When the lights go off, that’s when the magic begins. This anticipation of the roughly two hours that are to come filled with great emotions, stunning images and engaging stories, is one of my dearest moments of the cinema experience.
The experience of going to the cinema is at the core of a current project called “Digital Alfie” that I’m managing. The aim is to identify and select services for the cinema goer and the exhibitor that are digital and are empowered by digital cinema technology and that open up new sources of revenues as well as savings. What excites me about this project is that what sounds reasonable and promising in theory, will actually be put into practice and hence be truly evaluated. Testing concepts in real life settings has continued to fascinate me ever since I did an evaluation of an e-learning software on film language at a private school in London. No matter how thorough your research was or how clever the ideas, you’ll only know if it works once you go out there and make it happen.
About 18 months ago, our team at Peacefulfish decided to spend considerable effort and time on investigating the issue of financing the digital roll out not from an industry top down point of view, but from the customers’ point of view. What would actually change for the cinema goer through digital cinema technology?
The most immediate answer was: not much. Through the UK Film Council’s Digital Screen Network it already emerged that people either didn’t notice a difference or had assumed that cinema was already digital. So the impeccable and lasting projection quality alone is unlikely to reignite the passion for cinema for the masses. Hence Peacefulfish, in cooperation with the Lapland Centre of Expertise for the Experience Industry, set out to conduct a study (focus groups and expert interviews) to find out more about the cinema experience and what the digital cinema experience could be like (“The Digital Cinema Experience”, ISBN 978-952-5585-61-1, www.dodona.co.uk/experience.htm). Part of our conclusion was that for many people, customers and experts alike, the cinema, in theory, is still the best place to watch movies due to the big screen, the superb sound quality and the genuine atmosphere of this dedicated place. However, in reality many people are less enthusiastic about their local theatre.
There are many reasons why this is the case – the film selection on offer isn’t attractive, the venue itself is found to be not appealing or not well maintained, the other members of the audience impede the experience through disrupting behaviour, there is no option to extend the experience at a bar or café after the film has finished, etc. At the core of all these issues there are three main factors: the content, socialising opportunities and the venue. So ideally, your venue would be in easy reach for your patrons, it would show a range and number of films that appeal to them, it would offer space and the right atmosphere for them to gather before and after the screening to socialise and share the cinema experience. Now, where does digital come in?
The beauty of digital becomes clear when looking into this ideal scenario in more detail:
The new quality that digital brings is that interactivity, so important in any demand, supply relationship, that is now available for both parties at a fraction of the cost and effort it formerly was. In other words: it has never been so easy to get to know each other. The social component is very much a physical one. It depends if there is space in your venue where a bar or café could be established. Even if there is not, it might be worthwhile looking into partnerships with appropriate venues that are close by. What such services regarding all three factors can look like in detail - that is exactly what the “Digital Alfie” project develops (further information at www.digitalfie.com).
The bottom line is that going digital demands investment, not just in terms of finance but also in terms of concepts. There are already a lot of brilliant ideas out there, what we need to do is bring them together and create a concept that fully uses the potential of digital cinema and digital technology. And then putting it into practice – I can already feel the anticipation rising...
Frauke Feuer has been a consultant at peacefulfish for over two years, specialising in digital cinema and film financing. Being one of the best 10% of her year, she holds a master’s degree in Applied Media Science from the Technical University of Ilmenau, Germany, and a master’s degree in Film and Moving Image Production from the Northern Film School, now part of Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, where she trained as a director before starting to explore the world of digital cinema and film financing.