Mobile Commerce

Beacons Get Their Silver Screen Moment

While beacons are getting plenty of attention behind the scenes, there’s no doubt that they’ve ceded the spotlight to other disruptive and emerging technologies. The story of the tortoise and the hare hasn’t endured this long without holding some truth to it, though, and some are willing to bet that a change of scenery for beacons could unlock their potential in a way traditional retail environs haven’t.

After years experimenting with beacon configurations in malls across America, Mobiquity Networks announced Thursday (Jan. 28) that it had signed a partnership with movie theater management company Screenvision to install beacon networks in 300 cinemas. Though a mere pilot program at this stage — Screenvision manages a collective 2,300 theaters — John McCauley, chief strategic development officer at Screenvision, believes that a more immersive experience through beacons can stem his industry’s slowly slipping attendance numbers.

“We saw a great opportunity to leverage proximity-based technologies to further amplify the unrivaled impact of the 40-foot screen,” McCauley said in a statement. “Beacons will help extend that impact for brands and connect them to the consumer journey outside the theater.”

It’s an ingenious application of location-based marketing. Instead of limiting push notification triggers to just a user’s location, Mobiquity and Screenvision will send moviegoers additional content based on the film they just saw as soon as the house lights come up. From a merchandising perspective, this could be massive. Imagine blasting a packed theater full of Star Wars fans with discounts for toys of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber or “The Force Awakens” costumes. When the end credits roll and consumers reach the moment when they’re at their hungriest for more content, beacons could be the solution to plugging them into another stream for maximum engagement.

While McCauley told Marketing Land that he could envision ways in which beacons might be used during movies to enhance the experience — second-screen quizzes or audience voting on alternative endings and bonus content — he emphasized that neither Screenvision nor Mobiquity are interested in reinventing the wheel with traditional moviegoing.

The stakes might be too high for each side to even think about rocking the boat. Beacons still have plenty of market inertia to overcome before any kind of marketing revolution can even be seen on the horizon, while the movie theater industry is facing something more of an existential threat. According to The Motley Fool, the rise of on-demand and in-home entertainment platforms, like Netflix, HBO, Hulu and more, have cut into cinema attendance so sharply that even with mega-blockbusters last year, like “The Force Awakens” and “Jurassic World,” 2015 saw the third-smallest annual audience for movie theaters since 1995.

There is a silver lining to this silver screen experiment, though. Part of the decline in movie theater attendance over the past several years can be explained by the fact that major studios are consolidating their resources to make fewer movies per year, albeit with higher production values — case in point: Disney released 44 titles in 2000 but just 11 in 2015. With fewer interactions with film buffs, movie theaters need to up the production values of their own experiences.

Can beacons be the deus ex machina that Screenvision and other struggling movie houses need?

Absolutely, says Jim Meckley, CMO at Mobiquity, and especially because retail marketers will want to see the project succeed, too.

“The types of movies people see is a great indicator of demographic,” Meckley told Street Fight. “By accessing that business intelligence and by being able to put together disparate pieces of data, we learn something about that person. When we see that same device in a retail environment, we can overlay that intelligence about that user to help inform what types of content should be displayed to that user in that environment.”

Beacons finding retail success through deployments in movie theaters — a twist ending, for sure.

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