From AMC’s tumultuous year to Mark Zuckerberg’s VR push, here’s our alphabetically-ordered round-up of all the main events in cinema over the past 12 months.
2017 was a tough year for global cinema, with new technologies coming up against the vagaries of a fickle box office and corporate consolidation, with Netflix and PVoD lurking like Pennywise the Clown.
We look back at the biggest cinema technologies, trends and company news from the past 12 months.
A is for…AMC
Having created the world’s largest cinema operator through the merger of AMC, Carmike, Odeon & UCI and Nordic Cinema Group in 2016, it proved a rough year for AMC with its share price losing nearly two-thirds of its value.
This was a result of trouble for Chinese parent company Wanda, a poor box office summer and enforced selling off of shares in cinema advertiser NCM. The year ended with AMC facing the potential merger of its US/UK arch rivals Regal and Cineworld, as cinema consolidation accelerated.
B is for…box office
US box office receipts looks set to be down by 2% in 2017 compared to the previous year. But China has rebounded with 15% growth and most other territories around the globe also posted growth figures, helped by local hits such as Paddington 2 in the UK. However, any sign of decline seems like an invitation for pundits to trot out the ‘Cinema is Dying’ headline.
C is for…CJ CGV
Korea’s CJ CGV is more than just a leading global cinema chain. It is the company pushing the 4DX immersive seating and ScreenX immersive viewing formats. Its ‘cultureplex’ cinemas feature bookstores and bed cinemas and it is on its way to achieve its ambition of 10,000 screens worldwide by 2020, with major presence in China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Turkey, as well as new openings and deals for New York and Moscow.
D is for…dynamic pricing
Regal caused a storm when it announced this fall that it was testing dynamic ticket pricing with Atom Tickets.
Opinion pieces denounced the idea of ‘surge pricing’ at the cinema. But dynamic pricing is already a reality for hotel and airlines, with Berlin-based Smart Pricer already implementing its solution with five European cinema chains, claiming that it offers as much as 5% incremental revenue.
E is for…experience
Ranging from Secret Cinema’s film-stage extravaganzas, through Hot Tub Cinema, Rooftop Cinema, Underground Cinema, Luna Cinema and countless outdoor cinema screenings, pop-up cinema screenings kept growing in popularity and showed that people would pay good money to see old films such as Moulin Rouge and Grease in a novel setting.
F is for…film
With cinemas having completed the transition to digital, 2017 was the year audiences re-discovered film; more specifically 70mm. Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk was released in 125 cinemas, topping the 100 70mm prints of The Hateful Eight the previous year.
Dunkirk was followed by Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express which confirmed film-makers abiding affinity to the analogue capture, display and (importantly) archive medium.
G is for…generations
Cinema trade body UNIC launched a research project in 2017 to examine the youth demographic attitude toward cinema in UK, Spain and Germany. MPAA statistics in US showed that at 38% Millennials make up the largest frequent movie-goer group.
A bigger worry is that Hollywood is overlooking 50+ movie-goers, who comprise 30% of all US movie admission a Movio study found this year.
H is for…HDR
With interest in stereoscopic 3D having declined or at least plateaued in cinemas focus has switched on high-dynamic range, with solutions like Dolby Vision and EclairColor.
Both saw the number of installations push pass 100 this year, with Dolby offering a more expensive premium solution while Eclair offered more affordable upgrades to existing Sony and Barco projectors.
I is for…IMAX
By late 2017, there were over 1,300 IMAX screens in 75 countries, with China now the single largest market, and more than 500 further screens planned.
IMAX is thus the preferred premium large format (PLF) brand, even as cinemas try to establish their own PLFs, due to IMAX strict financial terms and control over which films get shown.
J is for…January to December
In 2017 a blockbuster release was as likely to appear in March, such as Beauty and the Beast or September, for example It as during the summer or holiday period as Hollywood studios moved to a 12-month release schedule.
K is for…Kenya
Kenya has more IMAX screens than any Scandinavian territory and as many as all of Germany, i.e. two.
While the focus on cinema growth has been on China and territories like Latin America, Africa is emerging as the next place to watch, with multiplex operator such Silver Bird and Filmhouse expanding beyond their native Nigeria, while Canal Plus has committed to building 100 cinemas across Africa to boost its pay-TV operation.
L is for…laser projection
Laser projection has become the new normal for cinemas, replacing lamp-based digital projectors.
NEC strengthened its grip on the Blue-phosphor laser (BPL) market with the launch of its BR-laser projector. Christie focused exclusively on its 6P RGB laser projectors while Barco combined ‘smart’ (BPL) and ‘flagship’ (RGB) lasers. Sony finally launched its first HDR-ready 4K SRX-R800 laser projectors at the end of 2017.
M is for…motion seats
Immersive motion seating (IMS) and 4D seating that sprayed fog and mist were the surprise hit of 2017. D-Box had over 650 IMS screens installed as of late 2017, while 4DX had 415 locations in Q3 across 50 countries.
N is for…Netflix
The announcement that Netflix will produce 80 feature films in 2018 lead to more ‘Cinema is Dying’ headline doomsaying.
