was still seen to be strong, as the market redefined itself after serious conditions. Some media writers had attempted to write off the cinema sector, promoting a “Cinema-Apocalypse”, fuelled by a decline in box office over the years and the Global Health Crisis. But the reality seems to be a resurging business – seeing rebounding box office sales in some cases, as an audience votes with their feet regarding films they want to see.

The international cinema business was also seen to be making investments towards growing market share – especially in emerging territories – looking to grow a new audience. In India, it was revealed that the retail giant, Ingka Centres, has signed a partnership with multiplex chain PVR Inox for a nine-screen movie theater rollout across their Indian holdings. What will be called the ‘Meeting Place’ will be high-end multiplexes – the first of these opening in 2025. Meanwhile, in China, IMAX recorded, over the six-days of the May Day holiday, a record $7.8m – their second highest grossing income.

This was reflected across the industry and at CinemaCon’23, with the emergence of the “Super Premium Cinema” (SPC) experience. We have seen several deployments in the scene, such as the Tokyo-based ‘109 Cinemas Premium Shinjuku’ venue chain opening in April, with plans to open some SPC sites in the territory. This is the adoption of a premium experience, with cocktails and meal service, and offering VIP seats and a high-quality immersive screen auditorium. Companies at the show, such as D-BOX, were promoting the rise of what were called “Premium Screens” – an aspect of the market that had risen, in 2022 and in just Western Europe, to some 7,500 screens. 

The SPC scene has been populated with numerous brands that are building on reimagining the movie theater business. One such example is Everyman Media, and their ‘Everyman’ chain of 38 bespoke cinemas in the UK. The company recently posted revenue of £78m after last year’s £49m – and reporting profits of some £402k, making a return to strong business after the privations of the Global Health Crisis. The operation announced they will be moving forward with an organic expansion and evaluating acquisition opportunities. 

These SPCs are accelerated in popularity by big film releases that make full use of the immersive experiences, as seen with the success of ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’, acting as a strong impetus for audiences to hunt down cinemas offering premium screens rather than the more traditional experience. This was also reflected in IMAX remaining the largest global provider, while CJ 4DPLEX and their ‘Screen X’, ‘4DX Screen and ‘4DX’ brands carve out a significant part of the market. This all depends, in some part, on the D-BOX haptic cinema seating, and immersive technology. CJ 4DPLEX announced that the ‘Super Mario Bros.’ movie has broken the record for highest grossing animated movie on the 4DX platform ($6.3m across some 58 4DX theaters). 

The creation of premium entertainment locations for cinema was reflected in the news that IMAX would be partnering with EVO Entertainment Group (EVO). Announced during CinemaCon’23, the partnership will see IMAX install eight new installations within ‘EVO Entertainment’ and ‘ShowBiz Cinema’ locations in North America (mainly in Texas and Florida).  This will see the inclusion of a more high-end cinema and entertainment offering from the group, with the new upscaled IMAX installations including the latest projection technology and seat layout, supporting the EVO venues’ inclusion of bowling, dining, and high-end amusement and attractions. 

The cinema sector has been investing in their audience, seeing numerous new loyalty programs supported by subscription apps being rolled out. One such saw SeatHero announce a partnership with CinemaPlus to grow their new loyalty program, supported by an updated POS system. The hope is bringing other cinema chains up to contention with the SPC market. Several of the planned blockbuster releases for the next part of the 2023 season are major moves that will play on their “experience” element – such as with ‘Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning’, ‘Dune: Part Two’, and ‘Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny’, among others.

The movie industry can thank a lot of its renewed box office success to tentpole movie sequels, from ‘Avatar’, to ‘John Wicks’, and ‘TopGun’ – but also the movie franchise building on successful videogame IP has been established in movie and streaming (from ‘Pinball Man’, ‘Tetris’, to ‘Super Mario Bros.,’ and ‘Sonic’). The importance of IP from the videogame sector, for movie and streaming releases, is gathering full pace – with releases based on the production adventures of the classic game ‘Tetris’, and the rebirth of pinball gaming gaining recognition. There are more game-based movies in the works, such as with the announced ‘Gran Turismo – the Movie’. But next to this, it was revealed that several movie studios are working on entertainment venue concepts (LBE) that incorporate a strong mix of movie, videogame, and attraction (more information on this in coming weeks).

Returning to CinemaCon’23, and many major film properties have always governed the cinema sector and the media industry, and those same studios were rocked by major developments during and after the trade event. One of the most momentous was the departure, under a cloud, of NBCUniversal’s CEO (alleged due to inappropriate relationships). Owned by Comcast, this development has seen a scramble to fill the influential theme park, movie studio and streaming corporation chair – with even the recently-fired Disney CEO placed in the running to fill this position by media. 

At the same time, The Walt Disney Company has also been linked to high level discussions regarding its streaming and movie studios – such as LucasFilms and Marvel Studios. This is in the face of the ongoing Disney layoffs that have seen impact in their studios, with some prominent executive departures, and the 20th Digital Studio being dissolved. News comes of talks that have been rumored to include tech giant Apple. All part of plans laid out by the CEO towards investing some $17b into the entertainment corporation investment in ‘Walt Disney World’ alone, over the next ten-years. Meanwhile, another major media platform, the BBC, with its streaming, media and entertainment IP, saw the resignation of its chairman after allegations of inappropriate associations. 

Amusement 360 Continues to Grow

The movie and studio industry executives gathered in Las Vegas for ‘CinemaCon’23’ – while the amusement and FEC industry saw a gathering of its own in Indianapolis, as the latest ‘Amusement 360’ event took place. The event was organized by Creative Works to support those needing to grow their business in the industry. 

There was a highly-focused bootcamp for those entering the location-based entertainment sector or wanting to increase their reach in the market. The event drew some 115 attendees (a new record) to the three-day conference, along with high-level presentations and several key sponsors exhibited at the hotel ballroom venue that has been the home of the event for the last few years. 

There was an incalculable value of being able to meet in the great atmosphere of the event, for those entering the amusement, FEC, and VR scene, or who are looking to grow this aspect of their business. Presentations included one visionary operator interview with the founding team that has turned ‘Andretti Indoor Karting’ into the powerhouse that has started a major rollout of the chain operation. Also, Spider Entertainment, partnered with Creative Works on their European and UAE development plans, saw their Co-Founder and R&D director present on immersive entertainment and its place in FEC (Spider Entertainment being the owners of The Stinger Report). This was supported by Creative Works bringing a ‘LIMITLESS VR’ free-roaming system to the event, as well as an example of their partnership with VAR Live. Representing their ‘VAR Box’, this also presented the latest game, the dino blaster ‘Jurassic: New Era’.

With the success of Amusement 360 and the record attendance reflecting the enthusiasm in supporting development in FEC, amusement and LBE operations, we saw a situation reflected across the international trade. Along with the conference program, attendees also visited the new Creative Works factory operation, and went on a site visit to ‘Woodland Bowl’ to see a thriving entertainment operation in action. And those spoken to during the event were impressed by the atmosphere and energy. Creative Works confirmed they will hold their second event for the year in September 19-21. We look forward to reporting from there on the continued growth of this important and influential gathering.

About the author

Kevin Williams

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The brainchild of two location-based experience enthusiasts, Christine Buhr and Brandon Willey, the LBX Collective aims to inform and educate, create opportunities to connect with industry peers, and to spur collaboration, discourse, and cross-pollination of ideas.

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