Once upon a time, this publication promoted the idea of “cinema-in-a-box.” The concept was simple. Hardware vendors would focus on manufacturing hardware, and software vendors would build out integrated product lines providing an array of services that benefit exhibitors. That array of services would start with the Screen Management System (SMS), extend to the central Theatre Management System (TMS), into the back office, and possibly to point-of-sale. Logically, it would seem to be a natural evolution, as it’s costly to interface software products of different manufacture, and easy to integrate products developed under one roof.
It would seem that the benefits would be significant. Exhibitors are paying the price for inefficient workflows, and the mishmash of software that has emerged in the production booth only exacerbates the problem. When asking around, it’s clear that some manufacturers see the opportunity to streamline digital cinema operation, but not all. There could be good reason for this.
The idea of software integration and streamlined workflows remains attractive, but the timeline for execution could be years away. There are always challenges to developing products that present a leap in functionality. The challenge to marketing such capability, however, may not be as obvious. This is because sizeable circuits are entrenched with their favorite software packages. Unless software efficiency can be shown to have an ROI, it’s not so attractive to throw a working system out-the-door in favor of something new. The ready-made market would be those cinemas without an investment in existing IT infrastructure, such as mom and pop cinemas, particularly those with an eye on expanding. But this is not easiest market in which a software manufacturer can monetize new R&D.
There are other less obvious challenges, too. Several IT-intensive companies have carved out a niche vertical in cinema operations, not all of which are in overlapping areas. AAM, Cinedigm, Unique Digital, Rentrak, and Vista are well-known examples. Media block manufacturers also live in their own vertical, developing extensive software for operating their hardware products, with little awareness of what it means to streamline the big picture of workflow. The next leap in software and workflow must cross these verticals and better integrate them. That requires not only vision, but the backing necessary to invest in new development. New technologies must be ironed out at a small scale, prior to a major product launch. With a sales slump now prescient, it’s more likely that capable companies are thinking about how to survive, rather than how to spend.
The implications are interesting. Cinema-In-A-Box could start very small, before growing very big. It could start with well-monetized companies that are not in cinema today. And it could have all of the characteristics of a disruptive technology, rather than an upgrade to mainstream products. When pointing one’s telescope into the future, it might be more useful to point in an uncharted direction.