Yet Netflix continued to have more success with its TV show in capturing the public imagination, with series such as Stranger Things and House of Cards than with its films while its prestige productions including Okja and War Machine failed to attract the kind of critical praise and accolades heaped on its rival Amazon Studios, whose films Manchester by the Sea appear in cinema well before streaming.
O is for…open standards
While the first phase of digital cinema conversion was driven by open standards and the DCI specification, proprietary solutions dominate the next wave of digital technology, whether HDR or 4D seating.
Only in audio was there a push in 2017 to create open standards, meaning that object-based sound mixes for immersive audio would work in Dolby Atmos, Barco AuroMax and DTS:X.
P is for…premium VoD
Despite much discussion and debate, Hollywood studios did not pull the trigger on a shortened home release window of 30-45 days after a film’s cinema opening, let alone day-and-date releases.
AMC Chief Executive Adam Aron went as far as to say that either it won’t happen or it will be implemented in a way that will also profit cinemas. There is bound to be more on this in 2018.
Q is for…quality cinemas
The move towards premium experience cinema accelerated in 2017.
Odeon deployed six Oden Luxe (see below) and European exhibitors are also installing VIP screens.
The serving of hot food instead of just popcorn and alcohol rather than simply Coke moved from boutique cinemas like Everyman and Picturehouse to mainstream multiplexes.
R is for…recliners
The installation of sofas and recliners has been underway in Asia and North America for several years, but Odeon under AMC guidance brought this to UK with its Odeon Luxe cinemas, with half a dozen set to open by the end of the year.
The global demand is such that VIP Seating, the biggest luxury seating manufacturer outside China, increased its capacity from 750 to 2,000 per day and switched to three shifts in 2017.
S is for…Samsung Cinema LED
Arguably the biggest cinema technology news of the year was the arrival of the Samsung Cinema LED direct display.
The 10.3m wide display consisting of 96 panels capable of 4K resolution 146 footLamberts light output does away with projectors completely.
Premiered at CinemaCon in March it achieved DCI-certification on 13 July and saw two installations in South Korea’s Lotte cineas, with more to follow in early 2018 in Thailand and Switzerland. While reportedly costlier than the most expensive laser projector it came to dominate discussions about the future direction of cinema technology in 2017.
T is for…ticketing
Cinema ticketing continued to evolve towards electronic. With mobile ticketing already more than 80% in China, other countries are following.
In Sweden Svenska Bio became the first major cinema chain to go 100% cashless, with little blowback and plenty of upsides.
Odeon launched a chatbot for finding cinemas and films and more cinemas started tapping into the Big Data offered by their loyalty schemes and customer database.
U is for…unlimited
MoviePass became the biggest potential cinema disruptor when it announced its scheme of allowing ‘unlimited’ cinema visits for just $9.95 per month in the US ($6.95 if you signed up for a year).
AMC threatened to sue and said it wouldn’t share any revenue from concessions. 150,000 people signed up within two days and 400,000 signed up by mid-September.
The company has raised big sums that it will no-doubt burn through quickly as it tried to prove the profitability of its data-mining.
V is for…VR
Far from killing the movie experience, virtual reality has been embraced by cinemas with Imax launching dedicated VR lounges attached to cinemas in Los Angeles, New York, Manchester, Toronto and Shanghai in 2017.
Other exhibitors such as MK2 (France) and PVR (India) have also launched VR spaces to see if they can complement the cinema experience.
W is for…Wolf Warriors 2
The biggest surprise hit of the year isn’t Star Wars: the Last Jedi but Chinese Rambo-esque action blockbuster Wolf Warriors 2, which has grossed $867m in China alone, making it the second largest single-country hit after Star Wars: the Force Awakens.
It revived the Chinese box office, which saw just 4% growth in 2016 to a healthier 15% this year (12% without the now included ticketing fee), and gave back the mojo to the world’s largest cinema market by screen count.
X is for…ScreenX
Immersive screen format, which offer wrap-around 270-degree triple-screens moved forward in 2017, with CGV’s ScreenX showing portions of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and the latest Pirates of the Caribbean in the format.
Barco’s similar Escape had a more low-profile year, while the dark horse was Philips Lightvibe screen, which France’s CGR rolled out in its ICE premium cinemas for the premier of Valerian.
Y is for…Ymagis
European cinema services major continued the expansion of its CinemaNext and Eclair divisions, with the deployment of over 100 EclairColor HDR cinema installations and also shifting from a VPF-driven business to a cinema installation and support for the next generation of upgrades.
And Z is for…Zuckerberg
Facebook remains the preferred social media platforms for cinema film recommendations at 22% (ahead of YouTube at 18%).
In France penetration of Facebook amongst cinema goers was 88.1% this year, ahead of Twitter and Instagram. Yet with cinema goers switching off their smartphones in the cinema (mostly), Mark Zuckerberg wants to see the cinema experience replicated in VR.
Paramount Pictures launched the first VR theatre with Bigscreen and Facebook-owned Occulus, as well as Samsung, HTC and Microsoft. Top Gun 3D premiered in what looks like a virtual movie theatre on 3 December.