Reflections from CinemaCon 2023

An interview with Wim Buyens, CEO of Cinionic

May 4, 2023
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Last week, movie business leaders from around the world came together in Las Vegas for CinemaCon. There were star-studded sneak peeks, hands-on demos, panels, and celebrations of all things theatrical & cinematic. Cinionic, the leader in laser solutions, brought their global team and showcased a fresh new look and an interactive experience center at the heart of the convention. After four momentous days, Wim Buyens, CEO of Cinionic, shared his take on this year’s show.

Q: Wim, you’ve been to many CinemaCon’s over the years; what were the highlights from 2023?

When I look back at this year’s CinemaCon, four things stand out:

There was a stunning slate with an impressive line-up of movies coming from the studios, both in quantity and quality. I think it is probably one of the strongest line-ups we’ve ever seen. The strength and volume of the slate presented during the show mean cinemas can expect a ton of content that audiences are excited about. Every day during the show, we were presented with new movies in powerful and inspiring ways. For those of us lucky enough to be in the audience at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, you left the studio presentations with a very good feeling about the industry and where we are going.

The second highlight for me is CinemaCon attendance. The initial numbers show that the number of people in Vegas in 2023 was as much as – or even a little higher than 2019 (pre-pandemic). This groundswell of the broader cinematic community leads me to my third highlight: the energy.

Throughout the week, there was an air of optimism and positivity that permeated every hallway, ballroom, presentation, conversation, and meeting. People were walking around in the mode of ‘we’re here to build – and do – business (again)’. It’s an energy that has been growing in recent months, and it really came to life last week.

From a technology & solution provider’s point of view, you could feel the difference at the show versus recent years. It meant that those we met with were open to making decisions, both on where they want to go next and the technological solutions they need to get them there.

That’s really the fourth takeaway for me; people are looking to the future.

Q: What was the talk of the town and the buzz around the show this year?

We talk a lot about laser, but the focus was on the outcomes & benefits that laser enables when delivered by a dedicated and leading partner.

There was the topic of sustainability in the cinema, both commercially and environmentally. We hosted an exceptional panel on sustainability and included a feature area for presentations in our CinemaCon exhibit in the Roman Ballrooms. I see the sustainability focus as a two-part topic where exhibition is looking to realize the savings and simultaneously offer moviegoers a greener way to go to the movies. When talking with guests in Cinionic World, it was the end-to-end commitment to sustainability that excited people as they could see that the benefits of laser go far beyond enhanced visuals on the big screen.

The other hot topic was performance management. Specifically, how it can be done in cinema and what role technology plays in optimizing performance and efficiency in theatrical operations. It’s a powerful subject when you get under the hood and try to make this happen, especially when using innovative solutions that include mixed and augmented reality. In essence, this was a conversation about services around a digital projector and how you combine them with new ways of operating, data analytics, deeper understanding, and cutting-edge approaches. The result can be transformative, and that was certainly a highlight for many attendees.

Q: So, the focus was on sustainability and services. What’s Cinionic’s position on these topics?

For me, these both come under our mission and Cinionic’s commitment to continually answer the question, “How do we make this industry stronger?”.

It’s clear that sustainability is a critical part of the answer to that question. Why? There are energy savings that are a result of laser, but also, there are potential grants & subsidies. With state-level support for sustainable solutions, exhibitors may be able to make the conversion to the leading laser solutions faster. It could be through a laser light upgrade that retrofits existing lamp projectors to reduce & reuse equipment, or it could be new projectors that offer industry-leading eco-credentials. Sustainability and sustainable cinema are crucial for exhibitors big and small, impacting everything from public company reporting to daily operational needs.

At Cinionic and Barco, we have fought for sustainability from day one. We started by looking at the environmental impact of our own business and the solutions we offer to the market. Like our commitment to innovation with laser, we started to work on being environmentally sustainable early and are already delivering that to our customers through our portfolio of technology solutions and services.

