Wim Buyens has been the CEO of Cinionic since it was created in January 2018 in a joint venture Barco, Appotronics, another laser technology manufacturer, and the China Film Group. Prior to that he spent more than a decade in various top executive positions at Barco. Buyens believes that for exhibitors to succeed going forward they must offer what he calls “an elevated experience.” He also firmly believes that Cinionic can help them create that experience.
Despite the pandemic, this has been a busy year for Cinionic. Throughout 2021 the company has sold laser projection technology to such exhibitors as B&B Theatres in the US, PVR Cinemas in India, Cine Columbia in South America, and established a working relationship with Qube Cinema on laser installations in Southern Asia. In May the company announced that it was expanding its exclusive relationship with South Korean-based exhibitor CJ CGV Cinemas to power more theatres with its projection systems. In August, Cinionic and Cinemark launched an advertising campaign to educate movie audiences about laser projection as part of the renewed and exclusive 10-year partnership to upgrade all of Cinemark’s 6,000 screens worldwide. Most recently, Cinemark and Cinionic upgraded 24 locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to all-laser multiplexes.
There are more examples, but the evidence is clear that, while the pandemic has stymied many businesses, Cinionic has managed to continue to move forward. Much of the credit for that belongs to Buyens, who I recently had the chance to speak with via Zoom.
Before joining Barco in 2007, Buyens had spent a decade at Brüel & Kjær, a sound and vibration measurement company, where he last served as the director of the company’s aerospace and defense division. My first question was, what was it about the cinema business in 2007 that prompted him to not just change jobs but change industries and take the job at Barco.
“It was digital cinema,” he said. He had been contacted by a headhunter about the Barco opportunity and, at first, wasn’t certain it was right for him and his family. His initial misgivings had to do in large part with his perspective about cinema, which, at the time he saw as a stable business. He became intrigued once he learned what was happening in exhibition at the time and, especially, what Barco envisioned as its role in building the future. He said he saw Barco as a technology company that was working to help create a new industry, which was in many ways very similar to the work he had been doing in defense. The common denominator in both industries is, he said, “The technology has to last.”
A phrase Buyens used many times during our conversation was, “What is the cost of ownership over the lifetime of the product.” In his mind that simple concept is critical, no matter what the technology or industry. He knows it’s critical to his customers.
Regarding the impact of the pandemic, he said, “COVID accelerated many different things. The world has changed quite a bit in a short time.” Cinema is an excellent example of that because, as he said, “Today there are many different ways to get entertainment” without going to a movie theatre. To compete in this new environment, exhibitors must offer patrons what Buyens calls “an elevated experience. People say to themselves, ‘I want to go out, I love to go out, but it has to be special’.”
In North America in particular, that elevated experience often means premium large format theatres and Cinionic has played a big role in that market. But Buyens also strongly believes there are ways for smaller cinema venues to encourage people to get out of their homes. “Give them a different out of home experience, an elaborate experience,” he said, of theatres with 20-50 people. That could include many different things from special foods and drinks, luxury seats, and, increasingly, customer curated content.
Buyens said he was very much looking forward to CineEurope 2021, which got underway today and runs through October 7. There Cinionic will feature an all-laser portfolio of cinema projection technologies and services at the Centre Convencions Internacional Barcelona, in Spain. Cinionic is also the event’s exclusive projection partner.
New this year, Cinionic will also debut the largest member of the Barco Series 4 laser family, the SP4K-55. “It’s one helluva a machine,” said Buyens. The projector delivers 52,000 lumens, making it applicable to the biggest screens in exhibition. Buyens believes it could even power a drive-in theatre. And while it is one of the brightest laser projectors on the market, he says a hidden virtue is that it uses many of the same components as all the other projectors in the Barco Series 4 laser line. Scalability across the line is critical to Buyens, another phrase he used several times during our conversation.
Before the pandemic began it seemed that a market was beginning to develop for LED cinemas screens. Exhibitors around the world have installed Samsung’s Onyx screens and a growing number of other manufacturers, including Sony and LG, have entered the market. Cinionic makes and sells LED screens to other markets. I asked Buyens what his company’s plans for LED were in cinema.
Buyens believes that LED technology is not quite there yet, which, in turn, raises the cost of the product. The technical issues don’t concern him greatly. “Technical issues, you can always overcome over time,” he said. “We do believe that LED will have a place in the market in a few years. But there has to be some scale for companies like ourselves. It’s not just about installing a system. You have to maintain it. As soon as the market is ready, we will be there.”