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Kiwi software streamlines cinema ops

Vista links B.O., concessions and back office

AUCKLAND — In the country where state-of-the-art computer graphics were developed to tell an ancient story of hobbits and orcs, a small software company is fighting above its weight in designing computer systems for cinema management.

A short but honorable local tradition in software development lies behind the work at Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital, which handled post-production on “The Lord of the Rings.” Kiwis designed the Virtual Spectator software that graphically interprets complicated sporting plays for television viewers of yachting and motorsport, while Auckland firm Peace Software is the world’s biggest provider of utility billing software.

Now Auckland-based Vista Entertainment Solutions is looking to capitalize on the visibility conferred on this country by the “Rings” phenomenon to push its cinema management software into the U.S. market.

The company’s software, also called Vista, was developed in the mid-’90s for major local exhibition chain Village.

Vista director Murray Holdaway says Village “wanted a system that sold tickets and candy concessions from the same till. Nobody was doing that here. Now everyone’s doing it.”

Vista’s product range, which links box office, concessions and back office and allows the cinema to be plugged in to film booking and hire systems, was developed during New Zealand’s multiplex boom in the 1990s, a decade when cinema audiences tripled and screen numbers more than doubled.

Word of the company’s performance on the Village contract spread: “People started to call us from literally all over the Asia Pacific region. It became pretty obvious there was a hole in the market.”

A version of the program developed for a Village subsidiary in Argentina allowed Vista to develop a product that now runs in five languages in 18 countries, including Australia, India, the U.K. and Taiwan.

Its Stateside presence is not big, but it is growing. Vista recently installed a system at the AFI’s refurbished art deco Silver Theater near Washington, D.C., and has equipped the Madstone arthouse chain nationwide. Holdaway says he is “in negotiation with one of the big guys.”