X10 at the movies
March 6, 2003 6:00 AM   Subscribe

Kodak, in an effort to alienate move goers everywhere, will introduce technology that could replace pre-movie, slide based still advertisements with full motion video and other digital media ads (and "other entertainment").
posted by alan (43 comments total)
technology that could replace replace pre-movie, slide based still advertisements? How about...FILM?

Any projectionists here? I never understood why they had to show slides before the movie. Couldn't they at least rig something up so they could project video?

Not that I welcome the commercials, but this always puzzled me.
posted by luser at 6:06 AM on March 6, 2003

luser, that's exactly what this is about. Replacing the slides with video.

Regal already has a system like this -- it's called CineMedia. The interesting thing is that this "pre-show" stuff is suppsed to end at the advertised start time of the movie, and from that point on it's just previews and the movie itself. No more horrible TV commercials that have been blown up from NTSC video to 35mm.
posted by Potsy at 6:16 AM on March 6, 2003

Here in the UK, we've had ads on film for as long as I can remember (early 70s).

Two styles can be discerned; on the one hand, you get the high-budget, big-brand ad, consciously aiming to be an entertainment in its own right (a bit like the Superbowl ads). Sometimes the cinema ads are "sexier" than would be permitted on broadcast TV, or advertise alcohol (fairly restricted on TV).

On the other hand, you get the incredibly cheap and humble "generic service" advert, with a local client's name tacked on the end. So you would see a cheesy travelogue-style depiction of the Taj Mahal, dancing Indian lovelies, bowls of spices and an elephant, followed by a ropey jump-cut to a spliced-in still advertising the local Tandoori restaurant.

McDonalds briefly promoted an Indian-themed snack (McTikka?) with an advert parodying this style. Ah, the postmodern nineties!
posted by gdav at 6:22 AM on March 6, 2003

I recommend Landmark Theaters, if there is one in your area. Excellent movies, no advertisements during the show, etc.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 6:28 AM on March 6, 2003

What, people wath slides with ads in movie theatres? Where?

Perhaps people did this in Denmark, too... in the fifties. This seems very archaic, and if anybody tried that here the audience would ridicule it. No theatre AFAIK use anything but film, and film alone (perhaps digital film but same-same).
posted by cx at 6:33 AM on March 6, 2003

I never knew the US didn't have ads before trailers. Here in SA usually we get a few trailers the some ads then a few more trailers and finally the movie.
posted by PenDevil at 6:36 AM on March 6, 2003

Know what this country needs? ...a few good riots. Suggested starting points: the Post Office, Airline ticket counters, the DMV, and any theater that decides to make ads before a movie I PAID to see even more invasive. The only way companies can get away with shoving bothersome ad content down our throats is if we refuse to object and continue to buy tickets. These places will treat you as poorly as possible, but only so long as you don't go anywhere else. We need to put the fear of God in these @$#%ers. Anyone got a torch?
posted by leotrotsky at 6:39 AM on March 6, 2003

The US (well, Boston at least) has the slide-based system for most of the major theaters to which I've been. The very worst part are not the horribly cheesy movie quizzes, the show biz facts or the sloppily assembled local ads -- the very worst part is they have such a slim amount of content that the slides repeat OVER and OVER again.

If I see more than one movie within a few weeks, and arrive at both a little early, I end up seeing the same slides at least four times over. Riots, indeed.
posted by VulcanMike at 6:47 AM on March 6, 2003

For the non-Americans, here's how it works:

You enter the theater 10 -15 minutes before the show in order to get a good seat. The house lights are up, people are talking.

On the screen, dimmed by the house lights, is a carousel of slides that advances every 20 - 30 seconds. They are of two kinds; the first is a mishmosh of painfully inept ads for dry cleaners, chinese restaurants and realtors. The second, and more abhorrent, are the juvenile, slick monstrosities produced by Coca-Cola that are "hip" and "in-touch" with the young people that watch movies. They contain things like "Krazy Kwizzes," where you're to unscramble the name of an actor or something: "Mot Cruies starred in Eyes Wide Shut. Who is he????" One of the most entertaining facets of American cinema is eavesdropping on the mouth-breathing patrons who struggle with these things. "Who could it be, Alvira? John Cusack?" Others include inanities like, "Clap if you think rap music is kool!" or ask you to decipher a movie-themed rebus.

