Connected Devices: Cielo and the Internet of Things at the Cinema

This decade in exhibition has proved that the digital conversion didn’t simply stop in the projection booth. With digital devices transforming our everyday lives, Miami-based Cinema Equipment & Supplies turned to the internet of things to see how they could do their part in transforming exhibitor operations. Boxoffice caught up with Guillermo Younger Jr., president and CEO of Cinema Equipment & Supplies, to talk about how digital innovation can transform the day-to-day operations of movie theaters around the world.

Where would you say we are as an industry in terms of unlocking the potential benefits of the internet?

It’s not just cinema, but all kinds of industries are only just starting to see the benefits of the internet. We’re still in the very early stages of the internet of things in cinema. It started when we went from analog to digital projection, but that was just the beginning. There was this promise of how digital was going to improve exhibition and make things a lot easier for the exhibitors. That was true, to some degree, particularly in show scheduling and being able to automate a lot of the projection. But it became even more complicated because now you had a lot of different vendors, different products that managers needed to understand. There hasn’t been an organized way to consolidate that in one platform, and that’s where the internet can provide a lot of value in just having all these digital devices connected. We’re just starting to see the tip of iceberg for the benefits in the industry. So from an exhibition standpoint, there are a lot of efficiencies that come about with having their devices connected to the internet.

How can consumers and exhibitors see that influence? What role does Cinema Equipment & Supply play in this conversation?

From a consumer side, for a moviegoer, it really starts getting exciting when exhibitors connect their loyalty data with a user’s preferences. They can come up with tailored solutions specifically for those patrons based on their interests or from previous purchases at the concessions stand.

Where we come along in this conversation is creating a new service model in the industry for the exhibitor. Using Cielo and the “internet of things” to be able to help exhibitors maximize the return on their investments in their operational assets. Our platform, Cielo, provides a forecast and reports to exhibitors when those lamps are going to expire based on the usage of the equipment. Now the purchasing person at the theater has that information and is more efficient in the ordering of those lamps. That’s just one example of how we’re really driving a lot of the efficiencies and savings on the operations side.

We’re seeing a sort of amenities arms race among circuits, with movie theaters undergoing transformations in order to gain an advantage in attracting consumers. How does the internet of things play into this trend?

It’s something that really resonated with the exhibitors’ needs, especially with the emergence of luxury cinema, exhibitors are focused much more on—and have a competency in—hospitality. They’re hiring a lot of restaurant managers, they’re hiring people that come from the hospitality industry to be able to provide those new service offerings to their moviegoers. It’s rather difficult to have a manager be very technical and competent in all those aspects, and this is enabling them to focus on the new offerings in their cinemas. That’s something that’s really resonated globally across all exhibition.

As a family business, you’ve worked with exhibition for generations. When did you start turning toward tech solutions like the Cielo platform?

We know NOC (network operations center) services very well. What we started realizing is that the service model in the industry was very inefficient. It led to customers being very unhappy, for a few reasons. One is they lived in this heightened state of anxiety—not knowing when things were going to break, not having information when equipment broke, and having to be very reactive to solving issues. The service model was that the exhibitor would call the NOC and report an issue. Then the NOC would either try to resolve the issue remotely once they were informed of it, or they would in most instances dispatch a technician to go fix it. We saw that as being very inefficient. We listened to our customers, who really had no visibility into what was going on in their cinemas.

We looked at other industries and started seeing how other devices played into day-to-day interactions. A great example is Nest, which lets you see the temperature in your home and adjust it while you’re not even there. Alarm and home security systems are another example. You can even monitor your body with something like Fitbit. Nothing like that really existed in our industry. We asked ourselves, “Well, why can’t we bring this into the cinema industry?” Rather than keep the exhibitor in the dark, no pun intended, we could give them that transparency and visibility into the status of their equipment. We wanted to be completely transparent with the exhibitors, give them access to that information, and work with them to be able to have the most efficient model to resolve issues.

We’re starting to see a lot of results. One of our exhibitor partners, within the first three months, we were able to reduce the number of alerts they were seeing by 65 percent. Fewer alerts means fewer issues with their equipment, more “up time,” and greater focus on what’s more important: making sure that the customer has a great moviegoing experience.

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