Tag Archives: Dolby Atmos

Daily Cinema Digest – Wednesday 9 April 2014

ArcLight Santa monica

Normally we bury cinema openings further down in the Daily, but this merits top billing.

Back in January we wrote about how premium cinema operator ArcLight had set its sights on Los Angeles’ Santa Monica market and whether this would create a screen glut.

Now news reaches us that ArcLight is already planning a second multiplex in downtown Santa Monica, which would include an Imax screen.

ArcLight Cinemas is in negotiations with City Hall to put a theater on the land where Parking Structure 3 currently stands — on Fourth Street at Arizona Avenue, said Andy Agle, director of Housing and Economic Development.

A preliminary agreement that would allow ArcLight to start drawing up official plans could go before City Council later this month.

At that same meeting, council will consider final approval of another ArcLight theater proposed for the third level of the Santa Monica Place mall. Those plans have been in the works since last year. The Santa Monica Place theater could include up to 13 screens and 1,500 seats.  LINK

Meanwhile other cinemas in the area, such as Laemmle, are reducing seating capacity and expanding concessions and cafe areas instead. AMC is also expected to reduce the number of seats.


Russian cinema

Russia: Rather than introducing a quota on foreign films, as had been previously mooted, it looks like Russia will instead introduce a levy this summer.

The government plans to popularize Russian films on the home market by introducing extra charges for Western movies and granting tax breaks to domestic ones may do no more than mildly handicap foreign competitors while failing to meet the industry’s underlying needs.

The suggestions, published Monday on the government website, are directed at increasing the presence of Russian films in theaters, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said at a meeting of the council on the development of national cinema in late March during which the measures were discussed.  LINK

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CinemaCon 2014: Press Release Roundup

CinemaCon Logo

PLEASE NOTE: If we missed any individual press release it was not done purposefully. If you would like us to include a CinemaCon related press announcement in a future roundup, please forward it to tips@celluloidjunkie.com.

Historically companies and organizations doing business at trade shows and conferences have relied heavily upon press releases to get their message out to an industry. This has been especially true at CinemaCon and ShoWest before it. This year was no different.

The first day of the show always sees a flurry of announcements “hit the wire”. As the week (and convention) progresses the number of releases tends to dwindle. We thought it might be useful to sum up all of the announcements made at this year’s show, and when appropriate, provide a bit of insight or analysis. Here are the releases published during CinemaCon 2014 listed in alphabetical order by company name:

Arts Alliance Media
The London based digital cinema integrator and software developer is is always good for a few releases during industry trade shows. CinemaCon saw them release no fewer than four. The first announced the launch of a new software solution called AdFuser. The software was designed for all aspects of on-screen cinema advertising. The software is capable of planning campaigns and managing inventory, targeting ads to appropriate genres or audience demographics, automated ad playlist creation, ad content delivery, reporting and much more. AdFuser can be used in either an extremely granular or completely automated fashion.

Our Take: AAM’s cinema advertising software has been in development for years so it is interesting to see them finally launch the product. We have yet to have a close demonstration of the solution, but look forward to seeing it in action. The company is entering a niche market with a stiff competitor (Unique Digital) that has more than a decade head start in the space.

AAM announced a software deal with Vox Cinemas, a cinema chain based in the Middle East. The circuit will be employing AAM’s suite of software to manage their digital cinema technology and operations. This includes solutions such as Screenwriter Plus (Theatre Management System), Producer (Enterprise Circuit Management System) and Locksmith (Enterprise KDM Management) and Lifeguard (NOC Tools). Vox operates 9 complexes which account for 92 screens in Lebanon and the UAE.

Finnkino was already using AAM’s theatre management system (TMS) and will now upgrade to Screenwriter Plus, which has additional features for automation and monitoring. The circuit will rollout the new version of Screenwriter Plus throughout their 14 sites and at a later date has the option to include their 11 Forum Cinemas located in the Baltic.