Meanwhile, while all this is going on, you're forced to listen to "The Movie Tunez Radio Network" or whatever this foul insult to humanity is called. It plays "hot" new singles from the "kewlest" young artists, and is as wretched as you can possibly imagine. "That's shakira, with her new one, "The Way I Love Sex," featured in the new film, "Buddy Copz III"

By the time the projectors start with the ads for Coke and The Partnership For Being Real Nice to People Even If They're Black, you're almost relieved. At least you know you'll be watching a movie in the next twenty minutes or so...
posted by vraxoin at 6:49 AM on March 6, 2003

I recommend local non-profit theaters, if there is one in your area. (Ok, I'm just annoyed that Landmark took Seven Samurai when the non-profit is the one doing the Kurosawa series ...)
posted by Utilitaritron at 7:00 AM on March 6, 2003

Any projectionists here? I never understood why they had to show slides before the movie. Couldn't they at least rig something up so they could project video?

Much of it had to do with technology that didn't exist in a cheap form until the last few years. Long throw video projectors were horribly expensive. Mounting a shorter throw projector (say from the ceiling) brought in too many maintenace problems.

Combine this with the fact that a video preshow projector has to be synched with the start of the regular projector and you get another issue, most multiplexes have one operator per shift (depending on the number of screens) so the person would have to make more runs to each screen each presentation.

Certainly there are timers and the like, but the sllide projector automation has been around and relatively cheap. Finally video projectors aren't as resiliant as slide projectors. They don't like to be dumped on and off.

The thing here is that Kodak is focusing on something they can make a buck off of. While I have been out of the field for a few years, when I was in it, Kodak projectors were never really of the quality that say a Barco was. In short, Kodak is going after the automation aspect for pre-show rather than develop a full system. When I read the part in the article about going "temporarily" dropping their development on projectors, my first thought was "They must still suck".

Finally, as movie chains continue in their quest for higher profits, this whole scenario can be likened to the $4dollar soda. For theatres, this is their real profit point - a sale without a royalty paid per viewing. In fact, they can charge, conceivable a fee per ad shown per person now. The Kodak system could tie into ticket sales system proving a wider audience.

All tolled, this is real shame as it is another nail in the coffin for the movie going experience.

I second the recommendation for Landmark Theatres or you local non-profit.
posted by lampshade at 7:05 AM on March 6, 2003

I recommend a big TV, home enternment system, comfortable sectional sofa, digital cable, good friends and beer or wine.

Then you can skip the commercials, inflated food prices or the guy kicking the back of your seat. However, you do miss out on listening to the lies that first-daters tell each other while trying to social engineer their way into each others pants.
posted by srboisvert at 7:13 AM on March 6, 2003

Not to mention that a projector bright enough to reach the length of a theater and fill the theater-sized screen would cost tons, and you'd have to do it for each screen.

Can anyone confirm what my theater-employed friends say about the only profit theaters make being the concessions? This would be after paying the "privilege to project" fees.
posted by ringmaster at 7:36 AM on March 6, 2003

Props to vraxoin for taking the time to explain.

I'm not a fan of ads before movies, but I'm fairly sure the pre-showtime ads are harmless.

There is also a flip side to this. Any monies raised this way are likely to help keep your ticket prices down. It doesn't go straight into the managers pocket, it just goes back into the mix with the rest.

At the level Hollywood is operating at these days, if it wasn't for drinks and whatnot, tickets would likely have to be 50% more to sustaine the whole endevor.

"But I hate the endevor" you say. That's where the indie theaters and video come in. Vote with your dollars, cause nobody is listening to your mouth anyway.
posted by Leonard at 7:37 AM on March 6, 2003

Did I recently rent a DVD that gave you no option but to view the trailers? Yes, I think I did. Bloody cheek.
posted by Summer at 7:52 AM on March 6, 2003

Do go a step farther on what vraxoin said, this new system is only going to extend that preshow time. Combine the 10 to 15 minutes with the ads, trailers and theatrical admonishments (don't smoke in the theatre - duh) and the whole process can be a half hour. Add to that the time spent in lines for tickets and anything else and it gets even more stupid.

Then you have quotes like this from the article....
"..It involved software engineers spending time in theaters to understand how they operate. Kodak’s corporate design and usability division, which includes cultural anthropologists, also contributed observations toward designing the software.

