Category Archives: Technology

Austrian Exhibitor Cineplexx Launched VoD Service

Cineplexx2go

The boundaries between cinema and video-on-demand (VoD) in Europe are blurring further, with the parent company of Austria’s Cineplexx exhibitor announcing its Cineplexx2Go VoD service.

While VoD services are already offered by exhibitors such as UK’s Curzon Cinemas (Curzon on Demand) and Landmark’s Magnolia in the US, Cinemaxx is not an exclusively art-house but a major mainstream exhibitor in Central and Eastern Europe – similar to Pathe in Holland and SF in Sweden, who have similar VoD services – though like Curzon/Landmark its parent company also has a film distribution arm. It demonstrates that exhibitors see benefits in multi-platform distribution when it can increase customer loyalty, particularly when tied to ‘super tickets’ and loyalty schemes.

Owned by distributor Constantin Film, Cineplexx (not to be confused with Germany’s independently owned Cineplex) is the largest exhibitor in Austria, as well as having cinema in Italy (in German-speaking Südtirol), Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania with a total of 280 auditoriums across 36 multiplexes and six traditional cinemas.

The Cineplexx2Go service is powered by Italy’s Chili.SpA, with over 1,300 titles available to rent or buy on launch.

Titles available include “Gone Girl”, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, “The Judge”, “Boxtrolls”, “Boyhood” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, with prices set at 3.99 euro (for SD version) and 5.99 euro (for HD) to rent, while download-to-own costs 15.99 euro (SD) and 18.99 euro (HD). Older titles are cheaper, with “Ghostbusters” available for 2.99/4.99 euro to rent for a 48 hour period.

The service is available on smart TVs, gaming consoles, PCs, tablets, smartphones and even Kindles. The aim is for the Cinplexx2Go library to eventually hold over 6,000 titles.

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Laser, the Next Big Digital Transition as the Xenon Lamp Fades Away

NEC laser projector

This year (2015) is definitively the year the world became completely digital as Sundance Film Festival announced that not one film shown was on celluloid-film. Most of the major markets are now completely digital. If you listen carefully, you can hear tens of thousands of cinema owners letting out a sigh of relief as they think now that the transition is over they can forget about it for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately this is not the case.

The use of lasers as a light source has been an interesting topic for many years. It has taken a change in government restrictions/regulations to put a rocket under laser, and it is literally taking off. We now have Barco and Christie with LPF (Large Premium Format) offerings. But more importantly, it is the NEC BPP (Blue Pump Phosphor) that is of most interest.

Recently Bill Beck, now at Barco, did a detailed techical presentation of Laser for SMPTE. After watching this presentation and a number of follow up Emails, it became clear to me that BPP-based laser projectors would flood that market in 2015.

NEC has shown BPP-Laser works well with small screen solutions.  This year we will see the next generation of BPP-Laser projectors based on more effective Blue Lasers allowing BPP-Laser based projectors to replace small, medium and potentially large cinema projectors. It was also made very clear that Xenon, at current prices, would quickly be overtaken by laser, making Xenon solutions obsolete.

This leads to a realisation of another equipment transition. If projector vendors stop making Xenon projectors, this would eventually lead to Xenon lamps no longer being manufactured, and we are back to a similar situation to film.

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Movie Theatres Face An Inevitable Netflix Effect

Diffusion of Netflix

As we begin the new year, I strongly believe we are entering a period of great danger and even greater uncertainty. Events are unfolding within and without the movie industry that are extremely threatening to our studio.

This is how Jeffrey Katzenberg began his now infamous 1991 memo which criticized the Walt Disney Studios, of which he was then chairman, and the overall state of the film business at the time. It’s hard to believe those words were written more than 20-years ago since they are so easily applicable to the current motion picture business.

Katzenberg penned his prophetic memo in 1990 during a rainy Christmas vacation in Hawaii. The end-of-year holidays are often a time of increased introspection on a multitude of subjects that range from personal to professional, from political to religious. A few consecutive days with a couple of extra unoccupied hours and and we all turn into armchair Nietsches. Like Katzenberg, I also came to a bit of a realization during our recent holiday season about the industry we all passionately toil away in.

