Cinema’s next chapter: 3 drivers with the potential to shape 2021 and beyond

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Wim Buyens
written by Wim Buyens
February 2, 2021 | leer en 4 minutos
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Much has been written, broadcast, and talked about regarding the fate of cinemas throughout 2020. As the CEO of a global cinema technology company, I stand at the crossroads of talking with exhibitors, technologists, leaders, and creatives across geographies. This mosaic of viewpoints provides a unique perspective into our industry-specific challenges, opportunities, and possibilities for the road ahead. 

When you start to connect the dots in our industry, three drivers have significant potential to shape cinema in 2021.

  1. Innovation throughout the eco-system

In the past year, the expansion of technology into all professional and personal areas lets us look with fresh eyes at what can be readily embraced. COVID restrictions caused a sea of changes in how business is done, from meetings going fully remote to sharing dailies online. Do users dig into the underlying technology enabling these new tools? No, they care about the outcome that innovation offers: be it security, shareability, or ease of use. Whether you are on the creative or commercial side, digital technology enables new outcomes across the board. Now, more than ever.

In 2021, as we continue on a path of innovation in cinema, we are faced with the question: What do our cinema-goers want? And it’s true to say they still crave the power and impact of the big screen. In the year ahead, we can harness technology to meet this yearning—and, in turn, transform cinema. There’s a reason why top creatives to up-and-coming artists are some of the strongest advocates for showing their films on the large screen: to create an unparalleled viewing experience. The one we’ve been missing while restricted to our homes.

Innovation will be seen across our eco-system, aiming to yield improved collaboration, quality, and sustainability. This latter aspect, sustainability, may not be obvious to the theater-goer, but it’s in everything, and lowering our environmental impact is a goal we can all embrace.

2. Full focus on the complete experience

In 2021 and beyond, we know the in-theater experience is paramount to how tomorrow’s moviegoers perceive and engage in cinema. Yet, how do you find the mental space to consider every angle of the theater experience? How do you free up financial resources, especially coming out of an economic dip? It starts with looking creatively and objectively at how you spend your energy and money. 

Since the beginning of cinema, exhibitors have shouldered the cost of equipment. But with digital technology and commercial innovation, that burden can be lifted. Innovative and ambitious theaters are starting to consider “as-a-service” models – an approach that has already created a new paradigm for capital investment in several industries. The application of these outcome-based solutions has the potential to create a significant impact in cinema. 

Released from the obligations of ownership, exhibitors will pass the responsibility of maintenance to third-party experts. By replacing complexity with peace of mind for financial predictability and flexibility, we can focus solely on the end-to-end customer journey.

To succeed here, we will need leaders from all facets of our industry to collaborate to facilitate the elevated experiences that will engage and entice moviegoers. 

3. Expand programming

Theaters form an ideal venue for a broad range of content for a staggering number of audience segments. eGames and eSports. Operas. Shows. Concerts. Comedy acts. Sporting events. Even episodic small-screen fare can make the jump. 

As the theatrical landscape continues to evolve, there is greater flexibility about what is shown on the big screen. Audiences want to get back to the excitement of storytelling, and cinemas are an irreplaceable part of that—whether that means crisper images, giant screens, or more immersive experiences. Their excitement encompasses blockbuster content, mid-budget movies, independent films, and previous releases, too. After all, a trip to the cinema means focusing on nothing but the story you’ve come to watch.

Consider this: During the pandemic, we’re seeing people rent theaters for a boutique movie-going experience. Why? It’s because people crave the intimacy of the ultimate, shared experience, with the rising excitement of an appointed time and place, a communal gathering, a high-quality and immersive showing, and the enduring, unending passion for cinema.


Cinema has a stunning infrastructure, but longevity calls for adaptation. As the global cinema community opens up to new opportunities, we can better meet our audiences’ desires. For decades, audiences have relied on us to thrill, entertain, delight, and surprise them in a way that’s beyond compare. Coming out of the pandemic, moviegoers will be looking to us once more for these unrivaled experiences. 

About Wim Buyens

Wim Buyens is the CEO of Cinionic, the cinema joint venture between Barco, Appotronics, and CGS. Wim is a seasoned business leader that has held senior management positions in high-tech companies during the past 15 years. He started his career in IT and CAD/CAM, later joining the Danish company Brüel & Kjaer, and subsequently held multiple global leadership positions.  

Before Cinionic, Wim led Barco’s Entertainment division, responsible for years of growth and a leadership position in cinema projection. Wim is a strong advocate for new technologies, such as laser projection, and serves on several technology company boards worldwide. Wim studied at Stanford University and Lausanne University. An active member of the cinema community, Wim regularly speaks at industry events and sits on industry association boards, such as the Advanced Imaging Society, where he served as Chairman in 2017.