That’s right. Science experiments. The Norwood company, best known to the moviegoing public as Showcase Cinemas, conducted a “biometrics study” in August to compare the responses of viewers in a home setting versus the theater. In addition to traditional exit polling, participants wore sensors that measured pulse rate and skin conduction, to assess their excitement. The flick, in this case, was “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” a fantasy-adventure about teens who get sucked into a video game.
Showcase rolls out the results from its research on Tuesday morning. The findings aren’t unexpected – people, unsurprisingly, were far more stimulated by the theatrical presentation. Still, you can expect the company to use the data to promote itself. Don’t be surprised to see others in the industry also spotlighting these stats, too.
The experiment underscores the challenge facing cinema chains in the Streaming Age. They worry more about competition from Netflix and Disney Plus and less about each other these days. To stand out, the industry needs to persuade consumers that the value exceeds the ticket price.
For Showcase, this study represents the next step in that effort. The sample size was small: Forty people attended the Showcase Cinemas XPlus theater in Revere on Aug. 27, along with about 150 other viewers who weren’t monitored, while 40 people watched among smaller groups, in a simulated home environment in Boston, the next day. Consultants with HCD Research registered that, on average for participants, there were 757 seconds of higher neurophysiological excitement in the theater, compared to a meager three seconds in the home environment. The screen experience also easily outpolled the in-home simulation in all categories.
HCD vice president Michelle Niedziela says the difference in arousal levels is so significant that she doesn’t think increasing the number of participants would have dramatically changed the conclusion: Watching a flick in the dark with strangers and surround sound is simply far more exciting than doing it from the comfort of your couch.
Mark Malinowski, vice president of global marketing for Showcase, says he’s not aware of any previous experiment like this in the industry. He’ll share the info with film distributors and ticketing partners, and colleagues at other chains, to help them make the case for the power of cinema.
Comscore media analyst Paul Dergarabedian says the project exemplifies how theater chains are finding they need to promote themselves more now, not just the movies they show. They can’t sit on the sidelines anymore, not with the increasing number of streaming services clamoring for consumers’ attention.
Dergarabedian remains bullish on the big screen. But the stats aren’t particularly promising. Comscore shows North American box office receipts falling 5 percent in 2019, year over year, through Sunday, to $9.1 billion. Dergarabedian notes that the industry is coming off a record year in 2018, and a strong performance from just a few films can shift the trajectory. (Fingers crossed, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”)
Perhaps more troubling: the long-term trend of declining attendance. Leisure consultancy White Hutchinson reported that per-capita attendance fell from a peak of 5.2 times per year in 2002 to 3.5 in 2018.
As a result, cinema owners have engaged in an arms race to improve the moviegoing experience: bigger screens, bigger seats, bigger menus.
At Showcase, the company is in the midst of a multimillion dollar campaign to revamp roughly two-thirds of its 27 US locations.
Even its relatively new locations are getting makeovers: The Chestnut Hill renovation is nearly complete, while work at the flagship cinema at Legacy Place in Dedham is just beginning.
It may not be the same as being sucked into a video game. But the theater industry knows it needs to make the experience as immersive as possible – in a way, following the “Jumanji” script – to keep the fans piling into the seats. No fancy science necessary.Jon Chesto can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.