Cineplex adds VR to its offerings

For Cineplex, it's a chance to up its premium content offerings, while IMAX sees it as a opportunity to bring VR mainstream.

As premium content offerings continue to represent a larger portion of Cineplex’s revenue, the Canadian theatre chain has partnered with IMAX to offer a new VR centre in the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto.

The centre is set to open at an unspecified date this fall, and will be added to the downtown theatre’s main level, where the box office currently sits (the box office will be moved to the second level). It will offer 10 VR pods that will showcase immersive content across numerous genres including gaming and family-oriented animation.

For Cineplex, the partnership represents an opportunity to further its focus on cinematic offerings outside of conventional tickets. Sarah Van Lange, director of communications for Cineplex, said offering more entertainment options onsite is part of Cineplex’s current strategy. In the company’s most recent quarterly report, premium experiences such as 4DX and VIP represented 51.6% of box office revenues. She added that for the most recent two Star Wars installations, premium offerings represented 80% of advanced ticket revenue.

For the VR centre, the pricing model will start as a pay-per-experience, but Cineplex and IMAX will explore pricing package options as time goes on. Cineplex will handle the marketing of the centre, but Van Lange said it’s still working on developing a strategy in this area.

It is the first centre of its kind in Canada for IMAX, but the third overall. Pilot locations were opened in Los Angeles and New York earlier this year (the Los Angeles being a standalone location and the New York being through a partnership with cinema chain AMC). While both U.S. locations have been open under a year, Rob Lister, chief business development officer for IMAX, said together they are bringing in about $15,000 per week in revenue. Lister said this is above the targets that the company budgeted for.

A number of studies have shown that VR is still a niche in Canada, such as a May study from the Media Technology Monitor which found that only 2% of Canadians owned headsets (cheaper consumer headsets were significantly more popular).

Lister admitted that adoption for VR in Canada and the U.S. has been notoriously slow, but the centres represent an opportunity to bring the medium more mainstream, and that low home adoption rates don’t necessarily mean the interest isn’t there.

“I think the focus for a lot of VR creators is to simply get the eyeballs in front of the content,” he told MiC. The goal is to eventually integrate advertising into the VR experiences.

Lister said the Scotiabank Theatre was chosen because of its centrality in Toronto and its ability to attract food traffic from multiple demographics. The option of adding it at street level was also a factor, he said.

The agreement with IMAX will also see two new IMAX auditoriums added to theatres, one at the Cineplex Odeon Eglinton Town Centre in Toronto and the other at Cineplex Cinemas Normanview in Regina. Both sites are expected to open in November.


Photo by Paul Bence, courtesy of Unsplash