International exhibitors at this week's ShoWest convention in Las Vegas (March 6-9) are talking of a global revolution in the cinema industry where projectionists and box office cashiers will be a thing of the past.
New technology - such as digital projection and e-commerce - is driving the next generation of innovations, which include internet ticket booking, worldwide release dates and tailored trailers and advertising. And although the big question of who pays for digital transition is yet to be resolved, there is growing proof that the consumer is willing to pay extra for digital quality.
"We have proved that customers are willing to pay $1 above the normal ticket price for a digital screening," said Joost Bert, president and CEO of the Kinepolis Group which owns one of the five European cinemas currently projecting Toy Story 2 digitally. After experimenting with digital posters, Bert expects this technology will shortly be used in running tailored trailers and screen advertising with each movie.
Joe Peixoto, president and CEO of international circuit United Cinemas International (UCI), also running a digital presentation of Toy Story 2 in the UK, stated that digital cinema is now a reality and penetration of around 25% can be expected in the major markets in 2-3 years.
On e-commerce, Peter Dobson claimed that Warner Bros International Theatres in the UK has recorded real-time internet ticket sales as high as 9% and stated that the way forward is wireless booking probably via a mobile phone. Dobson also stressed the need for closer release dates with the US to relieve piracy problems and increase box office revenues.
The new president of National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) John Fithian emphasised the need for exhibitors to maintain their position as the engine that drives exhibition in the digital era and was clear that distributors should take responsibility for the costs in transferring to digital cinema. "Those that benefit most from the transition (to digital cinema) should pay for it." Fithian also added that he is suggesting changing the name of the organisation to IACO - International Association of Cinema Owners in light of the globalisation of the market.