Now that the worldwide digital cinema rollout is nearing completion, with most of North America and a majority of Europe and Asia converted, companies, business models and content will begin to emerge that exploit the capabilities and benefits of the new technology.
One such entity you can expect to be hearing about at this year’s CinemaCon and in the months that follow is Audience Entertainment. The company creates branded entertainment which large groups can interact with in unison. To date, Audience Entertainment has worked mostly on interactive games for ad campaigns that are played in movie theatres, concerts and special events. Barry Grieff is the CEO of the company, which he founded in 2009.
If Grieff’s name sounds familiar there may be good reason. During a decades long career in the entertainment industry, Grief has held a number of positions in a all areas of the business. He started out as the National Advertising Director for National Lampoon and went on to work as a senior executive in music for A&M Records and as a Vice President of Marketing at ABC Records. He’s even been the President of Lorne Michaels’ production company Broadway Video. Back in 1984 he produced “Treasure: In Search of the Golden Horse” which was the first interactive laser disc for Pioneer as a showcase for the new digital medium.
“Treasure” was actually an interactive game that sent viewers out in search of a golden horse worth USD $500,000 that had been buried somewhere out in the world. It very well might be one of the earliest examples of transmedia, since it was released on multiple platforms including theatrically, on television, and on laser disc.
As Grief explained during an in-depth conversation a week before CinemaCon, it was this early experience with interactive content that ultimately led to Audience Entertainment. After several years of trials, tests and one-off productions, the company is ready to launch in earnest. To help the company grow its platform in cinemas around the world, Audience Entertainment recently announced a deal with Barco, the digital cinema projector manufacturer. The strategic partnership is part of the latter company’s new CinemaBarco suite of product offerings.
Celluloid Junkie: Maybe it’s best to start at the very beginning of your career since you’ve had several different focuses throughout your professional history. Is your varied experience an asset when it comes to Audience Entertainment?
Barry Grieff: Absolutely. Unlike someone that’s been in a distribution system their entire career, it’s more difficult for them to see the benefits and the pitfalls of that. I’m more agnostic about that. I look at things and say, “There are all these distribution channels, why limit yourself to just this one.” So, I think my lack of holding a job is a good thing.
CJ: Did the concept for Audience Entertainment originally come from your work with Pioneer in the 1980s? That kind of interactive entertainment was a little ahead of its time, so what was it that stuck with you for more than 20 years to want to expand on the idea?
BG: What I saw with “Treasure” was that this game was used by schools, by teachers, it taught geography, it taught logic, it taught math, because the puzzles were all interesting. I saw involvement at a level I had never seen in previously passive kinds of media and I was intrigued by it. But there was no real future because nothing was digital yet. I kind of held onto that idea hoping that someday this would be possible. Then a couple years before I started Audience Entertainment, I was heading a company called the Brand Experience Lab. We had technologies from different universities and folks around the world that they were looking to showcase to marketers. We had a 3D printer, we had holograms, we had virtual reality, but nobody knew what to do with it. What I saw was incredible interest from everybody. During that period we ran into a technology, which is motion capture, which is what we’re using now. One of the clients that came into the lab saw it and said, “Hey that’s really interesting could you do that in the movie theatre?” And it hadn’t occurred to us prior to that so I said, “I don’t see why not”.