The future of cinema has made headlines recently years as streaming services Netflix, Amazon Prime and now Disney+ and Apple TV have changed the way people not only watch television but films as well. This perceived threat and how the movie business can adapt dominated discussion at the second annual Digital Cinema Summit during ISE 2020.

In his keynote Market Overview, David Hancock, Director of Research and Analysis for Cinema and Home Entertainment at IHS Markit, observed that the movie business needed to reposition and reconnect with its audience. “Technology is one of the core components of cinema [for engaging with moviegoers] and there are now more than 7000 immersive screens worldwide,” he said. Hancock added that better seating and boutique services were other ways to get people into cinemas.

Experiential technologies such as virtual and augmented realities (VR/AR), e-sports – multi-player video gaming in venues – and 4D presentations of film (with physical effects adding the fourth dimension) are regarded as the principal options to fill movie theatres. “VR and e-sports are ways to use dead space in cinemas,” commented Tim Potter, VP of Sales (EMEA/International) for integrator CinemaNext.

In Asia and Latin America, 4D has proved effective in luring audiences away from their home or mobile screens. Emily Ng, Senior VP of Business Development at MediaMation, a VR, e-sports and 4D specialist, said these were not gimmicks but new ways for people to experience films and cinema. “People want a thrill, something they can’t have at home,” she explained. “It’s a way to promote movie culture, [which is why] 4D is here to stay.”

Event cinema, relaying plays, musicals and other performance to theatres, has provided alternative revenue streams since the early 2000s. Speaking during ISE’s first all-female panel, Cinema Advertising and Event Cinema, Kathryn Jacob, CEO of Pearl & Dean, saw this as contributing to the segmentation of cinema, as well as providing things, such as arts coverage, that were now less common on TV.

Marlene Wickel, MD of Dutch cinema advertising group Jean Mineur Mediavision, picked e-sports as “the next big thing” but cautioned that the market would have to be patient. Pei-Zhi Liou, CEO of e-sports management and services company Cooldown Ventures, commented that there were many ways e-sports could be done within cinemas, adding that the US had adopted the genre quickly, with colleges even offering scholarships in it. Consultant Melissa Cogavin pointed out that because cinema was only a “minuscule fraction” of the gaming market and event cinema was also small, it could possibly take a generation for the two sectors to make an impact on cinemas.

Dramatic headlines have spelled the end for cinema – mainly due to streaming – but movie-going surveys tell almost a different story. Kim Ludolf Koch, General Manager of the Cineplex chain, presented analysis showing that in Japan, the Netherlands, France and Poland, cinemas experienced their highest audiences for decades. The UK, which has a higher proportion of boutique cinemas, reported its second-best year in 50 years (since 2018). Germany, on the other hand, had its second lowest attendance in 30 years.

The Netflix/Amazon effect was discussed in the final panel of DCS, Streaming and its Impact on Movie Theatres. Graham Spurling, Joint MD of Ireland’s Spurling Cinema Group, commented that windows for showing films were shrinking anyway, regardless of streaming services. He added that operators had to deal with the likes of Netflix in their own way: “I played The Irishman and Netflix wanted me to take a package of five films. I said no and just screened the one with the hype.”

Melissa Cogavin observed that the situation was not as serious as mainstream media had made out. “A lot of people are streaming films and series but there are still people who go to the cinema a lot,” she said. “It’s different forms of content. We’ve been here before with the ‘cinema is dying’ story and I don’t think we need to worry as much.”

Digital Cinema Summit took place on 12 February 2020 at the Hotel Okura Amsterdam. Please find the image gallery here. See you next year at Integrated Systems Europe 2021!