Cinema will thrive, but perhaps not as we know it

Tim Kridel speaks with Mark Collins, professional senior manager of global cinema at Harman, to check the pulse of today’s cinema market and explore future opportunities.

TK: Before the pandemic, some exhibitors were renting out their indoor facilities for non-film events such as all-hands business meetings and multiplayer video games. During the pandemic, some drive-ins became concert venues, including for live acts (versus streamed on screen). How do you see those trends playing out after the pandemic? And how do those applications affect the types of projectors, loudspeakers and other AV equipment that theatres have? In other words, will they drive upgrades?

MC: Harman is looking toward the future and making changes. We’re not going to be 100% cinema-centric when it comes to the cinema business, because we’re seeing that a theatre is going to have to be a versatile place with diverse people and events, so it's going to require systems to accommodate for multiple kinds of content.

That’s why Harman has made a bit of a transition away from cinema-only processors. I think that type of box is going to become obsolete and be replaced by multi-function processors like our BSS range to fulfil the needs of those private meetings and other events in theatres. Those multi-function processors can not only serve as a cinema processor; they can also be used as a mixer for microphones or to take HDMI from streaming boxes and send it to a projector.

TK: Are there any countries or regions where the cinema market is faring better than elsewhere? If so, why?

MC: China is much more centrally driven than the US, so they make decisions a little differently than other countries do. When they opened back up, they got all their theatres up and running, and they even built quite a few new theatres last year. And they own almost all of their content, which means they're not dependent on Hollywood, and that really is the key. They can show mostly Chinese films, and obviously their patrons enjoy them. The other part of it is that China doesn't have as much streaming as other countries do. Put all those things together, and that’s why China's really taken off.

Other countries that have their own content will start taking off very, very quickly once they open up. Australia used to have only 10% Australian-made content, but now some theatres are at 25-30%, so they don't have to depend as much on what Hollywood does. It's the same thing in India, South Korea, Japan and the European countries. As soon as they open up, they won't have to necessarily wait for Hollywood. They will definitely start promoting their own content and building and upgrading their theatres.

TK: How about theatre survival?

MC: I think you're going to see two different types of movie theatres survive. One type is the premium house—the IMAX, the UltraScreens, the XD screens, AMC Prime—big screens with big immersive sound systems. The public isn't going to put up with having to get off her couch and go to the theatre and have a bad experience. They really want to be able to have that fabulous experience.

The other category is the smaller auditoriums, and there are a couple different kinds. Private cinemas are really starting to really catch on. These are places where people can rent the whole auditorium and watch a movie of their choice, whether it's a new movie or an older movie. That's something that was invented before COVID, and will stick around because people really seem to enjoy that experience.

The other theatre that I think will do well is the community-based theatre. The reason they're going to succeed is they don't have to rely a 100% on Hollywood. They already know what their neighbourhood likes, and they’ll run content for them. Instead of having to show the latest Marvel movie on opening weekend, they're going to have other titles and genres to offer.

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