AAM began as a digital cinema integrator with their own virtual print fees (VPFs) in Europe. They have now entered the complicated Latin American market with a series of partners, most recently Quanta-DGT. The trio announced three deals for VPF rollouts with three exhibitors in Uruguay; Grupo Cine, Life Cinemas and Movie.

Our Take: This agreement is a perfect example of just how complex Latin America can be for the motion picture business. While the combined 61 screens covered in the contract already have digital cinema equipment installed, these screens will now fall under AAM/Quanta-DGT’s VPF agreements.

CinemaBarcoThe Belgian based projector manufacturer was incredibly active during this year’s CinemaCon, showing up at the conference with half a dozen press releases. Many of the notices centered around their new CinemaBarco initiative, specifically the 60,000-lumen laser projector the company is bringing to market. The projector is DCI-compliant and capable of showing 4K content all the way up to 60 frames per second. The Barco 6P laser projector is capable of showing 3D content in 4K at 14 ftL and is fully integrated within the DCI-compliant projector. It will be commercially available immediately in the United States and China before being distributed in the rest of the world by the end of 2014. The company demonstrated the projector at CinemaCon without a “shaking” screen.

To prove just how market ready their laser projector is, Barco announced that Cinemark would be the first exhibitor to install the new technology. The release didn’t specify precisely which sites Barco would be installing its high-tech projector in, though don’t be surprised if Cinemark Century 16 South Point and XD winds up being the first. That’s the Las Vegas cinema in which Barco was conducting off-site demonstrations of its laser projector during CinemaCon.

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Daily Cinema Digest – Monday 3 March 2014

The UK’s first and oldest multiplex is set to be demolished, some 30 years after it first opened.

The Point, which resembles a giant red pyramid, was built in 1985 but the site is now set for retail development.

Campaigners have been lobbying to retain the structure, but planners have recommended the scheme be approved at a meeting on Thursday.

Site owners have said their proposals would “kick-start” local investment.

While there have been renewed calls for the building to stay intact as an important cultural site, plans to demolish it have been in the pipeline since 2012. LINK

While ambitious for its time – much like Milton Keynes’ itself, UK’s first purpose-built city after the Second World War – Odeon’s first attempt at a multiplex does not inspire much love these days. It was where budget airline easyJet’s founder tried the concept of budget cinema (easyCinema) a decade ago:

EasyCinema, part of Greek entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou’s no-frills empire easyGroup, will sell tickets for as low as 20p if booked a month in advance, applying the company’s yield management pricing structure used in businesses ranging from car rentals to plane tickets. Prices will rise nearer showtime.

The Point, which will start showing films at the end of May this year, will have no box office: tickets will be sold online at www.easycinema.com, and there will be a computer to purchase tickets in the lobby. Savings will be made by reduced staff numbers. LINK

But without digital such staff/cost reduction proved elusive, although these days rivals such as Vue have pushed hard into self-service ticketing. EasyCinema also shot itself in the financial foot by refusing to sell concession (presumably to save on cleaning staff), leading to others selling popcorn and sweets outside the cinema.


USA: More and more cinemas are looking to expand their offerings with alcohol and fine dining.

Muskegon-area moviegoers who frequent the area’s largest theater complex will likely have access to a new menu and in-service in the next year.

Celebration Banquets LLC has applied for a Quota Class C Liquor License in the City of Norton Shores for the Cinema Carousel theater complex it operates at 4289 Grand Haven Rd.

The Loeks Theatres, Inc.-affiliated, Grand Rapids-based company is planning a three part, $2.2 million project that will include renovating the auditoriums and adding new food and several beer, wine and cocktail selections to its current offerings. LINK

City Administrator Mark Meyer is quoted as saying, “I think the intention here is to not just have another bar or restaurant, so to speak. We really want to have something unique in the community.”


Laser: Christie Digital has announced that it will showcase its latest laser projection technology, using six primary colour lasers.