“The challenging part was, in some instances, I’m not sure the exhibitors knew what they wanted,” Jones said. “There were also questions on how they wanted to control the system -- centrally or at the theater.”

First thought - great, now I need a wirehead telling me how to enjoy myself. Kidding aside, the (somewhat) hidden meaning in the "I'm not sure the exhibitors knew" can be paraphrased to be "to hell with the movie, feed the profit centers and we will show you how".

the only profit theaters make being the concessions
Having background in only IMAX and "art houses", I can only comment on the royalties there. However, the studios really hold the line on what a theatre can make from a showing. Remember this too: a theatre as a building is a highly inefficient space. For example, in the summer, you are cooling the space that can be many stories high, yet the "paying audience" is only on the ground level. think of renting a 5 story building where the first floor tenant had to supply for all the utilities in a building where the upper floors were vacant.
posted by lampshade at 7:55 AM on March 6, 2003

Pretty good description Vraxoin.

But right before the movie, the theater has to display its horrible little animated "Silence Is Golden" ditty followed by something telling you how wonderful the place is, usually fitting the words "entertainment excellence" in there somewhere no matter what theater it is.

Our least favorite local one is Wehrenberg, because their little "bop bobba bop babop... Wehrenberrrrrrg Theateeeerrrrrrrs" song ends with some guy whispering whispering "Wehrenberg!" fading out with a slow ping-pong delay. Inevitably, random audience members start whispering "Werhrenberg!" too and cracking up.
posted by Foosnark at 8:02 AM on March 6, 2003

(damn, posted instead of preview)
Anyway, theatres were not made as profit cnters in the form that we have come to know. It is the added on charges that the theatre owners look for. as I said, there is no royalty associated with anything other than the film viewing cost. So when you buy that coke, the vast majority of the profit goes to the theatre, not a company like Disney. When you buy the movie ticket, the vast majority goes to the studio. The studio leaves just enough for a break even profit. When you sell and ad for a local car dealership, the theatre gets the entire profit and like Neilson ratings can charge more for an ad run before the new "blockbuster".

So like television, movie theatres have become product centers whose product is the audience, not the film.

posted by lampshade at 8:03 AM on March 6, 2003

One of our local discount theatres set up a video projector and started playing ads for local companies before their shows. The video and sound were so distracting to me, that I almost wished I was watching those annoying slides with their mindlessly stupid trivia contests.

Having worked in movie theatres for over 10 years, I can tell you that just about nothing will phase these corporations. People will keep going to the movies, keep complaining, but you're voting with your money every time you go to a theatre that shows these ads. Complaining to the management just isn't enough.
posted by filmgoerjuan at 8:11 AM on March 6, 2003

Any monies raised this way are likely to help keep your ticket prices down.

Ticket prices are high because that's what the market will bear. Supply and demand determine price.
posted by bobo123 at 8:14 AM on March 6, 2003

Here's more from our last stab at this topic.
posted by muckster at 8:41 AM on March 6, 2003

You enter the theater 10 -15 minutes before the show in order to get a good seat. The house lights are up, people are talking.

...and 40 minutes later, the ads have ended, the house lights are down, the movie has been running for a few minutes...

...and people are still talking.

Anyone else who answers a cell phone call in a movie theater and proceeds to have a long conversation in a street-volume voice will get ice cubes thrown at them from my direction. I'm just saying.
posted by Vidiot at 9:50 AM on March 6, 2003

In the last year these pre-movie videos have been running in many of the theatres in New York City.

They seem to do it with an LCD projector, which is unfortunate because the brightness and quality aren't really there. In some cases, they use PowerPoint decks with lots of swooping and slicing effects, but with timed interruptions by some other video source. I say interruptions because the video tends to just cut into the PowerPoint slide show arbitrarily, so that you have to wait, like, two whole minutes to find out whose name was in the ScreenScramble.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:03 AM on March 6, 2003

Landmark Theaters ain't bad (although they recently spiked their tickets up to $9.75 and have stopped carrying program schedules for non-Landmark indie houses). They essentially run their theatres in the manner that all theatres were run pre-1985, without ShittyPreMovieTunez or slides. You walk in, grab a seat. Perhaps some soundtrack is playing over the loudspeakers (Bjork or, in one case, the Koyaanisqatsi soundtrack) and the music isn't played at a level low enough so that you can still carry on a quiet pre-movie conversation.

