The rise in engagement with immersive social experiences

by: on 05 January 2015

Oculus Rift, and our accumulation of devices, points towards the immersive cinema experience of the future, Clare McDonald from Rosetta argues

3D cinema

For decades the cinema has been a door into another world. A world of incredible escapism, emotions, visual effects and transformation. It has helped change society, turn dreams into reality, and enabled people - before the internet revolution - to see and feel other worlds and stories.

For over 100 years this cinema experience has been consistent. From the roll out of nickelodeon theatres in the early 1900s to today’s multiplexes. The paper ticket, the posters, the trailers, the sit back and watch in a theatre environment has been a pretty much unchanged formula.

This vehicle of transportation by and large, is a place of velveteen seats, cup holding arm rests and overly priced popcorn and sweets. A huge juxtaposition against the fantastical world that the stories transport you to. Clearly, there has been justifications for this, “it’s all about the screen and ultimately the story, not the seat you are sat in”.... but those reasons are starting to feel lazy rather than rational.

The rise in engagement with immersive social experiences such as Secret Cinema, or to the other extreme the Oculus Rift universe is pulling in all directions this traditionally passive experience. Add to that the rise in sophistication of retail experiences, festivals, gaming and technology…and well, simply the rules out there for audience engagement has simply changed. And is continuing to change. I believe we are at a tipping point for the cinematic experience, and that the medium has a great opportunity to modernise and become even more intrinsic in the future of entertainment in the high street. And that is the killer line there - they are in the high street! Unlike cable, TV or downloads they have a physical presence and a “church” if you like, to physically belong to and experience the brand within.

Digital developments have been landing. 3D has started to break down the 2-dimensional screen, the IMAX has enabled visual marvels of sight and sound to see and feel even more detail. But the sit back in a neutrally branded theatrical space, in front of a rectangular screen have stayed pretty much the same.

Furthermore, with the rise of the in-home movie and game changing TV shows such as Game of Thrones, challenges have been building throughout the last few years not only in content expectations but the cinema’s ability to curate and be relevant. At a time when Game of Thrones was in full fever, would it not have been great to have curated a weekend mammoth of like-minded content to be curated in partnership with HBO? The cinema theatre then becomes a relevant vehicle in touch with what people love big or small, as well as a vehicle for blockbusters. Social media and the digital revolution has seen people share more content, get online more and consume content whenever and wherever they want. Fantastically as the rise in personal experiences has risen, it has also brought forth a craving for collective experiences. Physical, emotional and sensory experiences that immerse. Immersion in storytelling. Immersion in the theme.

Secret Cinema is one such pioneer. It is passionate about movies, passionate about stories and the place that the narrative has in society. They wanted to offer more than traditional cinemas did, and they have. They also turned the whole marketing experience on its head, by building a fan base for their curation, not the film title. If we show it, they will come. Whether it is old or new movies, when they are given the Secret Cinema touch, you are engaged in a physical way before, during and after the movie. And thousands attend. It’s a blend of theatre, festival, social engagement and ultimately escapism into a wonderful story. But it is also enabling great movies to be consumed again, and again.

The gaming experience and virtual reality is another means of storytelling that could easily become a cinematic default one day. Oculus Rift is one such device that is set to help this, along with companies such as Jaunt who are pioneering the camera equipment and no doubt the storytelling experience of the future.

But we know collective experiences are clearly embedded in our DNA. Sitting together around that ancient campfire is not going away any time soon.

We love collective experiences and the cinema offers this. It’s back to that entertainment church in the high street. My children, with all their love of devices and expansive imaginations love nothing better than going to the cinema. Firstly, because the screen is so highly regarded it could never be duplicated at home. Secondly because it’s exciting. But strangely to them, it’s vintage. Even the multiplexes. From the overpriced popcorn, to the velveteen seats. From the paper tickets to the seats. The websites to the mobile applications.

The future is about immersion. Audience engagement begins way before you even get to the movie. It’s the communication, the trailers, the branding and the future of all of this. The signage. The retail experience but ultimately the relationship. I want to believe that my nearest cinema tells stories better than no other and lets me escape to another world in a way that no other can. From the moment I go to their website I have escaped to another world.

Their retail experience is like no other, their teases and build up the movie time is incredible. And when I enter the space to be told the story I am immediately transported into the theme….they offer me different prices? Different devices to further immerse? The time for cinema to re-invent is now. They have the stories, but they don’t have the love. When I was young, everyone wanted to work at the cinema. It was the coolest job ever. I think in the future it will be again. It will be the time machine in the high street and a place of visual marvels on and off screen…I will want to go there every day if I can…and I can imagine this! Because film, and storytelling is much more. It is all encompassing and highly addictive for the soul. The cinema of tomorrow will be much more than it is today.

In the words of Spielberg: “We’re never going to be totally immersive as long as we’re looking at a square, whether it’s a movie screen or whether it’s a computer screen. We’ve got to get rid of that and we’ve got to put the player inside the experience, where no matter where you look you’re surrounded by a three-dimensional experience. That’s the future.”

By Clare McDonald, executive creative director, Rosetta