Christie® today announced upcoming demonstrations of the world’s most advanced laser projection architecture and Dolby® 3D, to be held in the Christie Innovation Theaters throughout CinemaCon 2014 (Caesars Palace, March 24-27) and the National Association of Broadcasters NAB Show® (Las Vegas Convention Center, April 5-10).

Christie DLP Cinema® laser projectors using 6-Primary (6P) color laser modules, earmarked for mass production in early 2015, will show how 3D light levels, image uniformity, viewing comfort, and a sense of immersion can be vastly improved, especially when combined with advanced separation technology like Dolby 3D, versus conventional 3D systems found in cinemas around the world today.

Christie is right to point out that audiences are put off by dim 3D projection and that a premium charge should go hand-in-hand with a premium experience. LINK

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10 Reasons Why Dolby’s Atmos Will Bypass Your Living Room for Your Headphones

Right from its launch, Dolby has made no secret of the fact that it sees a business for its Atmos immersive audio (IA) technology beyond the cinema. Part of the grand plan was just revealed at the Mobile World Congress currently underway in Barcelona – and it is a very different path from that of rival Auro. Put it this way, DON’T hold your breath for Pioneer to come out with a Dolby Atmos home cinema amplifier but DO expect Samsung’s Galaxy 6/7 to feature AtmosM.

Everyone knows by now that Dolby and Barco are locked into a struggle about who will dominate the next generation of digital audio in cinemas, with the object-based Atmos fighting against the 11.1 Auro. So far the fight has largely gone Dolby’s way, with Atmos screens outnumbering Auro by a factor of 4 to 1, though with some countries such as India being more inclined to embrace Auro.

With Dolby in full control of the Atmos technology and patents, they can afford to bide their time a bit more and build up a larger footprint (earprint?) in cinemas. Particularly following the deal to acquire Doremi, which will help them expand and disadvantage Barco/Auro. Barco, meanwhile, only controls the Auro technology as it relates to cinemas and the patent owners are starting to look at consumer markets such as home cinema and automobiles.

When we asked the question a month ago ‘Has Auro Abandoned Cinema for the Home?‘ we quickly got a response from Auro Technologies saying “we’re happy to confirm that Auro has no plans to step away from the cinema market: quite the contrary in fact. We’re confident that expanding into the consumer market will only strengthen our growing presence in cinema.” The idea is that with more films mixed in Auro 11.1 and seen and heard that way in the home, people will want to experience it the same way in cinemas.

The logic makes some sense, if you consider that consumers who chose Dolby 5.1 in the home did have a positive influence on demanding the same or better in the cinema. However, it also points to the two-front battle that both Dolby and Barco/Auro are waging in the Immersive Audio War. One is to get take up in cinemas and beyond, the second is to get content owners to make their films, television shows and games mixed and encoded in their flavour of IA. Here both are sparing no effort in snaring the best content and creatives, with both Barco and Auro engaged in not just Hollywood but getting films, mixing facilities, preview theatres, directors and audio engineers in countries such as France, India and China familiarised and equipped with their technology. Content is very much King in this battle.

But when it comes to the consumer, the battle lines are drawn quite different, as we will see.

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Daily Cinema Digest – Thursday 27 February 2014


Research from Australia confirms what we have always suspected; cinema goers are a happier bunch than people who stay at home. Some 47% of Australians (more than 9 million people) go to the cinema at least once every three months, which means that only gardening is a more popular leisure activity.

Interestingly, the majority of the 9 million people who went to the movies in any given three months were repeat attendees. While 42% went just once, 40% went two or three times; 14% went between four and seven times; and 4% went eight or more times (and probably have oblong-shaped eyes as a result!).

But there’s more to people who go to the cinema twice or more in a three-month period than mere movie mania. These individuals are more likely to be optimistic about the economy and feel financially stable than the average Australian (or the one-off movie-goer), and less likely to deprive themselves of ‘luxuries’ when shopping.

