Discussing the state of the industry in the weeks following CEDIA Expo is normal. What is working, what isn’t, what is new, and projections are all normal subjects. What is novel is all of the above in relation to mid- and, hopefully soon, post-pandemic conditions.
In a CEDIA keynote panel titled “The State of The Industry: Planning and Budgeting for Covid-19 Effects in 2021,” the discussion touched on all the normal concerns with an eye to the pandemic’s effects. The surprising and exciting consensus of the panel was that our industry is experiencing growth and is in a position to be strengthened as a result of the public’s response to this crisis. This is in no way intended to downplay the serious and tragic consequences of the pandemic, but is a call to action for our industry to step up and serve these newly discovered needs and, yes, opportunities in order to stand as a strong industry ready and able to serve our clients well.
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So, what is the public consensus that positions us so fortuitously? Summarized, it is the realization that if we are going to be spending more time at home, let’s make it as good as it can be. This response will stimulate additional opportunities in many industries, such as architecture, design, furnishings, and construction, as people look to improve their at-home experience. The big difference for the residential systems industry is a significant increase in awareness by the public. In many ways the residential systems industry has been an insider’s game. Just look at the signs. Furnishings, design, and construction are familiar themes in the media, with client-facing publications and stories keeping customers aware of their benefits. Our industry, however, does not enjoy that level of publicity. Until now.
The media is talking about people staying at home, working from home, entertaining at home. Stories are being written on topics ranging from home wellness to connectivity, to where to watch movies. The pandemic has pushed a wave of media opportunities our way, and as an industry we need to paddle hard and catch the wave!
What about private cinema? Our niche is receiving additional, in many ways unprecedented, awareness in the public eye. In articles in publications ranging from Variety, to Esquire, to The Wall Street Journal, the question is being asked, “Where are people going to watch movies now?” The resounding answer, “At home!” There is still a lot to be sorted out about how this will settle between studios, cinemas, streaming, and movie lovers, but it is not the time for the private cinema industry to take a wait-and-see attitude. In fact, there is a danger to that approach. If the private cinema fails to do what it takes to catch the aforementioned wave of awareness and increased demand, there is a very good chance of being washed away and replaced by severely commoditized movie-viewing alternatives!
It is already starting. Studios are releasing movies directly to streaming. Disney’s recent release of Mulan, a film formerly tagged as Disney’s latest tentpole release, is a great example of this trend and warrants a closer look. A tentpole release is a film in which a studio invests heavily, expecting the excitement of the theatrical release and its associated marketing benefits to result in significant ROI. Not only from ticket sales but also other merchandise. The production efforts as well as the budgets for such movies generally correlate to the expected fanfare. Mulan is no exception. With a production budget of $200M, Disney had high expectations, and to make sure the cinematography and sound was given due justice, the film is presented in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. As director Niki Caro says, “Mulan is a big vision of a big journey. Every scene in this movie benefits from Dolby.”
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No one in the U.S. market gets to see that, though. At least not yet. Mulan is only available domestically through streaming. This means that the video and audio will be significantly compressed, and even those viewers fortunate enough to have UHD displays and Atmos-capable audio processors will experience a “watered down” version of this $200M production. Some will say that there is no difference. Au contraire mon frère! Having had the opportunity to screen another Disney production, Maleficent 2: Mistress of Evil, in DCI uncompressed Atmos sound and video and then watch the compressed Disney+ streaming, the latter is far from the true cinematic experience in which the creators invested $185M to present to the public. The former, magnificent in sight and sound!
Therein lies the risk — and the opportunity. The risk is in taking the short-sighted approach and flooding the newly awakened market with whatever “hang-and-bang” solution can be quickly pedaled to feed this newly awakened demand. Quickly becoming commoditized as the consumer looks for the lowest-priced alternative because we haven’t taken the time or made the effort to share the benefits of enjoying the true cinematic experience at home. The opportunity? Now that we have the public’s attention, me must ride that wave and share the truth that movies are an inimitable pleasure to be enjoyed with our loved ones. An art form that uses imagery, sound, music, drama, and action to pluck our emotions like a string, an event to be shared with those we hold most dear. And the untold truth that we can do a better job of it than the movie-plex at the mall.
We can take advantage of this turn of events and inform an audience — who may be paying attention to us for the first time — that we can deliver this experience now. Private cinemas, performance engineered and equipped with movie servers that curate uncompressed, high-resolution audio and video, sound systems that encase us in sound so real we forget to doubt, video so clear we nearly literally step into the action. We diminish it when we call it an experience. It is the experience nonpareil!
We have had this all along. Why hasn’t the audience been told?
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