Contrast this with the pre-commercial trailers and ShittyPreMovieTunez. It isn't just these jarring pre-movie features hat I have a problem with, but the volume level in general, which negates any effort you can make to converse. (In fact, one pre-movie commercial was so loud recently that a friend and I literally had to shout over the goddam Coca-Cola commercial.)

Even Landmark doesn't beat your local rep house, which often doesn't feature anything other than a few trailers. In fact, if you ever catch a flick in San Francisco, go to an evening show at the Castro Theatre, and you'll be treated to the Wurlitzer.
posted by ed at 10:04 AM on March 6, 2003

Ticket prices are high because that's what the market will bear. Supply and demand determine price.

And costs to producers, in part, determine supply. Increase costs (effectively, by eliminating advertisements), you decrease supply, and price increases.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:07 AM on March 6, 2003

I love films, but 2 adult movie tickets = 1 purchase of a reasonably priced DVD. Going to the theater used to be something special to me. With the loud pre-show music I can't hold a conversation with my friend or date, the ads are glitzy and vulgar to the senses, making the overall experience feel like I just got sold a bill of goods for the privilege of seeing Natalie Portman's nipp... um, acting skills.

Don't get me started on product placements!

My point: going to the movies gets less special every year. If a movie theater isn't a special experience, why not just rent the DVD?
posted by Tystnaden at 10:31 AM on March 6, 2003

going to the movies gets less special every year.

And to add, as a society, we have almost forgotten what a movie showing, sans ads and placements, were. Instead, a good portion of the audience has only experienced the ShittyPreMovieTunez environment and later.
posted by lampshade at 10:52 AM on March 6, 2003

Summer: There's a trick for DVDs that program commercials you cannot stop before the menu. Stop the DVD after the initial garbage starts up and then play it again. The DVD should default to the first chapter on the disc, the beginning of the movie.
posted by ed at 11:17 AM on March 6, 2003

Increase costs (effectively, by eliminating advertisements), you decrease supply, and price increases.

Sounds great, but why isn't the reverse true? Add ads, decrease costs, increase supply, decrease price, right? Of course not. Part of the reason the ads are a drag is the perception that the theaters are getting more revenue for the ads while charging more money for the tickets.

<geezer>I remember when cable TV was new, and the idea was that there wouldn't be commercials because you were paying for cable.</geezer>
posted by kirkaracha at 11:50 AM on March 6, 2003

They seem to do it with an LCD projector, which is unfortunate because the brightness and quality aren't really there....

That's what this Kodak system will replace. It'll basically make the presentation digital projection of near film quality.

this new system is only going to extend that preshow time

I doubt it. These ads will be running in place of the preshow slides. If the quality is just as good as film, the commericals that now run with the previews might be bumped onto this program for ease. (It is a bitch and a half to add all the commercials to every print you run, especially for a +10 screen theater. A digital pre-show program could end that hassle.)

People against ads should try to support this idea. It will be easier to convince theaters that they should put commercials on this system that runs before the published start time, leaving only trailers and the feature on the film reel that starts at the specificed time.
posted by dogwalker at 11:51 AM on March 6, 2003

dogwalker: It would be easier to support this idea if the technology was being used to, oh say, mark a return to the animated short, A-film and B-film Saturday matinee. With the tremendous amount of filmmakers out there, you'd think that theaters would realize that giving audience entertainment (as opposed to commercials) would lead them to generate more revenue. (After all, a movie theater makes 90% of its money from a snack bar. Most of your ticket grosses go straight to the studio.)

What Landmark and the rep houses understand is that, if you relax the moviegoer rather than bombard them with advertisements and terrible music, they will be more likely to get that tub of popcorn. (It also doesn't hurt that they offer good coffee for those of us terrified of cholesterol. :) )

Now the movie theater chains, particularly Regal, are determined to bombard every sensory experience imaginable. Movie posters have been replaced by moving LCD screens. We're probably only about ten years off from Neal Stephenson's nightmarish vision in The Diamond Age of a lengthy avenue of billboards all scrambling for our attention.

Our ears are blasted with tone-deaf commercial music that features not one whit of innovation (blasted at a deafening volume because, presumably, they assume that we've lost our hearing after Dolby Digital and THX? or are they preparing us?). And our eyes are suckered with the aforementioned slides.

