Panel Envisions the Future of Cinema at SMPTE Tech Summit

The through-line of Saturday’s “The Future of Cinema” panel at the SMPTE Technology Summit on Cinema at NAB was entertainment technology evolution and experimentation, for better or worse, in the service of story and the entertainment experience. Panel members from MKPE Consulting, Entertainment Technology Canada, Group 47, IMAX, Disney and Deluxe discussed a range of topics including projection systems, light sources, frame rates, dynamic range, color gamut and what moviegoers will be looking for in their theater experience.

When asked to name the most interesting recent entertainment technology development for theaters, Matt Cowan of Entertainment Technology Canada named laser light projection systems.

David Keighley, chief quality officer at IMAX, agreed and added that filmmakers must learn how to use the high frame rate, high dynamic range, and wider color gamut that they enable.

Howard Lukk, VP of production technology at Walt Disney Studios, declared high dynamic range as one of the most impactful improvements, because it allows directors to express stories in ways that they couldn’t before. “It’s like we’ve been painting with oils for so long, and someone says, ‘by the way, here are water colors.'”

“Give filmmakers the tools,” Lukk said. “Some will use them well, and some will use them terribly.”

Steve Weinstein, CTO of Deluxe Entertainment, mentioned social and immersive experiences.

Group 47 President Rob Hummel responded that these insider tech advances do not drive consumers into the theaters. He mentioned a survey from the 1980s that identified cup holders in the seats as a major driver of ticket sales. It’s about the whole environment — reclining seats, food delivered to your seat, a clean safe social experience, and especially story, he said.

Lukk noted that cinemas need to clearly and consistently differentiate their value proposition. With the home coming up so quickly, going to the theater needs to be “an event,” he said.

A lot of movies play the same in theaters and on laptops today, added Weinstein. We need to watch that we differentiate that experience. The NFL has found that sponsors need to secretly buy out seats because fans now feel they get a better experience at home.

Business models and the ability to pay for ongoing maintenance and upgrades may change the cinema landscape. “Laser projectors look spectacular, but can the theater owner pay for them,” asked Hummel. Weinstein responded that it will be tough. It may lead to a fragmented marketplace of theatrical experiences; with various charges for IMAX, Dolby ATMOS, reserved seats, and other attributes of the in-theater experience.

But will any of those dimensions motivate the consumer to pay more, asked Cowan. Probably not, he answered.

The panel then dove into a discussion of screen brightness, and whether properly projected movies will fill more seats. Cowan saw some hope in both the audience drawing power and the economics of laser light sources. They last for tens of thousands of hours — much longer than expensive Xenon bulbs.

The panel was then asked what will the theatrical experience be like in 10 years.

Second screen experiences are inevitable, said Weinstein. Today, second screen is the equivalent of what asking customers not to use their cellphones in casinos was five years ago. In 10 years, that’s how you will drag people out of the home, he said.

“I, for one, am looking forward to sitting in a theater and seeing a whole row of iPads in front of me,” responded Hummel.

The most energizing thing in the music industry today is EDM (electronic dance music) with DJs and dancers, countered Weinstein. It was a niche genre 10 years ago. There is potential for massive change in 10 years.

Dolby’s Pat Griffis commented from the audience that earlier in the day Light Iron CEO Mike Cioni said that the Internet, with its broadband delivery of a wide variety of content and entertainment experiences, is a competitor to cinema. Lukk pointed out that Disney’s “Frozen” was helped by the Internet. Hummel added that the Internet existed when “Avatar” was released, and it did well at the box office.

“It’s story,” he repeated. All the panelists agreed with that point.

Related News:
NAB Preview: Who is Betting on Ultra HD?The Hollywood Reporter, 4/4/14
NAB: Chris Cookson Questions Future of Cameras and Potential of ‘IMAX on Steroids’The Hollywood Reporter, 4/5/14
Predicting the Future of Cinema: No Limits — and the Web WinsVariety, 4/5/14
NAB: Will Economics Allow for Another Change in Digital Cinema?The Hollywood Reporter, 4/5/14
NAB: Moviegoers Won’t React to HDR Imagery as They Did to Hyper-Real ‘Hobbit’, Proponents SayThe Hollywood Reporter, 4/6/14
NAB: ‘Gravity’ Cinematographer Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki Would Consider HDR for ‘Birdman’The Hollywood Reporter, 4/6/14