Two years after the first ICE (immersive cinema experience) auditorium was unveiled in France, with the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on December 14, 2016, the premium format is set for its first international rollout under an exclusive deal between CGR Cinemas and VOX Cinemas.
CGR’s ICE theater combines advanced sound and image technologies with the premium combination of Dolby Atmos sound, DK speakers, 9P 4K laser projection and special recliner seating. ICE Immersive promises “the ultimate immersive experience.” It all began in 2016, when Jocelyn Bouyssy, managing director of one of France’s leading circuits, CGR, noticed at CinemaCon the potential of combining Philips LightVibes technology—which delivers ambient video and surround lighting effects to the audience’s peripheral vision field—with premium sound and seating. Two years later, ICE leads the French PLF market in terms of admissions and theaters, with 25 sites.
After the immense success of ICE in France, CGR and VOX Cinemas, the Middle East’s leading exhibitor, announced in February a strategic partnership to deploy the technology in the Middle East and North Africa. This deal marks the first time that ICE theater will be available outside France, bringing a new kind of experience to a dynamic and booming market. The technology will be deployed in three priority territories in 2019: Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.
“We were impressed by the outstanding technological excellence of the ICE theater concept and welcome this strategic partnership with CGR Cinemas,” stated Cameron Mitchell, CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Leisure, Entertainment and Cinemas, the parent company of VOX Cinemas, in a press release. “As part of our vision to deliver outstanding offerings to customers across our markets, we continually seek the best cinema experience that can truly enthrall our audience.”
VOX Cinemas has long been the leader in theatrical innovation in the Middle East, bringing the emblematic IMAX Experience, the immersive 4DX, and the unique IMAX Sapphire technology to its audiences. Bouyssy added, “I am pleased with this strategic partnership, as we share with VOX Cinemas the same innovative vision for the future of theatrical exhibition.”
2018 was a tremendously successful year for ICE. A record number of films were released in the format, including Jumanji, Mission: Impossible—Fallout, Aquaman, and Bohemian Rhapsody. Speaking to Boxoffice, Bouyssy reported that all the latest blockbusters have generated more entries in ICE than IMAX, surpassing IMAX entries by up to 80 percent. Ticketing revenues compared to “classic” screens also rose by 55 percent. Behind this success lies an innovative business model for exhibitors. “ICE is the only PLF conceived and created by a cinema circuit for cinema circuits, based on a zero third-party royalty business model,” Bouyssy emphasized. “This model is therefore revolutionary, not only in terms of technological added value, but especially in terms of a business model for exhibitors. They keep absolute control of their ticketing revenues.”
In France, audience satisfaction has also skyrocketed, with double the seat occupancy rate compared to the average attendance in a classic movie theater, and nine out of 10 ICE viewers reporting they were satisfied with the experience. According to Bouyssy, the key to ICE’s popularity is that the format, unlike some other PLFs, does not target a specific segment but rather appeals to all demographics, from young urban audiences to higher socio-professional categories.
A strong marketing campaign boosted the format’s visibility and appeal. “The digital and television campaigns and the clear commercial claim associated with it—‘Live a unique visual experience’—allow the viewer to immediately visualize the added value offered by ICE. Besides, all our campaigns use strong movie content as a communications lever. We do not separate the content from the experience. Both go together,” Bouyssy asserted. Moreover, CGR was able to generate excitement among younger audiences by collaborating with celebrities and influencers who promoted the format on social media.
If 2018 proved the success of ICE, 2019 seems even more promising. More than 20 films will be released in the format, including long-awaited blockbusters like How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Annabelle 3, Men in Black International, Spider-Man: Far from Home, and Hellboy. ICE offers an appealing business model for exhibitors and a uniquely immersive experience for moviegoers; the ambitious deal with VOX is surely just the beginning of the model’s expansion in France and abroad. Bouyssy announced that “key agreements are currently being negotiated in other territories and will be announced shortly. In France, independent circuits (Cinemovida, etc.) have been conquered by the ICE concept and will open their ICE theaters in the coming months. The Majestic Cinemas circuit has already opened its first ICE theater in Compiègne, France.”