The future of experiential cinema – VR and VIP seating

words Amy Turnbull

With the advent of Netflix and other streaming services, cinemas both big and small appreciate that they need to do more than simply screen a film to get us off of the couch and into their ticket halls.

According to Odeon’s chief commercial officer, Andy Edge, “cinema chains are more focused on guest experience, ensuring that while the filmmakers do their bit, the cinema exhibitor does theirs.”

Indeed, research shows that millennials heavily favour experiences over material possessions. As they make up a quarter of the UK population, and are America’s largest generation, they represent a huge potential audience and revenue stream.

The future needs to be experiential cinema, otherwise those thrifty, experience hungry millennials will stay in with their Netflix and Chill. In many ways, this shift, improving guest experience, has already begun to shape our cinematic outings.

The luxury experience

A large number of cinemas offer luxury as a way to add value (and cost) to their screening services. As this luxury trend grows more and more popular with cinema goers, discerning customers can see how what started with simple VIP cinema seating has now evolved into a booming market for full scale cinematic lavishness.

For example, The Sussex Exchange, a restaurant and luxury cinema located in Sussex, offers an opulent cinema experience that’s so high end it has a very VIP cinema seating price. It’s said to offer a Dubai class level of experience (but in the countryside town of Hastings).

On the chain cinema end of the spectrum, Odeon are stepping up their luxury game too and managing customer experience. Odeon now runs a venue unique to their brand called The Lounge, which offers a high end dinner-and-drinks service delivered right to your seat.

This kind of luxurious cinematic experience is unlikely to be replicated at home, unless you have the funds to hire a private chef, bartender, and build a giant cinema screen in your living room. Therefore film-buffs are enticed off of their sofas and into the ticket offices.

The technological experiences 

IMAX opened a VR equipped theatre in LA which earned a whopping $15,000 a week for a solid month. This revenue is so impressive that IMAX plans to roll out similar VR cinemas in 4 more cities the wake of this success.

Indeed, the birth of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) has led to many brands adopting the tech as a new USP or as part of their marketing strategy. For example, Disney utilised VR technology for their recent “Disney and Dalí: Architects of the Imagination” exhibit which promises to take you into the mind of Dalí himself, while retail brands like Tesco are utilising AR to allow shoppers to fully visualise their products in their homes before they make a purchase.

As the Harvard Business Review puts it, “Applications using either technology stand to eliminate customer pain points, elevate customer service, and create a differentiated, personalized customer experience.”

But VR and AR aren’t the only high-tech, high profit, attractions in the cinema industry. Cineworld is offering ticket buyers the chance to “be in the movie” with their 4Dx experience. According to their website, the experience includes “high-tech motion seats and special effects including wind, fog, lightning, bubbles, water, rain and scents, in both 2D and 3D formats.” These effects will be timed perfectly with the events of the film, so that viewers can feel as close to the action as possible.

The immersive experiences 

For those cinephiles who have neither the budget nor the desire to opt for luxury and high tech experiences, there are also a great number of independent and smaller cinemas which offer fans the chance to immerse themselves in their favourite films.

Immersive events are perfect not only for die-hard film fans, but also for sharing on social media, which is of utmost importance to millennials. As Andy Edge puts it, “Experiencing something socially, even commercial elements, make[s] cinema powerful”.

Shining examples of events like these can be found at The Prince Charles Cinema. This London cinema has made a name for itself on the indie scene as much for it’s expertly curated films, as for the regular sing-a-long’s, movie marathons, pajama parties and themed costume events it regularly hosts.

Meanwhile the Secret Cinema offers the best of both the luxury and the immersive experience worlds. MTV called Secret Cinema’s most recent endeavour, Moulin Rouge!, “musical goals”. As the name implies, much of what a trip to the Secret Cinema involves is kept strictly under wraps, however what people can disclose is that a ticket offers you the chance to fully immerse yourself in the world of a movie. Actors and live re-enactments abound, and dressing up is strongly recommended.


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