Actually, if recent introspective pieces by Nick Dager at Digital Cinema Report and Luke Edwards at Pocket Lint are any indication, I’m not the only one who spent the holidays ruminating about the present and future of our business. These constructive assessments present qualitative research to diagnose the recent downturn in moviegoing attendance, attributing the cause to a number of factors, including the emergence of subscription streaming media services. To these treatises I would like to add some academic theorems that can be useful in helping us determine where theatrical exhibition falls on the curve of a typical market’s lifecycle as well as models that are useful in forecasting future market conditions.

Collecting Anecdotal Evidence
Because the mathematics and theories underlying diffusion theory can be dry and didactic, translating them to existing or real-world markets can at times seem confusing. Thus, I will attempt an explanation through an anecdote which initially coaxed my mind down the path of such market musings in the first place.

During the holiday break I witnessed innovation diffusion theory in action through the promulgation and/or unfamiliarity of over-the-top streaming services such as Netflix among extended family members and acquaintances. By applying simplified diffusion theories to this qualitative research I was able to discern the current market complexities and the far-reaching consequences motion picture exhibitors and distributors will undoubtedly face due to growing consumer adoption of online video streaming services.

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And the Oscar Goes to… Digital Cinema! (Specifically TI)

AMPAS Sci-Tec announcement

Last year the Motion Picture Academy’s Science and Technology branch effectively closed the book on film as a distribution medium for motion pictures by awarding the Academy Award of Merit (Oscar Statuette) to every single film processing lab in the world. So it is perhaps fitting and symmetrical that this year’s recognition would go to the technology that replaced it, i.e., digital cinema, or more specifically Texas Instruments’s team of engineers (and one from Dolby, more on which later).

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences or AMPAS (to give the Oscar Academy, or just ‘the Academy’ its full name) is staying true to the latter part of its name (‘Science’) by each year recognising those people behind the scenes that have contributed to the advancement of motion picture technology, and thus storytelling, by handing out the Scientific and Technical Awards at a ceremony prior to the red carpet Oscars. As AMPAS puts it:

The Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards honor the men, women and companies whose discoveries and innovations have contributed in significant and lasting ways to motion pictures. Honorees are celebrated at a formal dinner held two weeks prior to the Oscar ceremony. The Sci-Tech Awards presentation has become a highlight of the Academy Awards season.

It is important to remember that these are not awarded to companies but to people, though individuals given the awards have often made their achievements working for companies that have often also given the name to the technology being recognised. While it honors the technologies, it is the people behind them that are being feted.

There are furthermore three levels of recognition: the Technical Achievement Awards (which entails an Academy Certificate), the Scientific and Engineering Awards (gets you an Academy Plaque), the Academy Award of Commendation (Special Plaque), and finally the Award of Merit (an actual Oscar statuette). What is remarkable is that this year Texas Instruments was selected in not one but all three of the main categories, putting a big AMPAS seal of approval on the digital cinema technology that has defined the cinema business.

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Tim League Discusses the Alamo Drafthouse Smartphone Policy

Tim League Alamo Drafthouse

Alamo Drafthouse is the premier up-market cinema chain in the United States. Yet it is sometimes better known for its ‘zero tolerance’ approach to people using cellphones, smartphones or even Google Glass in its cinemas.

Following the big response we had to the topic of smartphone use in cinemas (‘Smartphones Are Killing the Cinema Experience‘) we got in touch with Tim League, Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas’ founder and CEO to quiz him about the background and specifics of his chain policy and practices.

Celluloid Junkie: What was the origin of Alamo Drafthouse’s ‘zero tolerance’ towards cellphones, smartphones and wearable devices?

Tim League: For the first few weeks of operation back in 1997, we didn’t have a formal policy. About a month in, we had midnight screenings of “Blue Velvet” which sold out. We had a really cheap Pabst Blue Ribbon special that sold really well and we unfortunately had our first rowdy audience.

