Diversifying uses for cinema can boost revenue

Tim Kridel speaks to Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s Kimberly Sandel and Dan Cofer to find out the ways cinemas can expand their businesses and use their assets for a wider range of applications.

TK: Some exhibitors rent out their theatres for non-film events such as gaming products launches and business videoconferences. For example Alamo’s corporate rental shows how some exhibitors rent out their theatres for non-film events such as gaming, product launches and business videoconferences. When a theatre has to support films and non-film events, how does that affect the choice of projection, loudspeakers and other AV systems? For example, one obvious difference is that you need inputs to make it easy for users to provide their content, such as from a laptop. But what else differs from a theatre that’s strictly for films? 

Kimberly Sandel, manager of private and community events for the Austin Market: Oddly enough, not much! The majority of current digital projector setups these days come equipped to handle most outputs. We just know when building venues to include front-of-house connections. Having state-of-the-art projection and sound equipment is really the most important part when marketing a venue even for non-film events.  

Another nice addition we like to include, but cannot always accommodate, is power outlets near the seats. This is incredibly useful for day-long conferences where attendees may need to charge various devices.

TK: Alamo’s ‘Just for Fun’ option mentions rentals for gaming. A few other interviewees said gaming seems to be a growth market for exhibitors. I’m interested in how that market might evolve over the next few years, and how that evolution will affect the types of technologies that exhibitors add to theatres. For example, VR is becoming increasingly common in gaming, so does that suggest we might see exhibitors add VR headsets to their theatres?

KS: So far for our venues we have not seen that sort of market demand. We do a fair amount of events that require the use of a gaming console, but not much beyond what a home gamer would utilize.  

We have, however, done lobby installs for VR demos during our film festival Fantastic Fest. VR is definitely growing as a medium for filmmakers, so I expect we will see more demand for it in the future, and as always, we will just have to get creative with our space and our technologies.

TK: Has Alamo Drafthouse said anything publicly about how much business it gets from non-film events? I’m asking exhibitors to try to get a sense of whether non-film events are a big and growing market or whether they’re still a minor source of revenue.

This is not something we really feel the need to get into. I would not say it is not a growing market though, but more of a market that could be expanded on.  

I think the biggest issue is that many individuals and groups do not automatically think of a movie theatre as a space that would be available for non-film events. For theatres, the key is expanding marketing to invite individuals to really feel like they can get creative with the space. We are a blank canvas and can make the space work for anyone and anything.

TK: What do you see as the top technological trends in cinema over the next few years? Some interviewees have cited HFR, 4K, laser projection and direct-view displays.

Dan Cofer, technical director: HFR has not appeared to go over well with general audiences. I doubt we will see a huge push for that in the future. Also, there are not many releases in 4K, and it’s unclear if there is demand for it beyond the cinephile audience. 

We are currently looking at laser projection and direct display (such as the Sony C-LED) though mainly for PLF screens at this point, as it is cost-prohibitive to retrofit existing installations.  

KS: Something we find really interesting is that there has been a resurgence of interest in older formats such as 35mm and 70mm. We are actively installing equipment for those formats in our theatres.  70mm was once thought to be a dying art, but now more and more blockbuster titles are being released with 70mm prints.  It is great that we get to play a part in keeping that history and art alive and that there is a growing audience for it as well.

DC: We currently have the only US installation of Eclair Color HDR at our Mueller location in Austin. While there are few films yet available in North America using the format, it is always exciting to get to test new technologies.

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