Sustainability and service go hand-in-hand – it’s two sides of the same coin that is about taking care of what we do and how we do it. That’s why when we seek to answer questions about making this industry stronger, we ask ourselves the follow-up, “How can we look at services in a different way?”. For us, that means being the companion that helps our customers drive performance, linking data, insights, training, and expertise to make delivering world-class service easier, simpler, and more efficient. It’s a methodology and mindset at Cinionic that goes across the entire theater – beyond the booth – and one that seeks to leverage a broad suite of technology and insights, smart & new ways of working, mixed reality enablers and data analytics, all driving new levels of efficiency.

Ultimately, with laser at the heart of more than 35,000 auditoriums, the potential for both service and sustainable cinema is greater than ever, and that’s why we put so much focus on them at this year’s show.

Q: What else was Cinionic talking about at CinemaCon?

As a team, we had a story, and that story was rooted in laser and everything that it enables – from enhanced presentation to premium cinema experiences for every screen and everything in between. In our purpose-built laser theater, whether it was a Series 2 equipped with a Laser Light Upgrade or a Barco Series 4 offering exceptional dynamic range, the picture was stunning. Excellent on-screen quality, consistently delivered, remains the foundation of what we do and what we bring to CinemaCon. It enables us to tell the broader story of what is possible when a customer works with a true cinema companion and market leader.

Yes, we had a lot of announcements to make this year, but going beyond deal announcements – which are important shared milestones – our real story was about serving our customers better and elevating the industry.

It comes down to listening vs telling. It allows for the process of co-creation that is critical in an industry like ours. We have talking points that we like to hit, but more importantly, our story is all about hearing the priorities of our customers & the broader cinema eco-system. As I connected with peers in exhibition throughout the show, I heard their excitement about the upcoming slate, an emphasis on the need to invest in the theatrical experience at every touch point of the moviegoer journey, and a desire to set a new bar for consumer expectations every time they visit a theater.

Across the world, moviegoers are seeking more of everything that goes into a great presentation – they have raised the bar, and in every conversation in Vegas, there was discussion of how to meet or exceed it. That’s what we talked about and learned, how we can raise the bar together.

What are some of the other priorities you heard from exhibitors during the show?

Looking beyond quality presentation, sustainability, and operational efficiency, local content is another thing that I think is a big ingredient in cinema’s future success. We see a lot of Hollywood releases scheduled for the year ahead, but local content needs to be adjacent to that. In my discussions, there was a focus on local content which has a real audience base. Even with a broad slate like we are seeing, the combination of blockbusters and local originals offers the chance to expand the demographics of moviegoing, and that’s going to be increasingly important as we move forward.

Q: What do you think the trends over the next twelve months are going to be? What do you think people are going to be talking about at CinemaCon 2024?

In 2024, I hope the industry will be looking back at 2023 and commenting on what a great year it was for the box office. By this time next year, assuming the current trends continue, I expect most cinema companies will have restored their bottom line or, better still, their top line.

So, I think that in 2024 when everybody’s back, we can expect to see a market in full growth mode. Still, over the coming 12 months, we’re going to have to rethink ourselves and continually ask how we can get the moviegoer back – having 20% to 25% fewer moviegoers than, let’s say, the average from 2019 is not going to get us to growth overall. It’s a tough question and one that will take the whole industry to answer in the months ahead.

Q: Last question, what film are you most excited about coming out this year?

Well, I didn’t have a chance to see all the presentations, so it’s difficult to say definitively as there is so much strong product presented by our friends at the studios. From what I did get the opportunity to see, I’m incredibly excited about the new installment of Indiana Jones. The franchise holds a special place for me because Indiana Jones was the first movie I ever saw. That’s high up there for me. I’d also say there’s no doubt that the new Mission Impossible is going to be a great success. Tom Cruise has proven himself to be a winning formula for the box office and audiences. But there are so many, and I am sure we will see runaway successes and record-breaking releases that are impossible to predict today.