As consumers, they tend to be the big spenders of society. With healthy discretionary expenditure, they’re more likely than the average Aussie or one-off movie-goer to indulge in treats such as going to the beauty salon or buying fresh flowers. They also rate above the national average in terms of shopping at music stores, fashion boutiques and department stores. Online shopping is popular too: people who visit the cinema twice or more in any given three months are generally more likely to purchase fashion and entertainment/leisure products via the internet in the same period.

Great news for cinema advertisers, but also for entrepreneurial exhibitors looking to build a more meaningful commercial engagement with their customers. Link.

Event Cinema

UK: Vue has reported a 50% rise in event cinema attendance in the last year, with a doubling expected this year as more people stream to showings of theatre, opera, ballet, music concerts and sporting events.

Vue CEO Tim Richards said demand for event cinema screenings had “increased significantly” in recent years and that it had “invested heavily” in its 83 cinemas around the UK to provide access to event cinema screenings.

The most successful event cinema screening to date was the one-off 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who, The Day of the Doctor in November 2013, which took $2.3m in a single night despite being simultaneously broadcast for free on BBC1. The episode took $10m worldwide from 650 cinemas (Nov 23-25) and claimed a Guinness world record as “the world’s largest ever simulcast of a TV drama”, reaching 94 countries.



USA: Salon and Alternet throw a spotlight on the calorie count in the average cinema concession purchase and it makes for eye-opening reading.

But before you plunk down $7 for a medium-sized bag of popcorn at the movie theater, consider its cost to your health. A 2009 study conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest analyzed samples from the country’s three largest movie theater chains — Regal Entertainment, AMC Theatre Groups, and Cinemark. It turns out that there are 1,200 calories in just one medium-sized bag of Regal’s popcorn. Even a small popcorn from Regal contains the same number of calories as Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizza from Pizza Hut — and three times the saturated fat.

Jayne Hurley, a senior nutritionist at CSPI, is quoted in the report as saying, “Regal and AMC are our nominees for Best Supporting Actor in the Obesity Epidemic.”

And that’s before we get to the sodas, which we have written about before. This is an issue that needs a calm and measured debate. Link.

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Dolby Acquisition of Doremi Makes Perfect Sense – Here’s Why

Dolby Doremi Logo

The motion picture industry jump started their week with the surprising news that Dolby Laboratories, Inc. had reached an agreement to acquire Doremi Labs, a leading manufacturer of professional audio visual equipment, for USD $92.5 million in cash. The deal also includes a four-year earn out of USD $20 million which is contingent upon performance and other factors. As is customary, regulatory bodies both in the United States and internationally will need to approve the deal, though the acquisition should be complete by the end of 2014.

Dolby hardly needs an introduction. They’ve been providing audio and imaging technologies to the motion picture, broadcast and music industries for just shy of 50 years. The San Francisco based company is best known their proprietary noise-reduction systems, though they have also been at the forefront of multichannel audio, compression and broadcast transmission technologies. Dolby has annual revenue that has climbed from USD $327.9 million in 2005 to USD $909.6 million last year and net income that has grown from USD $52.2M to USD $189.2 million during the same time period. Its best year for both revenue and net income was 2011 when it rang up USD $961 million and USD $309.2 million respectively. The company’s current market cap is USD $4.2 billion.

Doremi Labs, founded in 1985, may not be as much of a household name as Dolby, though over the past 14 years it has steadily built a solid reputation within the industry as the manufacturer of digital cinema servers. Its servers and integrated media block (IMB) is installed in over 47,000 58,000 movie auditoriums around the world and has been purchased by exhibitors of all sizes. The company, which has offices in Burbank, CA and France, also markets broadcast and post-production equipment as well as closed caption devices. As a private company Doremi doesn’t report its revenue and earnings.

