Let’s All Go to the Lobby: How the Cinema Experience is Changing Before the Big Screen

Luxury seating, bigger screens, better sound, and expanded concessions: the moviegoing experience has gone through a significant transformation in the past several years. The next step in that evolution promises to take place in the lobby, the often overlooked part of a cinema that often represents little more than a footpath between the parking lot and a customer’s seat. While singing cartoon hot dogs and popcorn tubs have done their valiant best in attempting to get customers back in the lobby, cinema technology companies have recently stepped up with compelling offerings of their own to drive consumer interest outside the auditorium.

Cineplex is one of the leading circuits on that front. The Canadian exhibitor has 46 of its Interactive Media Zones (IMZ) installed in 44 theaters in its circuit. The Interactive Media Zones are a series of 4K screens with infrared overlays that respond to touch, featuring a Kinect camera that can track a user’s movement. The zones are each equipped with audio, video, and photo capture that users can then share online. Cineplex has used this technology in various campaigns with brands and studios alike. In 2015 the circuit launched a campaign with Sony’s Insidious: Chapter 3 that allowed users to explore a scare-themed interactive photo experience, ending with a 30-second trailer. The campaign included two versions of the interactive content—one before 9 p.m. and a less kid-friendly take for post–9 p.m. showings. Cineplex reports that it saw a 17 percent bump in box office for the title in theaters featuring the Insidious IMZ in the lobby.

Barco’s own immersive lobby offering is designed to captivate and engage audiences through a series of different video and audio segments that take over the entire space. These assets are part of what Barco calls Lobby Domination, where menu boards and box office signage synchronize with video panels to deliver promotional content. Barco recently announced a partnership with Diversified, the nation’s second largest AV integrator, in its commitment to bring enhanced lobby presentations to more theaters. “Digitizing the cinema lobby is the next frontier,” said John Scarcella, vice president of business development for Diversified, in the announcement. “Barco is the ideal technology company to lead this exciting industry initiative, and we look forward to providing our industry knowledge and vast customer network to empower them to take the Barco Lobby Experience to the next level.”

The first lobby project between Barco and Diversified launched this March at Regal LA Live, where audiences can interact with movie trailers well before they reach their seats. “We have had a phenomenal response from our guests, who are truly amazed and awed by the Barco Lobby Experience,” commented Shelby Russell, vice president of marketing for AEG & LA Live. “We see tremendous potential for increasing ticket sales and engaging patrons, while creating a new entertainment experience that they can’t get anywhere else.”

Barco’s lobby experience has also found traction abroad; the company announced a deal with Brazil’s Cine Brasil circuit. “We see the lobby as a new frontier, captivating audiences with a unique experience, while building opportunities for new revenue streams,” says Claudinei Mascaro, owner of Cine Brasil. Barco is partnered with Bardan Cinema for the rollout of its lobby experience throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

Christie has also committed significant investment in developing this business, acquiring digital signage experts Allure Global Solutions in November of 2015. The Allure acquisition not only gives Christie a presence in concessions menus and auditorium listings, but it has also been influential in developing the Christie Experiential Networks (CEN), a digital out-of-home advertising network for brands and studios. CEN is already up and running in Imagine Entertainment’s Palladium location in Birmingham, Michigan. Other circuits scheduled to add the technology include Wehrenberg Theatres, Frank Theatres, EPIC Theatres, and Spotlight Theatres. In March, CEN followed up with another big announcement for 2016—adding National Amusements to its list of clients.

“Just as CEN has done with Emagine Palladium, we create a new and exciting digital advertising network within the theater lobbies of our exhibitor partners as well as expanding upon existing systems to generate incremental revenue,” said Kevin Romano, Christie’s senior director of Global Media Networks, in a press release. “We manage all aspects of the network including sales, content creation, interactive programming, deployment, nationwide monitoring, and maintenance.”

CEN announced a strategic alliance with Screenvision at ShowEast last year, creating a link between the lobby experience and pre-show advertising in the auditorium. “Christie brings to Screenvision the ability to expand our overall advertising solution, by arming us with the means to deliver a whole new experience for advertisers to connect with moviegoers in the lobby, with more exciting, experiential ‘wow factor’ capabilities, as soon as guests step into our exhibition partners’ venues,” noted Darryl Schaffer, EVP of operations and exhibitor relations at Screenvision, in the announcement.

The enhanced lobby experience is only one of the innovations occurring outside the auditorium. Digital signage companies like NEC Display have stepped up their own efforts in delivering more interactive offerings to exhibitors, and cinema chains have begun investing in companies like Brunswick Bowl to add concepts like bowling lanes inside their doors. Movie intermissions might a thing of the past, but today’s cinemas are giving audiences ample alternatives to spend more time in the lobby before and after a film.

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