The New Networked Normal of Cinema

No one knows exactly what the “new normal” of cinema exhibition will look like. First, let’s get this out of the way: Coronavirus will not kill the global cinema exhibition industry. Changes are for certain, but cinema is here to stay. As has already been said by many industry observers – cinema has survived the Spanish Flu (yes, it is THAT old!), television, industry restructuring, two World Wars, the demise of the movie palace, VCR/DVD, and more. Cinema is genetically related to live theatre, which has been around for thousands of years, and despite occasional fluctuations, it has survived many of these same challenges. There is something fundamentally and inherently human about the need to gather in groups and share experiences.

Among the many changes that some observers believe will characterize post-COVID cinema include*:

  • Capacity limits
  • Reserved seating becomes the norm
  • Contactless PoS and ticketing
  • Seat spacing and dividers
  • Masks required
  • Temperature checks
  • Plexi dividers between staff and patrons
  • Frequent and extensive sanitization procedures
  • Sanitizer dispensers everywhere, just like in hospitals or airports
  • Improved air-circulation systems
  • Resurgence of the outdoor or Drive-In movie theatre experience (both fixed and temporary)

All of this will certainly require additional investment on the part of theatre operators. More than ever, exhibitors will be looking for ways to maximize operational efficiencies and increase revenues to pay for it. Limited capacity and seating mean fewer patrons. Will ticket and concession prices increase as a result? Are there ways that exhibitors can generate new revenue? Many exhibitors are already on this path, re-envisioning their business as an “entertainment venue” and including attractions such as bowling, arcade gaming, food and beverage service. Some are generating revenue by offering their facilities for alternative uses besides feature film presentation (business meetings, parties, worship, weddings, etc.).

Many of these COVID responses involve active devices that have – or could have – a network connection. Monitoring all of these systems on a common network platform can help ensure compliance, functional status, and maintenance. A common platform also creates opportunities for consolidated control, enabling theatre operators to make system adjustments as needed from anywhere that has network access.

All of this adds up to the necessity for vastly increased operational efficiencies. The solution, as we see it, lies in re-thinking the cinema complex as a total networked environment. The good news is that the digital transition has already enabled the adoption of basic network infrastructures within – and between – multiplex sites. The better news is that the technology exists to enable this networked cinema concept, and at QSC, we call this “Q-SYS”.

*On June 9, 2020, the International Cinema Technology Association is partnering with Boxoffice “Live Sessions” to offer a webinar “Cinema vs. Coronavirus: New Technologies to Help Cinemas Re-Open. Register hier.