Regal CineMedia, a division of the Regal Entertainment Group, and Hughes Network Systems (HNS) recently celebrated the completion of a DIRECWAY® broadband satellite solution to deliver media-rich content to over 400 Regal-owned theaters throughout the U.S. The DIRECWAY solution positions Regal CineMedia to revolutionize the community movie theater experience, transforming it into a multi-genre, digital entertainment center—attracting more customers, more often and delivering real financial dividends to the Regal Entertainment Group.
Most of us will easily remember the last movie we saw at the neighborhood theater. But we’d likely draw a blank trying to remember what promotions and ads were shown for the twenty or so minutes before the movie began. At worst, perhaps fuzzy-looking slides and annoying content would come to mind. But all that’s changing with “The 2wenty”—the name given by Regal CineMedia to this preview program.
“The 2wenty” runs over HNS’ unique DIRECWAY-based content delivery network—known as the Digital Content Network (DCN)—which will now automatically distribute a mixture of shorts, features, promotions, and advertising before each movie to over 400 theaters nationwide. And all in the same kind of high-quality, digital video and audio to which we’ve become accustomed with our DIRECTV® home entertainment service.
"The delivery and playback of ‘The 2wenty’ is a perfect example of the financial and operational benefits that can be achieved by the marriage of Regal CineMedia’s technological and operations talent, with the flexibility and scalability of the DIRECWAY satellite solution,” said Emil Regard, vice president of North American Marketing at HNS.
How “The 2wenty” Works
A look under the hood at how “The 2wenty” operates is a glimpse into the future of digital entertainment and a foreshadowing of the theater of the future. Every week, Regal CineMedia’s technology and production team receives content from partners and advertisers—in just about every type of digital and tape media imaginable—and then formats, encodes, enhances, and in some cases upgrades it, for showing on a large theater screen. These digital files are then assembled and organized into playlists, each based on the profile of a particular target audience.
The data is then digitally transmitted to a DIRECWAY Network Operations Center (NOC), where it is hosted on powerful servers and subsequently multicast to selected theaters nationwide. Files are automatically distributed based on the movie’s rating, show time, and other criteria. Based on that information, the Regal CineMedia DCN assembles a show of approximately 20 minutes. Smart software automatically expands and contracts the ad clip lengths and tailors them to a theater’s specific inventory composition. This compilation is sent to the big screen exactly twenty minutes before the scheduled show time. The movie operator doesn't even have to shut the system down; that is done automatically when the 35 millimeter camera starts rolling.
And Regal CineMedia does all this with an operations team of approximately 60 people.
You need only visit one of Regal’s theaters to see for yourself how well “The 2wenty’s” been received by patrons and advertisers alike. Gone are the days of fuzzy, often annoying slides, replaced by high-quality “advertainment.” And advertisers gain the significant benefit of receiving an exact audit of who sees the ads from each audience, which is transmitted back over the DIRECWAY system. Data from the 5,000 screens is automatically reconciled with the movie profile, rating, and attendance figures. Overall, this highly reliable system yields a 99% assurance in delivery of content, providing advertisers and Regal with a solid return on investment.
But “The 2wenty” is just the first step in how Regal CineMedia plans to leverage DIRECWAY’s multicasting capabilities and transform its movie theaters into multi-genre media centers.
Music Concerts and Sporting Events
The flexibility and functionality of the DIRECWAY service, combined with Regal’s DCN, enables the delivery of both live and pre-recorded music performances and sporting events. The Regal CineMedia team can capture an event, enhance it, adjust it, encrypt it, and then distribute it at uniform times for each time zone across the country. And because music promotion typically takes place on Mondays and Tuesdays, the music performance broadcasts help keep the theater busy on off-peak days of the week. And if this weren’t enough of an added benefit, Regal is discovering that audiences at music and sports events typically buy several times more snacks at the concession stands than movie goers, adding to the bottom line. Education and Corporate Seminars Regal CineMedia has also leveraged its nationwide reach and the DIRECWAY service to host interactive conferences and seminars. These events typically occur in the mornings when theaters are rarely used. Over 150 corporate meetings a week take place at Regal theaters. And special educational seminars hosted by well-known TV personalities are turning the theater into one of the largest classrooms in America.
The HNS Advantage
“HNS is the ideal partner for Regal CineMedia and the DIRECWAY satellite service is the ideal solution,” said Tom Galley, CTO at Regal CineMedia. “We needed to quickly and easily implement the network over a very large footprint. Dealing with over 400 different locations in different jurisdictions made working with land-based local loop providers problematic. But because satellite can distribute content virtually anywhere in its footprint and we only have to deal with one vendor, the implementation went very smoothly.”
Regal also needed to be able to roll out its network quickly with a minimum of maintenance and training, Galley explained. The DIRECWAY satellite terminals proved to be simple and easy to install. Indeed, throughout 2003, Regal was able to install an average of one theater system every day of the year. “Another advantage to the DIRECWAY solution is its scalability and cost per drop,” added Galley. “At the high bandwidth that Regal requires, terrestrial options, such as T1 lines, are simply not viable or cost effective. DIRECWAY system reliability is extremely high, averaging 99.9%.”
The Next Step
“The next step in the evolution of Regal CineMedia is the totally digital cinema. And that is why we are particularly interested in SPACEWAYTM,” said Galley. “SPACEWAY will provide the additional bandwidth and improved functionality and a ’packet switch in the sky’ approach that could be the backbone for an entire industry’s transformation.”
It is estimated that a move to complete digital transmission, from production of a film—which currently requires constant transferring of film to and from production houses and a film’s director—to distribution of the film, could save a billion or more annually in costs to the industry. For now, HNS is enabling Regal CineMedia to transform its company, and in the future, perhaps the entire industry.