How can cinema exhibitors captivate moviegoers while remaining profitable – today and in the future? Wim Buyens and his team at the new Cinionic venture are on a mission to help exhibitors engage their audiences with ‘wow!’ experiences.

Wim Buyens has many years of experience in the global cinema arena. In November 2007, he took the helm of Barco’s cinema division, which he successfully put on the map as the global leader in digital cinema projectors. More than a technology front runner, Barco also became a thought leader in the cinema industry. Wim Buyens’ appointment as chairman of the Advanced Imaging Societyin 2017 further solidified Barco’s leadership reputation.

In December 2017, Barco announced its plan to join forces with ALPD and China Film Group (CFG) to deliver the future of cinema. Wim Buyens became the CEO of the new joint venture, which was officially introduced as Cinionic at CinemaCon in April 2018. The Cinionic legal entity was established in October 2018.

Barco has been a market leader for years. Why the change?
For ten years, Barco has worked hard, together with its customers, to develop innovative digital cinema projectors. We were delighted that our efforts and our customer centricity were rewarded with a market share of over 50%. The market was favourable, of course: digital cinema replaced 35mm film in no time. As the switch to digital reaches end-of-game, the next ten years will look completely different. That’s why we started thinking about what would come next, and about how we could embrace – or rather, anticipate – the new developments.

Which trends in the cinema industry influenced you to shift course?
A key positive trend was a big factor in my choice: while the digital cinema market has grown at a rapid pace over the last ten years, I believe there is still room for growth. Millions of people in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America haven’t had the chance to enjoy ‘wow’ experiences in cinemas yet. I therefore think we can expand the number of screens from 180,000 screens today to 220,000 within five to ten years. Simply installing new screens, however, is no longer enough for the market to prosper. We’re living in an experience economy. People are constantly looking for excitement and engagement. As a result, exhibitors must deliver increasingly immersive entertainment to captivate today’s moviegoers.

Doing so requires investments – not easy to find, as we do not anticipate a second round of Virtual Print Fees (VPFs) from Hollywood studios to drive the next technology upgrades. In a post-VPF world, exhibitors need affordable access to new technology. Barco realized that if it wanted to help its customers, it would have to come up with more than just superb engineering and market-leading products. We needed new business models, too. Upon realizing that, we had two choices: to continue our business as usual, or build on our strengths and market share to develop tomorrow’s cinema solutions.

Barco chose to drive the change. How?
We decided to reinforce the Barco brand and build a solution around it, together with partners who share our passion for cinema, our vision and our ambitions. So, we combined Barco’s technology heritage and its expertise in the movie industry withthat of other experts. ALPD specializes in laser projection technology, leading the transformation from lamps to laser (retrofit). China Film Co. (CFG) is a giant in the movie-making business that produces and distributes content in close collaboration with Hollywood. Joining forces with CFG opens the door to the content market. Barco has no ambition to be a content company, but CFG’s
know-how is key as more and more movietitles are distributed and promoted in specific formats, like thepremium large format (PLF).
CGS, the remastered content package that they developed in line with international standards, responds to that trend. The joint know-how of Barco, ALPD and CFG makes us unique.

Moreover, we currently see consolidation among cinema players because customers want more holistic partners who think along with them. Cinionic meets those expectations. What’s most important to me, though, is our 100% dedication to cinema. Cinema was one of the cornerstones of Barco, but Cinionic is fully committed to cinema. Thanks to that dedication, the Barco technology and the experienced team that stayed on board, our customers are confident that they will be able to rely on us for many years to come. This confidence is crucial in today’s dynamic cinema market.

So, what is the mission statement of the new Cinionic venture?
The first pillar of our mission statement is described in our tagline: ‘Experiences. Delivered’. It highlights the fact that cinema exhibitors can count on Cinionicto help them surprise and delight their customers. Like I explained before, ‘wow’ experiences are fundamental in today’s experience economy. This is true especially in cinema, as the industry has to compete with the many screens and exciting content available at consumers’ fingertips. Technology enables exhibitors to make the cinema experience more interactive. Premium cinema, for example, is booming today as it offers movie-goers a chance to share a unique experience with friends.

But more than technology, you also talked about services and new business models. Can you tell us more?
Indeed, we want to combine innovative cinema technologies with unique service models to guarantee exhibitors absolute peace of mind, so that they can focus on their core business: exciting their audiences. The Barco brand has always been synonymous with reliability and maximum uptime. The laser technology that’s conquering the market is exceptionally reliable and future-proof while freeing exhibitors from the lamp-related hassle and helping them save energy. We’re taking this further by offering services like warranty programs, preventative maintenance and remote monitoring of projector solutions. To add to that peace of mind, we’re also working on flexible financing options. Instead of making big up-front investments in projector solutions, exhibitors can choose to pay for our solutions based on usage, such as per hour or per lumen. In this way, they swap up-front investments for running expenses and fine-tune their projector portfolio according to their usage and needs. Moreover, this model ensures that they are always using the latest projection technology. Of course, every exhibitor has to decide for themselves whether to invest in projectors, maintain their projection stack themselves or leave everything up to us. Whatever option they choose, they’re sure to get a future-proof solution.

What emerging trends do you see in cinema technology, and how is Cinionic responding?
Barco is a technology company and we’ve always been a front runner in many fields. Cinionic keeps that focus on technology. In the past few months, we have elaborated on our Vision 2020 projection concept, which looks at the future possibilities inprojection. Laser is a given moving forward; we believe that new innovations will be laser-driven.
At this year’s CinemaCon, we showcased what we think will open up the promise of HDR in cinemas: a high-contrast HDR laser projector prototype with light steering technology. The technology is special in that it effectively throws more light at parts of the image that require high brightness. In this way, black is much blacker and white is much whiter than with normal laser projection. In addition to the image quality benefits, light steering significantly reduces power consumption.

Are exhibitors looking for greener projection solutions?
With energy prices sky rocketing, every exhibitor is interested in cutting power consumption. Cinema laser projectors are much more energy-efficient than traditional lamp-based projectors: they can cut energy costs in half. That’s only one aspect of how laser projection is greener. By eliminating the need for lamps, there are far fewer trucks on the road delivering new lamps. Lamps, by the way, may also contain hazardous waste.

Cinionic wants to be a responsible, sustainable company, so we set great store by the benefits of laser. Our retrofit offering also aligns withour sustainability efforts. Thanks to the modular design of our projectors and our unique retrofit technology, exhibitors can replace the lamp housings in their existing projectors with laser modules. This is a great way to get rid of energy-consuming xenon bulbs and lengthen the lifetimes of cinema projectors while ensuring consistent light output.

Looking into the future: what will Cinionic offer five years from now?
Right now, we’re focusing on our core: visualization technology – and laser in particular – remains our first priority, combined with services that ensure peace of mind. But we are a cinema and not a projector company, so we are open to other technologies, too. Our starting point will always be what makes sense for the exhibitors, as we’re here to help them excite and engage their audiences. If they want us to integrate our technology with new features like virtual reality or sensory experiences, we are happy to do that. We are looking into all possible technologies and solutions – without, of course, compromising on our drive to remain ahead of the curve. That too, enables our customers to offer the ‘wow’ experiences that their audiences have come to expect from them.

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