If one needed another sign that the global digital cinema conversion was coming to an end, beyond Hollywood studios ceasing the distribution of film prints, there is none better than this deal. Here is why we believe this acquisition is a smart move and makes perfect sense for both Dolby and Doremi:


As mentioned, after more than a decade the rollout of digital cinema technology around the world has reached a saturation point. According to a February 8th presentation delivered by Media Salles in Berlin on February 8th, upwards of 87% of the world’s movie screens have converted to digital projection as of January 1st of this year. Doremi has grown quite steadily due to the brisk sales of its digital cinema technology over the past decade. While the company brought in revenue from the sale of pro-A/V equipment and technologies, the lion’s share of its earnings is likely derived from d-cinema related products.

Doremi would have seen sales volumes of existing digital cinema product lines plateau (if it hadn’t already) and potentially decrease during the next three to five years. Demand for d-cinema equipment (servers, IMBs and projectors) will decline and new sales will be dependent on the construction of new theatres (new builds) and technology refresh cycles. This in turn leads to the risk of a loss in market share should exhibitors select equipment from other manufacturers.

From all appearances Doremi was in good shape to weather a cyclical sales plateau or decline. The company, headed by Camille Rizko its founder and President, was right-sized with only 130 employees. In addition, Doremi’s strong engineering team is working on a slate of new products that include new hardware and software. An example of their handiwork is CaptiView, a closed caption system which was introduced a few years ago but the market for which is growing. Add to this the extensive and multinational dealership network Doremi has built up to sell such products.

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Daily Cinema Digest – Saturday 18 January 2014


Cinema Opening/Closings

UK: The fight is on to save on of the most historic cinemas in London’s West End. “Leading heritage groups are making last-minute protests against plans to tear down one of Leicester Square’s oldest cinemas. The Art Deco Odeon West End opened in 1930, survived bombing in the Second World War, and now hosts the BFI London Film Festival.” Judging by the failure to save the likes of the Lumiere Cinema (now a Gymbox) it would sadly seem a lost cause. Link.

UK: West London suburb Chiswick is getting a new art-house cinema. “A community cinema was given the green light last night (January 16) to move into the former Rambert Ballet School site in Chiswick High Road… Branding it as their toughest application yet, [Picturehouse Cinema]- which owns six venues across London and 15 others in the UK – can now move forward with their plans for a five-screen cinema with two bars, a cafe and a terrace.” Link.

UK: Cinema Competition Madness, part I. “Work on a second cinema for Walsall town centre will start this summer after a new operator was secured for the multi-million pound development, it was announced today. Light Cinemas will run the screens at Walsall Waterfront, creating 30 jobs. It comes just weeks after it was confirmed a rival complex in the town will also open next year.” Odeon pulled out and Light Cinemas stepped in to compete with Vue. “Council leader Mike Bird said: “I have my doubts whether Walsall can support both but that is up to them to decide. It is showing that people want to invest in the town.” Link.

UK: Cinema Competition Madness, part II. “Developer Prorsus has thanked the people of Trow-bridge for their continuing backing of plans for a £46m cinema complex on the former Bowyers factory site… The hearing, overseen by planning inspector David Nicholson, saw Prorsus fighting to overturn a Wiltshire Council decision – made in June 2012 – to reject plans for an eight-screen Cineworld, a Morrisons supermarket, six restaurants and a pub to be built on the derelict site.” The town already has a newly opened seven-screen Odeon cinema. Link.

India: “BIG Cinemas continues with its expansion plans with carefully chosen revenue centers and launches yet another property in Ajmer, Rajasthan in association with Ansal A.P.I. The Big Cinemas Multiplex is located at the Ansal Courtyard Mall. The Big Cinemas, multiplex in Ajmer is Reliance MediaWorks 98th multiplex in India, and 7th in Rajasthan.” Link.

USA: “A second, smaller movie screen will open Friday at the Sun-Ray Cinema in Riverside [Jacksonville, Florida]. That doubles the possibilities at the old theater, which has made a niche for itself by mixing up mainstream, independent and vintage movies, along with hosting frequent presentations from visiting filmmakers, comedians and even rock stars such as Richard Hell.” Link.

