IHS Technology recently published an Insight Report on “The market for Premium Large Format (PLF) cinema” as part of its Cinema Intelligence Service. Authored by Principal Analyst Charlotte Jones, the report does an excellent job of providing a comprehensive and data-focused overview of the PLF market.
With “Interstellar” shortly set to lift off in Imax, PLF and 70mm screens, it is thus worth shining a bright light on the biggest of all screens in the cinema business.
Premium large format (PLF) is a market that was practically invented by Imax but only took off when the large format (LF) operator switched from 40-50 minute documentaries in museums and institutions to showing first-run Hollywood films multiplexes.
Having survived the “Lie-MAX” backlash in 2009 of retrofitting Imax screens into too-small multiplex auditoriums, Imax has grown strongly on the back of the initial popularity of 3D films (think: “Avatar”) as well as major international expansion.
But Imax strict business terms and high licence fees, coupled with advances in digital cinema technology, has led many cinema chains to launch their own-brand PLF screens, often in competition or in parallel to Imax’s screens.
The PLF space has received a recent boost from the launch of the Dolby Atmos and Barco Auro 11.1 immersive audio (IA) formats that help distinguish PLF screens from non-premium screens, as well as the imminent launch of laser projection for high-brightness stereoscopic 3D on even the largest of screens. High frame rate (HFR) and 3D on the other hand are by themselves not sufficient enablers for PLF, as the report notes, even though they often command higher ticket prices.
It is the brand(ing) that has proven the key differentiator for Imax, with own-brand PLF screens struggling to match it in terms of cache and perceived value. (If you don’t believe us, we invite you to read on-line reviews of cinemas’ own-brand PLFs to see comments littered with ‘rip off’ and ‘pretend Imax’ vitriol). Yet though the report only hints at it, there are two operators/brand that post a significant threat to Imax at least in two key PLF cinema markets, which we will get to later.