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After a long wait, James Bond’s No Time To Die is hitting the big screen. If it weren’t for the Delta variant, this would be a big ticket, especially now that Daniel Craig is retiring from the role. But star power alone simply isn’t enough. What marketers need to do is create truly immersive experiences by leveraging 5G, the theater environment and in-person incentives. Accenture’s John Peters explains how.

New 5G-enabled technologies are marketers’ new strategic weapons to bring consumers back to theaters by creating connected, immersive experiences, particularly when consumers are considering whether to return with the increased risk of the Covid-19 Delta variant. 2020 was a rocky year amid theater closures across the US during parts of the year, and insurmountable reluctance by many potential moviegoers to go to the theaters that were open. Box-office ticket sales in 2020 collapsed by 82% to just 224m tickets, according to movie data provider The Numbers.

Marketers can no longer rely on the convenience of time and location or draft off movie producers’ marketing promotions to bring viewers in. To reboot the moviegoing experience, they must rethink their use of the theater real estate and create interactive experiences before, during and after consumers arrive at theaters. This transition requires marketing professionals to reinvent loyalty programs, and develop personalized apps, interactive posters and other AR/VR-type experiences inside theaters.  

Thanks to the proliferation of 5G and the integration of existing and new technology capabilities, the theatrical experience can be transformed in many ways. For example, real-time rendering and interactive AI can help create characters to extend the film narrative before and after the movie and draw in additional audiences seeking a connection between their physical world and digital content. Interactive experiences not only require 5G’s low latency, but also a great deal of data from the devices everywhere for context. Currently 4G can only connect 100,000 devices per square km. 5G can increase that ten-fold.

Immersive experiences also continue to evolve with smooth extended reality (XR – augmented, virtual and mixed reality technologies) or even hologram experiences that eliminate motion sickness when viewing. In a survey by Accenture, 58% of moviegoers said they would be excited about a connected-end-to-end experience through XR, and 84% said they would be willing to pay for such an experience. An example of this type of experience was featured during South by Southwest (SXSW) 2020 where Accenture worked with the Walt Disney Studios StudioLAB to pilot an AI-powered interactive movie poster experience with the Dumbo character. This character would engage with consumers as they walked by, and if the person was sad Dumbo would engage in such a way to make the person smile or laugh.  More recent explorations of this new experience appeared at the red-carpet premieres for Walt Disney’s Black Widow and Jungle Cruise.

In addition to these experiences, marketers must also find ways to use the real estate space beyond film watching. In the same Accenture survey, 57% of 18-34-year-olds said they would find multiplayer gaming in the lobby an attractive prospect for an additional moviegoing experience. The real estate space can be used for teenagers and young adults in a socially-distanced way if needed with Covid restrictions to hang out with friends, game together or participate in other interactive engagements.

To create these immersive engaging experiences before, during and after going to the movies, here are four tips for marketers:

1. Create customized apps and interactive screens from handheld to mural size that can be used before, during and after the in-theater experience. This may require hiring younger, digital-savvy professionals who can design and market in a digital way.

2. Entice moviegoers through loyalty and incentive programs to share their in-theater experiences with friends not at the theater through social media. This may also help to bring their friends inside next time.

3. Lean into the driving experience to and from the theater as new access points for entertainment and marketing. Brands can capitalize on this by enabling new, seamless and connected experiences that allow consumers to start on-the-go (e.g. connected car) and continue at physical locations (e.g. movie theaters or at home). Imagine a ride home accompanied by a character from the movie hovering just outside the car, or being able to look across the street and see an action scene from the movie you just watched.

4. Rethink the real estate space, which has high costs, into different experiences. This includes renting out space for private, socially-distanced get-togethers or birthday parties. Then there’s work off-site using AR and VR experiences or gaming centers to lure people in and create compelling engagement.

All of these are enabled by 5G’s ultra-low latency and high data rates with connected devices such as a smartphone, tablet or headset to stream a completely augmented, 360° world. By processing images in the cloud or at the edge, content can be delivered through 5G-enabled networks and devices without the need to be connected to a PC (as is the case with most VR headsets today). This means lighter, cheaper and less power-hungry devices.

These exciting experiences are coming to a theater near you soon. It’s up to marketers to create long-lasting digital engagement campaigns and touch points that will draw consumers into 5G-enabled moviegoing experiences for the long term.

John Peters, lead of media & entertainment practice, West at Accenture.

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