I went in the theater and it was out of control. People were chatting and shouting at the screen. I felt sick to my stomach. This wasn’t the theater that I wanted to build. That week I bought a copy of Final Cut Pro 1.0 and taught myself how to use it. I cut together our first Don’t Talk PSA and the zero-tolerance policy was born.

CJ: How was the policy formulated and what staff training was required to put it into practice?

TL:In the old days, I was there every day and I was the enforcer. When there was a complaint, I came in to sort the problem. These days, we have a good amount of training on how to deal with upset customers. We probably throw out 100 or so customers a year, but in general most people quiet down when they get their first warning.

CJ: Can you tell us about the ‘silent notification’ process?

If you have a loud table nearby, you just write down where they are sitting on paper supplied at the table. A server slinks in and takes the note and alerts the manager. A manager will stand in the theater until it happens again. When it does he or she will give the table a warning and tell them they will be thrown out without a refund if it happens again.

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EDCF Guide Highlights Film Festivals’ Digital Nightmares

EDCF Film Festivals guide

The European Digital Cinema Forum (EDCF) has just published ‘The EDCF Guide for Film Festivals in the Digital Age.’ The free guide, available to download on the EDCF website (PDF link) was created based on feedback from professionals responsible for running major international film festivals in the post-film age. Because while most of the technical wrinkles have been ironed out from regular digital cinema operations in cinemas and multiplexes, this is far from the case for film festivals.

The opening of the Guide, which, to give it its full title, includes the sub-heading “- technical operations, theatrical solutions and recommended practices”, makes clear exactly for what and whom it is aimed:

This is a beginner’s guide for people who are dealing with festivals in the evolutionary digital age. It is for operators, engineers, planners, managers, and everyone who has an interest in the long life of film festivals.

As Antoine Virenque, President of EDCF stressed in the Guide’s Foreword, “One of the aims of EDCF is to bring practical information to our members in the film industry. That is the purpose of this guide.” It follows in the footsteps of several previous EDCF guides, such as the ‘Guide to Digital Cinema Mastering’, ‘The EDCF Guide to Alternative Content for Digital Cinema’ and ‘Technical Guide for the Projection Booth in Digital Cinema.’

Typically these guides are written by leading digital cinema practitioners and companies from across Europe [and Jim Whittlesey] who share their expertise, experience and insights. In the case of the Film Festivals Guide the guiding spirit has been Angelo D’Alessio, who has been active with the Venice Film Festival and other events that have faced problems relating to the new digital realities.

With analogue film being a rarity at almost all film festivals showing new films – and even many showing restored and remastered archive films – the Guide is timely given the large number of problems film festival staff encounter with what can often at best be politely described as half-baked DCPs (digital cinema packages) and equipment often temporarily installed. The Guide is helpfully divided into sections that can be used even as stand-alone aids: ‘Understanding Key Terminology’, ‘Frequently Asked Questions’, ‘Words of Warning’ (including ‘Lessons Learned’) and ‘Quality Management System (QMS)’.

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How Smartphones Rule Cinema Ticketing in China

China mobile ticketing WeChat

The boom in China’s box office is mainly attributed to the growth in the number of modern multiplexes catering to a growing middle class. Yet an equally important role has been played by convenience of mobile ticketing, which enables flexibility, impulse buying and seat selection that is valued by the 80, 90 and 00 generations (i.e. born in those decades), who are the main drivers of China’s cinema growth.

Just how big this is and how fast the trend is growing was highlighted in an article by Chinese entertainment consulting firm Entgroup last month:

During this year’s summer profile, market share of online ticketing business accounted for more than 30%. As of the third quarter, the total box office mainland film market beyond 2013 full-year results of 21.7 billion, is expected to reach 30 billion annual box office revenue, and online ticketing service will reach 50%, micro-channel movie tickets will use its unique “ripple communication “vibration entire online ticketing market, and root out the 3-4 line market, in response to consolidation and mergers and acquisitions in the context of the total forest hot market making the message is “no one can integrate me, I do not accept integration. “

Financial website Tiger Sniffing Network (!) profiles the rapidly evolving market and interviews people from three of the leading Mainland mobile ticketing providers: Pull Movies founder Kai, a Cat Movie insiders (interviewed anonymously) and Micro-Channel Movie Tickets founder Lin Ning.

