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Theaters May Use AI to Entice Audiences, From Ticket Pricing to Concessions

CinemaCon: Theaters and studios are still behind the curve when it comes to gathering information on their customers, but that's changing, and all in hopes of bolstering the in-theater experience.

Shutterstock / Artisticco

The “magic” of the theatrical experience might be the sentiment most top of mind at this year’s (or any) CinemaCon, but while concerns about streaming competitors and a declining rate of theatrical ticket sales will only continue to dominate the conversation at the annual theater exhibitor confab, some industry vets are talking about new ways of appealing to their audience. (And, yes, they’re the kind of insights that giants like Netflix can’t quite capitalize on.)

At a Monday afternoon panel dedicated to exploring the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on the movie industry, a surprising new player in the theater vs. streaming experience emerged: customer personalization made possible through the power of automated technology and artificial intelligence. While competitors like Netflix have long enjoyed access to deep information about their customers, movie theaters are a little late to the game, and they’re just now catching up on the possibilities it might allow.

As new lines of informational technology take off, those possibilities hinge on using an audience’s preferences to target them in increasingly tailored ways, from setting personal ticket price points to further automating every aspect of the movie-going experience in hopes of making every element of it more pleasing to those that venture to the theater.

“Once you understand that breakdown of how likely is someone to watch a film, you can then change the type of motivation that you put in front of them to come to the movie,” Chief Executive of Movio Will Palmer said. He later added, “The pricing personalization and customization at movie-goer level will be enormous [in the coming years], that’s the first thing we will see everywhere.”

Movio, which offers marketing data analytics and campaign management software to cinema exhibitors, film distributors, and studios, uses information to advise on all aspects of movie marketing, and that could soon include crafting ticket prices on a personal level.

“If you have a segment of people who have been identified as most likely to see a film, trying to discount to them is probably a foolish thing to do, but they have other things that are competing with their attention,” Palmer said. “Give them the opportunity to buy a ticket in advance and for them and three friends, might be the best way to go. On the other end of the spectrum, you might have this ‘least likely’ group, and you’ve got to make a decision: do I leave that group alone or do I activate that group? That might be a case of putting some form of price-based incentive or concession-based incentive to try to attract that group.”

Marine Suttle, Chief Product Officer at Webedia Movies Pro, a global provider of data and technology (with a big emphasis on box office projections), agreed with Palmer. “I think personalization is really the key to the future, so that the right people are targeted with the right offers at the right time, so they’re more likely to go to the theater,” she said.

She also hoped that new information technology would help target people who don’t go to the movie theater often, adding that “a huge chunk of the population just doesn’t go to the movies, so it would be an intelligent way of targeting those people through other means than they’re currently using, because they are using some form of entertainment. So it would be finding a right method of targeting those people and driving them into theaters.”

Another big change that machine learning and AI will help contribute to in the upcoming years: more automation on every level, from ticketing to concessions and beyond. Paul Heth, the chairman of Karo Cinemas, shared that he’s already seen an uptick in customers utilizing automation to make their trips to the movies easier.

“We do have customers that are already getting their food and beverage as part of their mobile ticketing transaction,” Heth said. “We’re kind of working on a technology eventually where you can pick up your concessions and automatically be charged for it. You don’t have to go through any kind of collection or sales point.”

He added, “We’re trying to do everything we can to make that two hours, away from all the messaging you’re getting, from your TV to your phone, all the stuff that’s flying around, and you can come here and it can be this sole experience.”

CinemaCon runs April 1 – April 4 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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