Kino Lorber's Wendy Lidell explains how virtual cinema strategies taking shape today could inform the next stage of the theatrical marketplace.
I read Ira Deutchman’s recent article about virtual cinema with great interest. As the first to market with a virtual cinema title – Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’s “Bacurau” on Thursday, March 19 – we at Kino Marquee have thought a great deal about this phenomenon.
I am gratified that Ira is prophesying what we at Kino Lorber also believe to be the case — that virtual cinema is here to stay for the foreseeable future. As someone in the business almost as long as Ira, I share his commitment to the theatrical experience. I had a hard enough time accepting DCPs into my 35mm world, let alone digital delivery to the home. But when theaters shut down in mid-March as a result of the pandemic, it took me about two beats to realize we had to find a work around, and that work around was digital delivery to audiences in partnership with movie theaters. We called it virtual cinema.
Indeed, the speed at which Kino Lorber and other distributors rushed to market has led to an unfortunate Tower of Babel, but none of us thought we would still be here nearly four months later and counting, and our immediate goal at the time was to find continuity and a return on our not-insignificant investments in titles released to theaters in February and March. Fortuitously, we had launched a proprietary TVOD site, Kino Now, in late 2019, and that provided the backbone upon which we could build Kino Marquee quickly. We considered fast far more important than perfect, a decision I stand by today. Any of us could have taken our titles straight to VOD – and some did – but we small independent specialty films distributors are keenly aware that our success is inextricably linked to that of our exhibition partners. Therefore, everything about Kino Marquee was consciously designed to emulate the theatrical experience, from the theater marquee graphics on every portal, to the opportunity to buy a “ticket” to “screen” a film. We never use the word “stream.”
Ira’s suggestion to create one common virtual cinema platform sounds great, but it’s frankly impracticable. Who will design it? Who will pay for it? Will a financial entity start charging VPFs for its use?
Meanwhile, a number of exhibition venues are launching their own virtual cinema platforms, and I see that as a trend that will continue. I believe most distributors, including Kino Lorber, will be happy to show our films on proprietary theater-based sites … provided they incorporate geo-fencing so as not to pirate other theaters’ customers.
As for Ira’s point that customer service has become the theaters’ burden: I don’t know what’s going on with other distributors’ platforms (indeed, the Tower of Babel effect), but at Kino Marquee, we are the ones who handle what was a large number of customer service inquiries at the beginning, but which have tapered off over time as consumers got the hang of it and we ironed out the bugs. We provide clear instructions for how to access purchases on Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire and guarantee a refund to customers who still cannot get it to work. See (and scroll down), here for example.
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Cyber-NY developed KinoNow and Kino Marquee on our Logic Virtual Cinema platform as a digital streaming solution for virtual cinema. Contact us for detail on building solutions for independent film and media distributors.