Movie app rewards well-behaved patrons in Cinemark theaters

The CineMode movie app gives movie-goers control of the viewing experience in Cinemark theaters. Learn more in this podcast video with Cinemark's CTO.

While it's easy to integrate mobile applications into traditional technological retail situations, like inventory and point of sale, it's not often that you see a mobile application that encourages its users to disconnect from technology.

When you're in the movie business, the goal is to keep all eyes on one screen -- the big one in the front. However, movie-goers who text and take phone calls during a film are a distraction for everyone. The goal of theatre owners is to tackle the offenders without creating a negative customer experience?

Cinemark Holdings Inc. looked to a mobile movie app to solve the problem by rewarding good behavior from smartphone users. Just by using CineMode movie app, smartphone users are rewarded with free soda and discounted concessions. The movie app also rewards all movie goers with a quieter movie experience with fewer distractions. We sat down with Doug Fay, CTO of Cinemark to learn more about his new mobile app and how marketing and the IT department worked together to create customer value in a space where technology can be a distraction.

Listen to the full podcast to learn more about Cinemark theaters' smartphone movie app.

Miki Onwudinjo, Editorial Assistant: Who came up with the idea of an app component that discourages movie goers from using their mobile devices during movie screenings?

Doug Fay: This was really a marketing-led initiative. The primary complaint we get in Cinemark theaters is texting. How are we going to address the texting issue in our theaters? With Cinemark, we are taking the device that is causing all the problems and using it for you rather than against you. It is very similar to when you get on an airplane and the attendant comes over the speaker and says, "The door is closed, can you put your phone away or in airplane mode." It's the same thing in a movie theater: "Now that the movie trailers are starting and the movie is about to start, please put your phone in CineMode and stop using it and quit texting so you can enjoy the movie." Same philosophy.

Does CineMode work the same as airplane mode by disabling text messaging, Wi-Fi, 4G and phone calls?

Fay: It does not. It dims the screen but it doesn't jump into the OS of the phone and dim it automatically -- it's more in the graphics of the phone. It prompts users to put their phone in vibrate mode, but it doesn't actually put the phone in vibrate mode. There are certain things that iOS and Apple will let developers get to in vibrate mode and in putting the phone itself into an airplane mode so you can't get text messages or phone calls. They don't offer that up for the apps. I believe with Android you can get into volume control, but we didn't go that far with it. We just said that if you're on the screen and it's dim, we are prompting them to put their phone in vibrate.

We really wanted CineMode to be about enjoying the movie.

Doug Fay,
CTO, Cinemark Theaters

Does CineMode detect phone usage during a movie screening?

Fay: It does. The primary detection knows if the home button is pushed. So, let's say you put your phone in CineMode, and your phone goes into a locked screen. That's all fine -- you come out of that locked screen and you're still within the app. But if at any point you decide to hit the home button, it basically negates CineMode and says, "OK, you are using your phone for something else." We don't know what it was being used for -- it could have been a phone call, could've been used for texting, could have been going just into another app -- but that act of hitting the home button basically says "You are doing something, and we would prefer that you didn't use your phone in the theater."

Can you give our listeners an example of some of the rewards that CineMode offers? How quickly can they be redeemed? Can a prize be revoked?

Fay: Just by downloading and using CineMode during a movie, your very first reward is a free beverage. After that, the promotions change weekly -- and that could be a free hot dog, candy, discounts off popcorn. It's usually related to some kind of concession item.

What's really slick about CineMode is that we don't require you to sign up and be a registered user to get your rewards from using CineMode. We didn't want to put that as an obstacle for customers; we didn't want them to think that we are just trying to climb our registered user base. We really wanted CineMode to be about not texting and enjoying the movie and getting rewarded for that.

The reward is tied to the device ID. Each phone has a device ID and the reward is actually tied to that ID. There is definitely a benefit for registering, because let's say you lose your phone or you switch phones, that's going to be a different device ID. So if you want those rewards to go with you, then being a registered user will not only tie the rewards to the device ID, but will also tie them to that registered user, and rewards will go with you if you change to a different phone.

And can prizes be revoked?

Fay: No. They expire from not being used, but they cannot be revoked.

How many Apple and Android downloads has the app received?

Fay: At this point I can't share the actual numbers, but I will say that we have seen a double-digit percentage increase in downloads from customers wanting to experience it, wanting to take advantage of it get the rewards or just wanting to play with it and see how it is. We definitely have seen a noticeable climb in downloads on both Android and Apple. We tie that with the fact that we are doing on-screen promotional advertising before the movie starts, prompting users to put their phones in CineMode by downloading the app.

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What kind of feedback have you gotten for the app?

Fay: Positive. Our customers' number one complaint was texting and that was kind of driving them away from the theater. [It's annoying when] people are picking up their phone and talking or texting during a movie. That bright light in a dark auditorium is distracting, and it takes away from the escapism of the movie. So it's been very positive feedback, and customers are thankful that we are trying to do what we can to address it -- that we aren't ignoring the problem. We are trying to use technology and the phone itself, the culprit, for us rather than against us.

Again, we have challenges -- some users tried it and didn't like it or didn't receive their reward due to a connectivity issue. Inside an auditorium it can be difficult to get a 3G connection. We are working through that in later versions of this app to make sure that everyone who does it properly and stays in CineMode through the movie will definitely get a reward. And, we are working toward addressing connectivity issues.

Are you concerned that you can't reach people who don't have smartphones?

Fay: Well, yes. It is definitely a smartphone-required program. But, again, we see industry trends, and the barriers of getting into smartphones are coming down. The prices of smartphones have come down and the Android base has grown. Although this might be an issue for some customers, over time I think the majority of people will have smartphones.

Are there any other motion picture exhibiters that are following suit and adopting this technology or similar features?

Fay: We haven't heard of any. We're trying to put some kind of copyright or patent out on the approach. Although I think it's a great idea for all of the exhibiters to look at, I haven't heard of anyone moving forward with another CineMode type of effort.

What is your biggest takeaway for implementing this new app component? How does CineMode set Cinemark apart from other motion picture exhibiters?

Fay: We believe that CineMode has separated Cinemark theaters in the eyes of our customers from our competitors because we are addressing the number one complaint in our theaters -- texting. Cinemark also encourages customers to download our app, so we are definitely getting a bump in the amount of downloads compared to our competitors. We are hopeful that over time, as the CineMode app matures, we will have a better line of communication with our customer. We will have the ability to do more in-app messaging with them and potentially more geo-fencing around our theaters. So we see this growing in all different directions, but it's definitely a distinguisher in the market compared to other exhibiters.

Miki Onwudinjo, an editorial assistant at TechTarget, is a fourth-year journalism student at Northeastern University in Boston. Let us know what you think about the story; email Wendy Schuchart, Senior Site Editor. For midmarket IT news and updates throughout the week, follow us on Twitter @ciomidmarket.

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