Apple leads and a few exhibitors follow

Relentless focus on customer experience paying off

How will we survive the next week? There are seven whole days until the unveiling of Apple’s iPad 3 and then probably another few weeks until it’s available. I expect much of the known world will be crazed with techno-lust, careening about the streets, setting wastebaskets on fire and screaming “Festival! Festival.” Or at least lining up in front of Apple Stores the way people used to line up for movies.

I’ve ranted before about how the movie biz should take a cue from Apple, which has grown to have the world’s biggest market capitalization, now over $500 billion, while movie box office has grown flaccid and homevideo revenue has withered.

That’s probably not a coincidence. The iPad and iPhone deliver a better, more reliable experience than the average multiplex, and they do so because the late Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, Jonathan Ive and their cohorts start with a storyteller’s vision — a vision of people using Apple products to make their lives more fun and productive — and tailor Apple’s products to that vision.

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That vision seems to be missing in the movie business, especially in exhibition.

There are exhibitors, though, that are learning from Apple’s example, building customer loyalty by delivering a premier experience.

One is Disney’s flagship El Capitan Theater in Hollywood. “We like to think we give (customer experience) as much attention as Apple does,” said Lylle Breier, Disney’s senior VP of special events and the El Capitan Theater. “Every time you come to the El Capitan, we want it to feel like a special event. And frankly, we feel like it does. People sort of dress nicer, they behave better, they feel more special.”

Though it’s a 1926-built movie palace with antiquated sightlines, projection and sound at the El Cap are first class, even in 3D. There is a qualified projectionist on duty for all six shows a day. Sound and brightness are checked “constantly,” Breier said.

“That is the thing about this digital technology; it’s very dependent on light level,” she said.

The El Cap uses less obvious tech to enhance the customer experience. The theater’s marquee is an LED screen, so it can change quickly — and it needs to, since the theater might change programs several times a day.

Even the stage curtains have gone high-tech. “In the old days, curtains defined a movie theater. If you had two grand curtains, you were considered a premium theater. We have four curtains at the El Capitan. Our fourth is an LED fiber optic curtain.”

By offering a reliably good experience, the El Cap has generated regular group sales, which help fill up the thousand-seat house.

The Texas-based Cinemark chain also has a reputation for quality presentation. And, according to James Meredith, Cinemark VP of marketing and communications, Cinemark management refers to Apple from time to time in discussing the audience experience.

Meredith says Cinemark tries to “maximize” the experience for patrons and make it as seamless and personalized as possible. Self-serve concession lines (with LED screens to promote specials tailored to that showing) help speed auds through and get them exactly what they want. Kiosks in the lobby show art-pic trailers that might not be showing on bigscreens — the trailer for “The Artist” played that way before when pic was in limited release.

Cinemark theaters use d-cinema to show not only alternative content but artpics and revivals, such as today’s one-off screenings of “The Godfather” parts 1 and 2.

The real draw, though, is a quality experience in the theater. Damian Wardle, Cinemark’s VP of worldwide theater technology and presentation, said the chain decided that all its screens would show 3D at 6 foot Lamberts, significantly brighter than most 3D screens around the country. Every projector in the chain is networked, and he can monitor the light output of their bulbs via a webpage.

Dark projection has given 3D a bad name, he says, but “3D shouldn’t have a bad name. It’s a great presentation.” Now the folks at Cinemark are getting their servers ready to present “The Hobbit” at 48 frames per second at year’s end.

The El Capitan and the Cinemark chain both refuse to cut corners. They look for ways to make the aud’s visit to the theater as fun and convenient as possible, and they sweat the small stuff. And they think hard about how it feels for consumers to visit their theaters and watch a movie. Those are things any theater or chain can do.

“We’ve tried to go the extra mile by showing there’s a model that can work,” Breier said. “If you can make a single-screen theater work, it can work in a lot of places.”

Bits & Bytes

Createasphere’s Spring Entertainment Technology Expo is today at L.A. Center Studios. … Sony will host production workshops for its F65 CineAlta digital camera starting in March and running for about six weeks. Workshops will be held on the Sony lot. … Manhattan Edit Workshop will offer its Filmmakers Intensive two-week filmmaking workshop June 9-24.

Hollywood Film Company is once again distributing Fuji’s motion picture negative film stock.

3D tech provider Xpand has appointed Yasunori “Yogi” Higashimura business development manager. He will be based in Osaka. Higashimura has had long experience at Panasonic.

Dolby is touting the Joe Satriani concert film “Satchurated: Live in Montreal” as the first ever recorded in 3D and Dolby 7.1. Pic will be released on Blu-ray in April with 7.1 sound. … Legend3D has colorized episodes of “The Little Rascals” and converted them to 3D. They are available for viewing on select smartphones and laptops, including the autostereo (glasses-free 3D) LG Optimus 3D and HTC EVO 3D Android. Later this year, Spatial View will offer these episodes on selected 3D televisions.

Litepanels has shipped Sola 4 Fresnel LED lighting fixtures. … The Siggraph 2012 conference has issued a call for Real Time Live! content for the Computer Animation Festival. … Pixologic has released ZBrush 4R2b. New features in this release include FiberMesh and MicroMesh…

Cinedeck’s RX record monitoring and playback system has gone to version 3.1, adding support for several popular cameras, including Sony XDCam 50 and XDCam EX 35, and Panasonic AVC-Intra class 50 and 100. New release also adds support for more Avid and Apple formats and remote control of common functions, including by USB control devices. … Assimilate’s Scratch Lab has added support for the Sony F65. … Codex has introduced its Vault media management product line designed for the F65.