But why stop there? When will they pelt theatres with a smell chemically designed to get us to buy more, to spend more, to get us to salivate like Pavlov's dog? When will the texture of our theater seats be antiseptically designed for minimal comfort? (Of course, for a $15 movie ticket, you can sit in Comfort Class, if you actually want to enjoy the movie.)

This is really only an early warning sign before the moviegoing experience loses all of its former glory for good.
posted by ed at 2:16 PM on March 6, 2003

ed, it would be easier to get behind this technology if it was used for better purposes. But one of its purposes could be to remove ads from the print reel (and put them before the announced start time), which is something that many people would like to see happen.

Instead of "protesting" by causing a scene in the theater or taking the company to court over "time lost" (which, let's be real, are two dumb ideas), I want to see these people use their heads and encourage the chains to put all of their non-trailer ads on the digital presentation. I know that at least the projectionists would be on their side.
posted by dogwalker at 3:55 PM on March 6, 2003

*I don't mean to imply that the projectionists have a lot of control over this issue. Just saying, customers wouldn't be alone.
posted by dogwalker at 3:59 PM on March 6, 2003

My point: going to the movies gets less special every year. If a movie theater isn't a special experience, why not just rent the DVD?

Netflix is a wonderful thing. So is the Cinerama - but they don't insult you with ads and bad sugar-pop before the show, either. Watching movies there is actually fun.
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:28 PM on March 6, 2003

Given the format, no wonder US cinemagoers hate the pre-movie ads. It's amazing that the system is stuck in such an archaic format. In the UK, as gdav says, UK cinema ad production values are, more often than not, very high. They're disliked by some, but many are genuinely entertaining as short films (for instance, the award-winning Stella Artois series and the Guinness Sea Horses were breathtaking on big screen).
posted by raygirvan at 5:55 PM on March 6, 2003

Why not institute a seat-picking option when you buy your tickets, like they do any many Hong Kong and some Taiwan cinemas? There's a little screen embedded in the counter, and you just pick your seats when you buy your ticket, so that you don't have to actually enter the theater until the movie starts. You still have to watch a couple of commercials if you can't guess how much time they'll take, but at least you wouldn't have to go early to get a good seat.

And I agree it would be fun to see some good shorts before the feature instead of commercials. I also like to watch the previews in most cases.
posted by Poagao at 7:02 PM on March 6, 2003

Summer: There's a trick for DVDs that program commercials you cannot stop before the menu. Stop the DVD after the initial garbage starts up and then play it again. The DVD should default to the first chapter on the disc, the beginning of the movie.

Thanks ed.
posted by Summer at 4:00 AM on March 7, 2003

I call bullshit on the brits in this thread who are saying we don't get slide adverts in cinemas in the UK. Try turning up really early, because there's less traffic on the roads than you thought. I agree that the Guinness ads look pretty good on the big screen, but I was force-fed something like ten minutes of slides before they even got around to repeating crappy ads from the TV. I nearly ate the seat in frustration.

On another note, we tried out a cheap data projector in our (white-walled) living room the other week. Fantastic. At about £800 ($1300), it's going to be another low blow to my credit card, but it takes up less room than a widescreen TV and I can also play FIFA 2003 at humongous size. Sorted.
posted by walrus at 5:21 AM on March 7, 2003

I call bullshit on the brits in this thread who are saying we don't get slide adverts in cinemas in the UK.

I've only seen it a couple of times - at a Warner Brothers megacomplex type thing. The slides must have been imported from the US because they used the word 'phenom', which I remember never having come across before.
posted by Summer at 5:59 AM on March 7, 2003

I've only seen slides used in the UK twice too: once in the Lee Valley UCI multiplex running cheesy ads and quizzes as described earlier and once at the Curzon Soho arthouse cinema, who instead were showing an art exhibition.
posted by kerplunk at 6:50 AM on March 7, 2003

Warner Brothers megacomplex type thing

Hmm, thinking about it that's probably where I was. I try not to go normally, but my geekish nature was strangely drawn by the second Lord of the Rings film.
posted by walrus at 6:50 AM on March 7, 2003

I've never heard of slides being used here in the UK either. But I do highly recommend two cinemas in London - the Coronet in Notting Hill Gate and the Chelsea Cinema in, erm, Chelsea where the "Pullman seats" (?) are massive so you can actually lie back while watching the film.
posted by Lleyam at 5:10 PM on March 8, 2003

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