USA: Connecticut, “The Zoning Commission will hold a second public hearing on the proposed Southbury Riverview Cinema and Playhouse project at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Pomperaug High School on Judd Road. Developers of the proposed eight-screen movie house, retail and restaurant project at 690 Main St. South spent three hours Wednesday night describing their plan to commissioners.” Link.

China: As previously reported here in CJ (why China BO growth isn’t all good news for Hollywood), CelebrityCafe notes that PRC added 5,000 screens last year. “China now has over 4,582 cinema complexes and 18,195 screens. This has been an increase of 25 percent and 39 percent, respectively, Variety reported. These numbers include the recent opening of 903 new mega complexes.” Link.

Event Cinema

UK: More on how live event cinema and especially plays help revitalize regional cinema. “Aberdeen may enjoy a thriving theatre scene, but can sometimes be a bit frustrating waiting for the latest hit show to leave London behind to tour to UK. Perhaps that is why the Belmont Picturehouse has upped the ante with its live performances screened via satellite for 2014, releasing a list of new shows that are sure to tickle the tastebuds of the discerning theatre lover.” Although worth noting that contrary to what the article claims Made of Stone was a documentary, not a live event, and A Curious Incident will most likely be cancelled as the theatre where it played closed after the ceiling collapsed last month. Link.

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Has Auro Abandoned Cinema for the Home?

Auro Technologies surprised the cinema industry by announcing partnerships for bringing its immersive audio format to the home cinema market at the recently concluded CES. With only some 100 systems installed in cinemas around the world it would seem early for a switch of focus to the home. However, underpinning the announcement is a complex control structure and ownership of the technology and brand by Barco, Datasat (formerly DTS Digital Cinema) and Galaxy Studios. The question is what impact the announcement will have on future Auro cinema deployments.

The announcement itself is very straightforward in laying out the plan for conquering not just the home cinema, but also the car and mobile markets:

After the successful introduction of its technology in the digital cinema market, Auro Technologies announces the introduction of the immersive Auro-3D® audio experience into the consumer electronics market…Since the introduction of Auro 9.1 and Auro 10.1 at the AES Convention in Paris and San Francisco in 2006, the cinematic speaker layout Auro 11.1 was successfully launched in 2010 (Tokyo, AES Spatial Audio Convention), thanks to the great contribution of Barco, market leader in professional digital projectors and Auro Technologies’ exclusive partner for digital cinema. Until now, Auro-3D® has only been available to the public in professional cinemas equipped with Auro 11.1 by Barco around the world. Now, together with its official partners, Auro Technologies is pioneering once again and the first now to bring its revolutionary 3D Audio technology to all consumer markets.

Auro Technologies then sent out separate press releases the following days announcing the key partnerships, including the one with Datasat (formerly DTS Digital Cinema), whose sound processor is at the heart of the Auro system:

The deal will see the companies collaborate in the development of a range of processors incorporating the Auro-3D® immersive sound format. The new processors will make Auro-3D® available across price points from entry level to high-end home cinema.

The technology partnership agreement builds upon the Auro-3D® license agreement that the companies signed in September 2013. The previous agreement brought Auro-3D® to high-end home cinema with its integration into the award-winning Datasat RS20i processor being demonstrated at ISE 2014. The new agreement will bring this important immersive sound format within the reach of those with more modest budgets.

The other partnership that merited a press release was with DMS for distribution of the technology in most major markets (except for China). Auro Technologies full list of official partners includes: Audiokinetic, California Audio Technology (CAT), Continental, Datasat Digital Entertainment, Denon & Marantz, McIntosh Laboratory, Steinway Lyngdorf (SL Audio) and StormAudio. Then there is of course Barco, with its exclusive right to use the technology in cinemas and which has been lobbying Hollywood studios and other film producers to release their films (preferably exclusively) in the Auro format.

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Is The Motion Picture Industry Discouraging The Next Ray Dolby?

