Having worked in print publishing with National Lampoon and Rolling Stone, then with music at A&M Records, and later as president of Lorne Michaels's Broadway Video, I've seen all kinds of content, spanning many decades and many mediums. In the 1980s, I even produced the first interactive multimedia property for laser disc, called Treasure: In Search of the Golden Horse. I've also sat on the Madison Avenue side of the storytelling table, as CEO of the largest entertainment marketing division of IPG, and later as president and CEO of the Brand Experience Lab.
Most recently, I've led a new company, Audience Entertainment, in partnership with Barco, to launch an interactive global network for moviegoers using a new technology called iD-Interactive Dimension. This is the exciting first step to a radical change in big-screen content--and its new ability to be interactive and nonlinear. With this new brand of interactive content as the springboard, here are five ways the rest of the movie experience will change by the year 2020. It's going to be a wild ride.
- Theaters will be the physical embodiment of the holodeck from Star Trek. Projection mapping outside, side screens in the auditorium, and digital screens all over the lobby will make theaters an ever-changing space that creates an extension of the film's story world. When you go see Harry Potter in 2020, the façade of the theater will resemble Hogwarts and the lobby will look, sound, and maybe even smell like Hogsmeade. Moviegoers will want and be encouraged to be a part of this experience, similar to a Renaissance Faire. The traditional notion of a theater aesthetic that harks back to stage productions will be a thing of the past. Every time you enter your local theater, a new world will be made available to you--a world you are encouraged to participate in--bringing you into the story before you even encounter the core narrative on the screen.
- Say hello to the interactive cinema advertising. Just as Disney reimagined the wait in line at its theme parks, the movie theaters will reimagine their own waiting experience: advertisements and the movie preshow. Moviegoers will already be swept away into another world through the aforementioned changes of sight and sound; movie preshows will join and be part of that experience. The notion of a preshow containing advertising that you can see on your TV will become increasingly obsolete and transition to far more effective branded content that is tied to the feature presentation. These new kinds of advertisements will be a huge win for the advertising industry, producing far more memorable content, effective calls to action, and meaningful social media tie-ins that boost brand engagement like never before. The format of the new show will not be standardized. Instead, it will leave audiences excited about what might happen next time. Showmanship and the unexpected will be the name of the game, featuring exclusive shorts, nonlinear narratives, games, and mysteries.
- Interactivity will be integral to the preshow and post-event experience. Your voice, and the voice of the collective audience around you, will play a massive part in the cinema experience of 2020. The ubiquitous use of Wi-Fi, NFC, RFID, Bluetooth, and iBeacons will mean that your smart device in your pocket will guide and direct you on your journey through the story around you. The event will start as you approach the theater, and audiences will have the chance to play with the environment through technologies like Microsoft Kinect. The voice of the audience will not end on the small screen and will extend up onto the big screen, where preshow experiences will be controlled by audience motion or sound. This will lead into the feature, in which audiences will be able to choose outcomes at key moments in the films. Some moviegoers may wish to go to the same show more than once to see another ending or the story told from another perspective. On exiting this new entertainment destination, further opportunities to engage with the story will be presented to you in the form of games and reward-based experiences that will drive moviegoers to come back again.
- Who decides what movie is playing? You do! Imagine going on Fandango and seeing two categories of movies--one category being current releases, and another category being something akin to on-demand programming in which people can select or vote on any movie in history to be shown in the cinema. Alternatively, imagine movie theaters selecting geo-relevant films (Aurora, Illinois, showing Wayne's World, as one example), producing their own John Hughes film festival, or even showing educational documentaries to schoolchildren on field trips. Digital distribution and cinema connectivity will mean that audiences in 2020 will be able to watch what they want, when they want, together in groups, opening up vast new revenue streams and audiences for movie theaters. All of this choice and the need to watch together will once again help to make the movies a relevant and special event; one that speaks to you, your experience, and your choice. The special environment, the unique and constantly changing makeup of the space you are entering (based on your choices), will mean that audiences have ceased to visit the cinema on a whim and instead will plan and design their entire experience. Like going to a concert, groups will arrive en masse to take advantage of new entertainment formats that are truly immersive and controlled by them.
- The middle seat goes. We are already seeing the industry move to an airline approach, preselecting your seats in 2014. In 2020 we will have perfected the art and you will no longer worry about showing up early to find a seat and scurry back to the concession stand with jackets strewn across a line of seats, in lieu of reserved signs. You will arrive early, confident in the knowledge of your seat, which by 2020 is better compared to a business-class recliner in design. You will come 25 minutes early to experience the preshow rather than suffer the ads, and it's your creativity that is engaged in a space dedicated to one thing: entertainment.
The cinema has a future, one in which content can be viewed in any way the audience wants. Entertainment destinations are as much about choice as they are about technology. One facilitates the other. Whether as an audience member you want a darkened quiet space for film noir or a vibrant immersive and interactive environment for an action blockbuster, our vision for 2020 is that you will be able to choose and that the space will react to your needs, not the other way around.