It’s rare that any individual career aligns perfectly with sea change across an entire field. But for Mike Henry, it sometimes seems as though such change has been the only constant. Henry’s contributions to cinema advertising have ranged from celluloid to digital, and his outlook is consistently focused on the next big frontier.
“From my perspective, it has been pretty fascinating to be with Screenvision Media throughout the evolution of the whole cinema space,” says Henry, the company’s senior vice president of information technology. “It has obviously had a big impact on us.”
To hear him speak of various movies is to recognize the impact of an intricate and constantly evolving web of film and advertising distribution networks crisscrossing the country. “Back in 2004 when I joined, if you went to the movies and sat down twenty minutes before the feature started, you’d see one of those eighty-one-slot slide carousels clicking along, and all our local advertising was distributed as a slide. There would also be an audio track playing that didn’t necessarily sync to that content,” Henry says.
“Every two weeks, someone went in and physically swapped the slides out. Back then, our national advertising was distributed on 35 mm film, either pre-spliced or in individual reels, where the theater’s projectionist would splice the ads together with the trailers.”
This film-as-material model was left behind on the proverbial cutting room floor long ago. Early in his career at Screenvision Media, Henry oversaw the massive transition from analog to digital. He and his team worked to put a satellite dish on every roof, a site server in every building, and a player on every screen.
This parallel digital network quickly expanded to about 8,000 screens in high-traffic venues, and the massive distribution switch to digital took off. The resultant increases in inventory and efficiency only confirmed what was becoming increasingly clear: the digital revolution had taken hold.
Around the same time, the whole cinema space was undergoing a conversion from analog to digital. Henry saw a unique opportunity in these parallel changes. “They were dropping in their own systems, their own projectors, trying to get equipped for these new issues,” he recalls. Yet no one had given much thought at that point as to how advertising would play out in the digital space. Anything was possible, and Screenvision Media jumped at the chance to innovate. Was it possible to move into the exact same system that was used to project the main attractions?
“We started to think about leveraging the digital projectors the theaters had put in,” he says. “Later, we came up with a solution that allowed us to use a single server per theater and distribute over broadband. The server communicates with the site’s theater management system and uses the same infrastructure that manages the movies.”
As they implemented the change, they discovered countless opportunities for streamlining and improvement. Consider, for example, the challenges of manual activity and how to simplify the projectionist’s handiwork and ensure perfect content delivery. Digital delivery moved Screenvision Media beyond any need to switch drives or pop in physical disks. Add in the implementation of a new trafficking platform, and there were virtually no barriers to getting advertising directly to the big screen.
Even on the heels of these advances, Henry kept his eyes on the horizon. He worked to build partnerships with tech companies and groundbreaking developers. During his tenure, Screenvision Media’s cinema advertising has broken through all the known barriers of distribution and time lag. It took imagination and a whole new conceptualization of the movie-going experience to determine where they would go next.
When does a movie start? When the opening credits roll? Or beforehand, when you find your seat? How about when the lights go down? Screenvision Media offers a chance to rewind your entertainment experience back even further—to imagine movies begin in your own space, when you first start searching for showtimes. Screenvision Media refers to this as Connected Cinema.
“We find we’re able to really look to the frontier on the technology side, particularly this past year,” Henry says. “We’ve gotten into this concept of the connected cinema experience, and as we roll out, we are exploring the opportunities of going fully immersive, from front to back.”
As Henry sees it, the space of the cinema has now expanded well beyond its own walls. The theater today includes your smartphone, the theater venue, and the potential for future engagement that viewers carry with them through the outside world. As Henry imagines it, a moviegoer might order tickets online a day ahead, enjoy sophisticated media and games throughout the movie lobby, order from the refreshment stand and a shop-the-movie gift shop, interact with in-cinema advertisements, pick up on songs and musical artists, and generally experience boundless opportunities for new modes of enjoyment and consumer connection.
Partnerships with apps such as Shazam and TimePlay, as well as leading innovators like Branded Entertainment Network, MovieTickets.com, and EdisonX facilitate this new expanded cinematic space through applications yet to be imagined.
What’s more, the unique identity of the viewer generates a massive amount of data, and Henry envisions tracking the singular thread of the viewer’s engagements throughout. Working with Total Media Fusion and Nielsen Impact will provide a granular view of cinema, television, video streaming, online, mobile, print, and digital place-based media behavior for brand audiences.
Henry began his career in consulting, but once at Screenvision Media, he found that he gravitated toward IT. He was compelled by his interest in cutting-edge development and the chance to work with vendors such as Microsoft (and its value-added resellers, like Maureen Data Systems), Oracle, Sintec Media, Cisco, and EMC. He honed a trademark dynamic, forward-thinking leadership style while riding wave after wave of technology overhauls. Yet, these new immersive possibilities of connected cinema don’t faze him.
A tireless innovator and the father of seven-year-old triplets, Henry has a playful, optimistic outlook on the next few years. “There’s a lot that we can do,” he says. “We have this big bag of tricks, and we’re still in the early stages, figuring out the possibilities.”
The new era of cinema starts soon: the platform will hit the first thousand screens in 2017.