Much has been written over the last several days about Ray Dolby, audio pioneer and inventor, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 80. Rather than add to the din of career-spanning obituaries of Dr. Dolby, instead let’s use his life and cinematic contributions to explore what the future of the motion picture industry might look like for those wanting to follow in his giant footsteps.

For those like me, born after the 1965 founding of Dolby Laboratories, the best explanation of who Ray Dolby was, the one that resonates the most, comes from Ioan Allen. Now a Senior Vice President at Dolby, Allen has worked with the company since 1969. In a video tribute which played before Dr. Dolby was was honored with the Charles S. Swartz Award at the Hollywood Post Alliance’s annual HPA Awards, Allen stated:

“The public doesn’t really know about Ray Dolby. He’s out there somewhere, but they’re aware of the fact that a cassette labeled Dolby sounds good. Dolby Surround sounds good…. And they’re kind of aware of the fact that Dolby on a theatre marquee sounds good. But all those things are possible because of Ray Dolby’s inventions which are at the heart of the whole process.”

This sentiment captures how I grew to know and appreciate Dr. Dolby’s achievements. As an adolescent growing up on a steady diet of “Star Wars” and Spielberg movies, Dolby was simply the logo on the marquee or newspaper advertisement that enticed me to patronize one cinema over another when both were showing the same film. Dolby was the button on the side of a Sony Walkman I would press because it dampened the hiss of analog cassette tapes. It wasn’t until I attended film school, and then afterwards, that I was properly introduced to Dolby Laboratories as a company, and more specifically, the groundbreaking work of its founder.

What Dr. Dolby’s death makes me think about most, more than any of the Oscars, Emmys and numerous awards he justly received for his innovations, is who will be the next trailblazer to make such contributions. Not just at Dolby Laboratories or in the entertainment industry at large, but more specifically in advancing the art form of motion pictures through scientific engineering and new technology.

My concern is not for film production; there will always be a Vince Pace to create next generation cameras or a Bill Warner to figure out a more efficient way to edit content. Home entertainment is also unlikely to suffer a lack of ingenuity, as some new company will always be coming up with smaller, faster and better versions of ever-evolving content mediums and distribution technologies. Motion picture exhibition, on the other hand, may be in for a dearth of innovation.

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Can RealD Rival IMAX In The Premium Large Format (PLF) Market?

With Cinema Europe currently underway in Barcelona, two trends for premium cinema experiences that pull in opposite direction are hot topics for exhibitors gathering in Spain. The first is towards smaller, intimate venues that typically serve fine food and wine, as exemplified by The Electric in London or the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. But it is the super-sizing of cinemas in a bid to compete with IMAX and its ability to charge premium ticket prices that is attracting the most attention right now. And RealD wants to be the centre of that action.

With cinema admissions in most of Europe static or even down and 3D seeing its lowest admission figures yet in the US this week, the hunt is on for how to squeeze more out of the people that still go to the cinema. This is where the success of IMAX comes into play, with exhibitors either partnering the large format (LF) player or launching their own premium experience auditoriums, to be able to charge a premium above that of 3D. The track record of exhibitors that have launched their own IMAX-like screens has been mixed, with social media in particular abuzz with patrons venting their unhappiness about large screen up-charges. This blog called AMC’s ETX ‘an Excuse To charge Extra’ and is no less kind about Regal’s RPX.

With Digital 3D being a key part of the PLF experience, RealD has spotten and opportunity to try to create a branding on behalf of exhibitors. From their press release:

At a special presentation to European cinema exhibitors at CineEurope, RealD Inc. (NYSE: RLD) today introduced “LUXE: A RealD Experience,” a premium large format (PLF) initiative aimed at unifying the exhibition community under a single brand with a goal of becoming synonymous with the ultimate out of home entertainment experience. Minimum standards will assure all “LUXE: A RealD Experience” auditoriums feature massive screens, ultra bright 2D and 3D, enveloping audio and luxury seating for a premium movie-going experience. “LUXE: A RealD Experience” auditoriums will provide full flexibility with content, allowing exhibitors to show any movie at any time for optimized profitability.

