When the decision was made – more than a decade ago – to convert all the movie theatres in to world to digital technology it unleashed a spirit of innovation that shows no signs of stopping. Certainly, challenges remain, but the savviest exhibitors have learned to embrace new ideas as the best way to stay ahead in an increasingly competitive business. One of the technology leaders in all of this has been Dolby Laboratories.
With a movie industry pedigree that traces far back into the film era, Dolby continues to bring innovative new products to market. In 2012 the company unveiled Dolby Atmos sound, which came to life first with Disney-Pixar’s Brave. That was followed in 2014 with the introduction of Dolby Vision, the company’s contribution to high dynamic range imagery. The two technologies were combined in 2015 to create a new concept in premium large format theatres: Dolby Cinema. That same year, the Disney film Tomorrowland, from writer-director Brad Bird, became the first movie released in Dolby Cinema.
I spoke recently with Doug Darrow, senior vice president, cinema business group, Dolby Laboratories about Dolby Cinema today and, more importantly, what to expect in the coming years.
Digital Cinema Report: Dolby Cinema recently passed a significant milestone: there are now more than one hundred Dolby Cinema theatres around the world. That is ahead of the schedule previously announced by your company. How many more Dolby Cinema installations can you envision?
Doug Darrow: Overall, we have over 380 locations opened or committed. Thinking beyond that means trying to predict the total number of PLF screens in the future and what I can say now is that we see strong demand for premium movie experiences and moviegoers prefer Dolby Cinema, so we believe we can continue to grow for many years to come.
DCR: When Dolby introduced Dolby Cinema, many exhibitors hesitated because of the cost involved. How has that changed since the launch?
DD: Since the Dolby Cinema program was launched, we have been actively speaking with exhibitors around the world to present the benefits and business model for Dolby Cinema. As can be expected with such a robust offering, exhibitors have many questions and clarifications about Dolby Cinema and how it is integrated with their business. As the program has seen an extensive rollout around the world, including over 150 titles master in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, both exhibitors and studios have increasingly seen the value of Dolby Cinema and how it helps their business.
DCR: Each Dolby Cinema is custom-designed. How has that design strategy evolved and have there been any changes in the overall design?
DD: The design of Dolby Cinema considers both aesthetic and technical elements of the consumer journey, including the pathway leading to the auditorium and the auditorium itself. Since the launch of Dolby Cinema, we have made minor tweaks to the design to ensure the best movie-going experience, but no major changes that a guest would notice. We also realized early on in our deployment that the audio video pathway design element would have to be selectively used as it practically cannot be built into many locations as the existing space cannot accommodate it or the cost of renovation is prohibitive.
DCR: As Dolby understands as well as any company in the world, technology constantly changes? How has Dolby Cinema changed since the first installations and what additional changes can you discuss regarding the future?
DD: We set out to develop and deploy the most technically advanced solution available, and we believe we achieved that, therefore unlikely we would need major changes or enhancements.
Like the design elements of Dolby Cinema, we do make minor changes and updates on software and hardware, but no major changes that are notable to the guests. Our system continues to provide the most advanced, pure cinematic experience today with the combination of the Dolby Vision dual laser projection system and the object-based Dolby Atmos audio system.
As for the future, we work closely with filmmakers, studios, and exhibitors to consider technologies and solutions that could enhance the experience we provide. We have seen higher frame rate as an example of something that certain directors have pushed for and we will work to make that available. Beyond that we have ideas and we share those with key stakeholders as our goal is to make the Dolby Cinema experience the best it can be and ensure the big screen experience is unique and differentiated from other entertainment options.
DCR: Every time I’ve attended a Dolby Cinema screening the theatre has been packed. And, yet, I have friends, including filmmakers, who aren’t familiar with the concept and what it has to offer. What is Dolby doing to make the general public better aware of Dolby Cinema?
DD: Dolby works with our exhibitor and studio partners around the world to market the benefits of Dolby Cinema to consumers. We tell our story through a combination of in-theatre marketing, social media, special screening events, premier sponsorships, and more. Over time, we expect more and more people to learn about Dolby Cinema and discover why it is the best way to see a movie. Moviegoer feedback that we have collected and we have seen from our exhibitor partners is outstanding and we are growing our awareness of this offering. Currently in the US market, Dolby Cinema has the highest per screen average of any other PLF offering and so it is clear that the support from consumers is growing and it shows people want a high quality big screen experience.