Mobile ticketing in China is considered an O2O (Online-to-Offline) business, which is described by Wikipedia (Chinese) in the following terms:

O2O (Online To Offline) mode, also known as the offline business model refers to the purchase of consumer online marketing online and offline operations driving under the wire. O2O through promotions, discounts, information, service book, etc., the next line of the message store pushed to Internet users, which will convert them to customers under their own line, which is particularly suitable for the goods and services necessary to store the consumer, such as dining, fitness, movies and shows, beauty salons, and department stores such as photography.

In understanding Chinese consumers, particularly 80/90/00, it is important to appreciate the mobile-first, as well as savvy bargain, discount and special deals mentality that underpins consumer behaviour.

Added to this there is a strong element of social networking, using WeChat (messaging), Weibo (Twitter-type ‘micro-blog’) and other social apps, whereby peer influences and decision guided purchasing decisions for both goods and services/experiences.

Mobile Enablers Create Win-Win Situation

The article begins by pointing out that mobile movie ticketing vendors are in a unique position in terms of being enablers, rather than just middle-men between cinemas and their potential audience.

Online seat selection is typical of the O2O industry, where they provide cash flow from online and complete the import line. A mobile phone app will be able to direct the attention of online marketing to generate transformed into the purchasing power of the line at the box office, it is probable that all the movie marketing companies currently can not match the “creativity.” They are closer to the audience than the cinema, so they have amazing box office pulling power to entice the film side more and more to cooperate with them.

There is thus a power that rests with mobile movie ticket companies that is stronger than in most other parts of the world. This change has not come about overnight and the article does a good job of providing a chronology of how ticketing software systems have evolved in China over the past two decades.

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YouTube Now Supports High Frame Rate Playback (Sort Of)

YouTube Preview Image

Back in 2010, as debate raged over whether 4K was really necessary in movie theatres (it depends) and if consumers would ever adopt 4K television sets (they’re starting to), YouTube announced they would begin support of 4K video uploading and playback. The debate wasn’t entirely squelched though until Netflix began streaming content in 4K earlier this year.

YouTube may be squashing yet another film industry debate, this one over the benefits of content created and shown in high frame rate (HFR).

To date, the only feature film to be shot and released in HFR is Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”. The franchise was both captured and projected at 48 frames per second (fps). There have been only a few filmmakers who have since suggested they wish to shoot HFR at higher speeds, notably James Cameron. This is likely due to the lukewarm reception HFR versions of “The Hobbit” received as well as an uncertainty over the install base of HFR-capable digital projectors.

Though the merits of HFR are still being questioned for theatrical releases thanks to a perceived lack of audience interest, a couple of months ago YouTube announced they would begin support of 48 and 60 fps video. Almost immediately YouTube began testing HFR playback with limited groups, however at the end of October the feature was opened up to all users.

There is a bit of noteworthy fine print on the feature as it is currently offered. For instance, the only way to watch video played back in 60 fps is to view it in HD by selecting the 720p and 11080p from the settings drop down of each video. As well, the only web browser capable of showing 60 fps is Chrome, though support for additional browsers is forthcoming.

Oh, and one last thing… YouTube will be in charge of deciding what videos will be given the 60 fps treatment. For now they want to limit its use to videos that are considered “motion intense”. They may as well have just said, we’re doing this for video game footage. Most PC and console games run at 60 fps and look choppy when played back at the standard 24 fps. Playing back video at a higher frame rate gives viewers the same experience and perspective as the person actually playing the game. I’m sure you’ll agree the sample video shown above looks crisp, clear and with smooth, fluid movement.

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CJ@ECA Conference: New Business Models and New Technology

image

Micheal Gubbins of Sampo Media chairs the afternoon panel looking at new business models and new technology for event cinema. He begins with an anecdote about pensioners in his neighbourhood that book up entire opera seasons, go to every performance and all of them dressing up in their best operatic gear. Even the 90-year old gent.