The code words are clearly audible dog whistles for cinema owners. The first sentence effectively says, “you have largely failed with your efforts of creating in-house PLF brands that can take on IMAX.” The second sentence says, “too many of the PLF auditoriums have been poor IMAX-lite causing consumer backlash.” The third sentence is the most critical, because it tells cinemas not to tie themselves in with IMAX’s restrictive licence terms – “you will have to pay a licence fee to RealD, but it will be less than what you would pay IMAX and we also won’t tell you which films to play and for how long.” Not surprisingly the effort has won the backing of the studios, who are keen on premium ticket pricing, but not on IMAX dominating the market. [NB: The first point was made even more strongly in the ScreenDaily interview, where Mayson is quoted as saying, “There are more than 50 PLF brands worldwide. We’re trying to unify those brands on the grounds that it’s easier to create awareness around one experience."]

Bob Mayson is quoted in the Hollywood Reporter on the technical specifics:

“LUXE comes in response to our exhibitor customers, who are seeing increasing demand for premium cinema offerings but really want a single identifiable brand that will be a guarantee of quality to their customers,“ Robert Mayson, Managing Director of RealD Europe told The Hollywood Reporter. According to Mayson, the technical standards, which include wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling screens of at least 16 meters (52.5 feet) in width; 3D sound; auditorium rakes and a screen brightness for 3D projections about twice the current norm, means LUXE will be an elite standard. “We are talking about the top five percent of cinemas, there will be many theaters that won’t have the capacity or the physical dimensions to qualify,” he said.

Note in particular the mention of ’3D audio’. RealD is careful not to pick a winner in the fight between Dolby’s Atmos and Barco’s Auro and would most likely prefer to see an open standard, as called for by NATO and UNIC [Dolby’s Artmos in its RPX screens, 3D audio will together with a big screen and bright projection be a cornerstone of the PLF experience. Though for exhibitors not willing to install two projectors, whether Sony or DLP, the equation will not truly be completed until the arrival of laser projection.

The next thing to note is the territories where this system will launch. THR identifies this as, “RealD plans to roll out the new LUXE initiative in Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Africa. Europe in particular has seen strong growth in the premium segment of the cinema market.” Screen meanwhile lists, “Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Bulgaria, Romania and the Balkans.” The thing to note is that it is the emerging markets that are of particular focus, which is why we get a quote from “Paul Heth, CEO of Karo Film, a leading cinema chain in Russia.” These are the markets that have not attempted a PLF brand on their own and that will build new multiplexes, so that the system does not have to be retrofitted into existing multiplexes. RealD is thus unlikely to try to persuade existing cinema clients in North America and Western Europe to ditch their own in-house PLF brand in favour of LUXE.

While IMAX is built on great technology and offers (depending on the site) a terrific viewer experience, there is nothing about it that cannot be replicated with todays digital technology – unlike the analogue 70mm systems of olden days. What sets it apart from in-house PLF screens is thus one thing: branding. IMAX has done a terrific job of re-positioning its brand from 60 minute documentaries for school groups that put bums on seats Monday through Friday 9am until 5pm, to one where people book tickets weeks in advance to catch the latest Hollywood blockbuster on the opening weekend. This despite the backlash of the ‘IMAX-lite’ entry into the multiplex market a few years back. Vue Xtreme and Regal RPX have simply not been able to match the branding power of IMAX. RealD too has some cleaver technology, including launching the brighter screen this week, but there is nothing inherently unique about circular polarization 3D at the heart of their solution. The truth is that RealD too is about branding. Just like IMAX it charges a licence fee. Just not as much or with terms perceived as equally restrictive. If RealD succeeds with LUXE – and it stands a better chance than in-house PLFs – it is because the company understands IMAX and what makes it a success all too well.