Joan Parsons, Head of QFT at the UKCA Conference

11th March 2019 3 Minute Read

The UK Cinema Association (UKCA) held its 2019 annual conference, ‘TECH: New horizons for the big screen experience‘, on 5-6 March at Vue Westfield, White City, London. Film Hub NI was delighted to support Joan Parsons, Head of QFT, with a bursary to attend the conference.

Held in the impressive VUE Westfield cinema, this was the first UKCA conference I had attended. It provided some great talking points and further information on all-sector technological issues over the two days.

Kicking off with a keynote from Christopher Nolan was a great way to start. It is always important to remember that filmmakers value the cinema experience, and it was particularly interesting to hear Nolan comment on all the things outside the projection tech that made a trip to the cinema exciting. From the foyer to the masking and the seating, the ingredients of a great cinema experience were all important to him.

Premium Large Format (PLF), or indeed Premium Luxury Format, are recent innovations of the cinema sector. From the rise of Imax and its competitors in the large format field; to the introduction of sofas and at-seat service; to the experiments with 4D and immersive experiences -- the word ‘premium’ can clearly mean very different things to different people. What I took away from the PLF sessions is that this isn’t going to go away: the tech will continue to evolve and audience expectations will continue to rise. It is our responsibility as cinema operators to ensure that we strive to provide a premium experience to all our audiences -- and, in my opinion, without adding a ‘premium’ price tag.

The future of projection tech is something that affects us all, and the information around laser projectors was of great interest to me; the potential for reduced costs over time through no bulb replacements and lower energy costs makes the prospect a genuine proposition for operators of any size. The added potential for cinemas with the projector mounted inside the room, without a manned projection booth behind -- enabling additional space for seating -- is an interesting development and one that I’m sure will catch on in new-build cinemas in the future. Although at QFT we maintain projection skills on many formats, this type of un-manned operation would certainly work in other cinemas.

I was left unconvinced by the LED screen technology, and perhaps in 10 years’ time this might be more attractive, but for now the cons seriously outweigh the pros, and the cost is prohibitive for almost all operators.

With developments inside the cinema screen dealt with, the next sessions on digital signage and e-ticketing were looking more at the customer journey around the cinema foyer. As VUE demonstrated, the move from paper to exclusively digital signage has resulted in much smarter cinemas all round, with the ability to change the signage messaging regularly, accordingly to different parameters, promoting different products and films to different audiences.

The opportunities of e-ticketing were clear from the presentation, with audiences able to choose how they want to receive their tickets: mobile, SMS or printed in venue, potentially reducing the need for queuing space in foyers and certainly saving on paper use. I would be surprised if the whole sector doesn’t end up fully integrated with e-ticketing in the near future.