Driven by changes in retail and leisure-time expectations, entertainment specialist Holovis has launched a new company, Extended Cinema, to transform the film experience. Peter Knight explores the future.
Cinema Technology interviews Holovis CEO Stuart Hetherington to uncover how a company with a successful background in theme park experiences can transform the moviegoers’ experience with Extended Cinema.
Extended Cinema: what’s the vision?
We’ve launched Extended Cinema with a specific focus on refreshing cinema’s destination offerings. For more than 15 years, Holovis has been doing this in the wider entertainment space: we create multisensory, immersive and interactive experiences that take audiences on transformative journeys. We are applying our technology design expertise to the cinema market to create a new out-of-home, location-based entertainment category. We use interactive technologies to put guests in control, whilst driving additional revenue streams for exhibitors.
Holovis is prolific in the theme park and wider entertainment sector where we develop story-driven attractions — media- and motion-based experiences such as immersive tunnels, dark rides and 4D theatres — but we have expanded to park-wide adventures driven by frictionless tracking technologies invisible to guests. That basically means experiences happen as if by magic.
The most notable recent change in what we deliver is the way narratives play out. Engagement is key. The experience no longer starts when you arrive at the door, but long before that at home, the minute you book a ticket. Queuing, too, is now an integrated part of the experience, with immersive technologies engaging you and building anticipation before the ride itself. We call this the Extended Experience. You can discover hidden narratives, extend your interaction with the theme park and tailor your adventure based on the path you choose.
What’s hiding in your data?
A key element in enhancing guest experiences is personalisation. Using invisible frictionless tracking technologies, exact profiles showing guest behaviour can be devised to understand better how they move around the cinema, engage with marketing and advertising content and make purchase decisions. This can be extended to the theatre itself to measure physical, emotional and intellectual responses to advertising and throughout the film. Conceivably, customised pre-shows can enrich the experience and improve customer retention. Operators can integrate their traditional customer insights with this customer behaviour sensing, sharing it with brands and advertisers to tailor content and inform campaigns, ensuring they really hit the mark.
How is this applicable to the cinema world?
Cinemas need to follow the theme park model and connect more with the audience before, during and after the main event, and they need to increase their understanding of what guests do in the space when they get there. Understanding this will create additional brand partnership and sponsorship opportunities, as well as giving insight for targeted marketing. Cinemas need to offer more when guests arrive, with areas like the lobby being prime locations for family entertainment.
You mention the lobby, how would you reimagine it?
It’s the first place guests see and can be a hub of social activity with increased dwell time and more spend per head and monetisation opportunities. Experiences that can be shared as a group are critical. Our karaoke booth, for example, allows guests to sing together and record a video accompanied by a virtual backing band. There is the option to share this online, of course, increasing the venue’s reach. The booth takes up a small footprint and has multiple uses, doubling as a green-screen studio.
Our solutions are scalable and configured for the needs of the market. The team can provide a turnkey solution, from media and content creation through to software configuration and engineering design and delivery, all in a way that means operators can add new content, whilst obtaining real-time performance data.
And 4D theatres… Just a gimmick?
Some see 4D as a gimmick — but our aim is to take the 4D experience to a true multi-sensory event that exceeds expectations. This includes addressing challenges in the motion profile. Films are rarely shot in a first-person narrative, so what should the motion follow? Often the experience can go a bit off-piste, with seats moving in directions that actually take some of the audience away from the action. Thanks to our background, we hope to improve the motion profiling, working with the studios at an earlier stage to ensure it fits the action, rather than having motion for motion’s sake. We are also advancing the SFX technology to include sensory elements that really make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, not just splashing people in the face whenever there is water on the screen. Audio is often overlooked in an experience — that’s criminal as it is such an important element of true sensory immersion. We’ll be installing Holovis Hifiniti audio in seat headrests to surround guests in the sound. These changes will connect the drama of the film to the motion and effects experienced by the audience in a more realistic, synchronised way.
Making guests the star of their own show
“Justice League: A Call For Heroes” is a new walk-through attraction that has broken the mould for the Madame Tussauds’ brand in Orlando and Sydney. For the first time, guests star in the attraction alongside the wax superheroes, bringing their powers to life through interactive sequences using combinations of projection mapping, enhanced audio and SFX. These include Wonder Woman; where guests strike her iconic pose alongside her to activate her power gauntlets and create an explosion; Superman, where guests need to use his strength to lift a helicopter alongside a dynamic, articulated Madame Tussauds figure; and Batman, where guests must fire a Bat Signal to reveal the formidable figure through billowing smoke and wind. Holovis has been responsible for the technology in the attraction and focused on keeping it imperceptible. To make it as natural as possible for guests to interact with the superheroes, the company ensured all motion-based tasks were things guests are naturally compelled to do, such as strike Wonder Woman’s pose or grab Aquaman’s trident.
How do you measure the impact these changes have?
Big Data and AI are the buzzwords but in reality they’re useless unless you actually have the right scalable data. You can’t learn from datasets unless they are significant and you understand what you can achieve with them. Both Holovis and Extended Cinema are launching a specific range of products that are experience-driven, harnessing the data and analytics that we are collecting for mass venue environments. A lot of our work is around how we collect that data compliantly, how we manage it from a security point of view and how we do that in a way that doesn’t affect the guest in a negative way.
And who’s at the helm of Extended Cinema?
We’ve recruited Heather Blair as our VP. Her career spans three decades in the entertainment industry, holding senior positions in publishing, sales and marketing. She knows the market well — prior to joining Holovis, Heather focused on developing opportunities in the interactive technology and motion theatre market, working with studios to procure titles to be programmed for 4D, then with chains to bring them to life as a premium offering.
Hayley Kenney’s our business development engineer. She been working at Holovis for over three years and is running the product design and development side of things, drawing on the expertise of the Holovis team. Importantly, we don’t divisionalise our workforce. We have one generic team — be it our designers, our install engineers, our creative team, we don’t divide them up.
We are excited about the venture. Heather’s passion for cinema is infectious and her creativity knows no bounds. We’re confident this will be a great partnership.
Experiential design on fire
Even the most iconic of theme park attractions, the rollercoaster, has had an experiential makeover. Wicker Man at Alton Towers launched in 2018 and is the UK’s most immersive coaster, combining technology and storytelling in new ways. Holovis technology puts guests at the heart of the narrative as soon as they enter the queue. A dynamic soundscape is specially designed to evolve at the pace of the queue flow. This tells the story through subtle audio changes, narrative voiceover and key messaging, so no matter how long or short the queue, the narrative is communicated with guests, helping to build the drama.