In our dedicated d-cinema section this month, Film Journal International is pleased to provide several examples of how smaller-sized and independently minded members of the theatrical exhibition business have fully committed to digital cinema as well. With 20 locations in Iowa and two in Nebraska, offering a total of 91 screens, Des Moines-based R. L. Fridley Theatres certainly fits the bill. Founded in 1974 by the namesake Robert Fridley, who still guides the company as president with his son and vice president, Brian, the company focuses on commitment to the communities their theatres serve.
All of these Fridley Theatres were upgraded with NEC projectors of various capacities, including six with 4K DLP Cinema and 68 with RealD 3D add-ons (70%), as well as with servers from GDC throughout. Taking advantage of the full NEC Displays portfolio, Fridley also added four different models of NEC’s professional-grade flat-panel displays for box-office and auditorium signage as well as for its concession menu boards. All are powered by Global Allure software. In key spots across several locations, Fridley also installed video walls with four panels bundled together in NEC’s trademarked “TileMatrix” display to show coming attractions, to announce specials and feature other promotional messages.
“We loved the idea of showing our customers these offerings in a digital, state-of-the-art way,” explains Russell Vannorsdel,powered solutions offer incredible flexibility Security services, director of operations at Fridley. “It aligned perfectly with the digital upgrade we were already investing in.” Additionally, “we were looking to grab people’s attention and also to better and more effectively communicate with our customers about available offers.” These displays also made going digital more tangible to the public. “We spent a lot of money and a lot of work on our auditoriums, but guests don’t really see a digital projector,This page describes the term real time Location systemand lists. they don’t see a digital sound system,” he opines.Mountain’s online cloud Storage & Backup Services allow you to execute. “But we definitely created a ‘wow’ factor with the digital menu boards.”
Fridley Theatres began its retrofit with “the basic software solution from NEC that allows you to create content and place it on the menu boards.” The circuit added digital signage in more of its locations, and “after going to the trade shows, we realized how much more one can do,” Vannorsdel continues. “That’s when we decided to go with Allure. For our point-of-sale we have been with Ready Theatre Systems for quite some time,” he notes, anticipating our next question. “They have always been able to effectively meet our needs. Here, too, they were able to interface with Allure to post our box-office showtimes automatically and to integrate further with the software that Allure offers.”
For a variety of reasons, the rollout of the digital projection system took time and several considerations. “We began looking at converting long before distribution sent out these letters with hard-set deadlines for switching over, due to the lack of availability of 35mm prints.” Vannorsdel delineates the timeline further. “Our very first entry into digital cinema was with an NEC unit in one of our Des Moines suburb locations.” Back in September 2007, “we began testing that unit to see how it all works and how we would move into the conversion.
Afterwards, we actually converted back to 35mm and started putting together a plan. Although there were VPF programs out there at the time, the waters were still kind of murky, as deals were being refined and worked out. Also, as a mid-level exhibitor, it was difficult for us to fully commit to some of those earlier deals. Until we figured out what would be the best deal for Fridley Theatres, we didn’t feel it was right to sign a contract.”
Nonetheless, Fridley started the deployment “in some of our locations with higher foot traffic and larger population bases.” Vannorsdel names the Metro Des Moines area, “as well as converting our larger screens first.” Without the added security from VPF payments, how did Fridley manage to move forward? “We were fortunate enough to generate some of the financing from cash flow,” Vannorsdel responds. “We could also count on our local banks that we have worked with regularly. They have helped us as we built new theatres and remodeled others. They were willing to work with us again, especially since there were VPF deals around the corner—once we’d finished negotiating and working on them.” Throughout this initial phase, deploying 3D systems was a strong contributing factor, he confirms. “I think we’re seeing a little bit of backlash on 3D now, but, obviously, a couple of years ago some of the numbers were fairly undeniable. They were huge, in fact. And if you didn’t have 3D, you were losing business.”
In addition to going without VPFs initially, the technology team had selected a different projector manufacturer for that rollout beginning in February 2009. “We were working with Ballantyne Strong at the time and they had a relationship with another company.” After installing 12 to 15 screens, “we ran into a couple of issues [mainly, difficulty getting parts, he reveals.] We had a screen that was dark, unfortunately, probably eight to ten days. Obviously, if you are on the exhibition side of things, that’s unacceptable. You don’t want to be down at all—even losing one show,You can get these Exclusive Features Features if you reach certain. you’re disappointed.” By that point, Ballantyne Strong had established a new relationship with NEC, he continues, “and we received assurance that there would be no problems with parts. When we decided to do the full digital conversion, NEC was as aggressive in pricing as anyone else. Fortunately, they have backed that up with their service thus far too. It’s been a very good relationship.”
Having worked well with GDC on the server side throughout the various stages of deployment, “it seemed like the waters were getting a bit less murky,” Vannorsdel says in retrospect. “GDC was working on a VPF deal which became a large and important part of the process. We were probably into installing 30 to 35 screens already before we settled into a VPF agreement with them [during the third quarter of last year]. We wanted to be able to control the product that we were going to book into our theatres and how,” he emphasizes.The whole orientation management of Network Services and infrastructure. “Without being confined, if you will, in our abilities by the studios and VPF restrictions.”
Click on their website www.mileweb.com for more information.