Starting on the far end of the Salim Mukaddam, BBC Worldwide, who works on the music side on thing like the Westlife concert, in addition to Doctor Who and other content. Tom Shaw of Digital Theatre who captured some of the content we saw before the panel started (including flashing Philips lights0. The Matthew Aspray from LANsat/MPS. Thgen award winner Mariusz Spisz of Multikino in Poland (who I  just saw at the SAWA event in Berlin last weeks). And finally the Philips rep – Ronald Maandonks.

Micheal starts off with question to BBC WW about what it is with technology that now makes event cinema possible. Salim begins by stressing BBV WW’s television strength, being the biggest non-Hollywood studio television exporter. “Back in 2009 event cinema was possible and we were looking at things like Met Opera about how we can replicate things for things like the Proms. We split the world with By Experience in US and another company for Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.” Aparently the experience with By Experience was good [but what about the other one?] and they continued doing Last Night of the Proms with them.

They then continued the trials with Robbie Williams’ comback concert and Westlife, both of which were record breaking event cinema events. “It’s really about cost of taking it to the market. Prior to 2009 we would never have done it for the cost of taking such a film to cinema,” Salim states. “It is the move to digital that did it for us.”  The point is made about technology becoming’ invisible’ and now it is about the business model and the experience. Salim confrms that “the key for us is live, so if we can go briefly live over satelite makes it a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience,” as well as “cost effective ways of going live across the globe or near-live” rather than going out on DCPs.

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Barco Escape Gets First Real World Test With “Maze Runner”

Maze Runner In Barco Escape

This weekend’s North American debut of Twentieth Century Fox’s “Maze Runner” is enabling Barco to move forward with a new product initiative it first announced at CinemaCon earlier this year.

Barco Escape is an immersive offering being developed by the digital cinema projector manufacturer that wraps three screens around the audience to provide a 270 degree viewing experience. The additional screens are placed to the left and right of the main screen, extending the projection surface and placing images in an audience’s peripheral vision.

The existing visuals of a film shown in the Barco Escape format are not simply extended onto these new screens. Supplemental visual material must be created specifically for the increased projection areas. That is exactly what Barco had to do for the Escape version of “Maze Runner” showing in the following five specially equipped theatres throughout the United States:

  • Cinemark 18 & XD at the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center in Los Angeles
  • Cinemark Paradise 24 & XD in Davie, Florida
  • Cinemark Legacy Theatre & XD in Plano, Texas
  • Cinemark at Seven Bridges and Imax in Woodridge, Illinois
  • Cinemark’s Redwood Downtown & XD in Redwood City, California

It should be noted that each of these cinemas is owned and operated by Cinemark, a circuit that is predominantly outfitted with Barco projectors. Presumably the exhibitor is assisting the manufacturer with what Barco’s CinemaVangelist Ted Schilowitz refers to as a “technology experiment”.

“We are in probably phase two of something that is not completed yet,” Schilowitz told an audience of press and industry professionals last Wednesday evening before a special screening of the Escape version of “Maze Runner” at the Cinemark 18 in Los Angeles. “You are all getting a sneak peek of something behind the curtain. We have been working with a visual effects team on helping create some of this movie magic.”

Schilowitz was referring to the seven minutes of “Maze Runner” that are projected in the Barco Escape format. This includes the opening scene and an action sequence in the middle of the film. The vfx team will continue to work on “Maze Runner” so that in two or three months an estimated 16 to 18 minutes of the movie will be in the Escape format.

Production of content in the Escape format is one of the biggest hurdles to its adoption. The team working on “Maze Runner” utilized a gaming engine from Crytek a German video game company, to speed up the production of the computer generated visuals. The images were then rendered by supercomputers from Devil & Demon, a company for which Schilowitz serves as president.

Inside a cinema the Barco Escape format requires that an existing theatre be retrofitted not only with two additional screens on the left and right walls, but also with two additional projectors. Unlike the projector that throws the original movie onto the main screen from a projection booth in the back of an auditorium, the two ancillary projectors are mounted to the ceiling inside an auditorium and cast images across the theatre to a screen on the opposite wall.

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