A film by any other platform

Author: Alain Bejjani — CEO, Majid Al Futtaim — Holding

Disruption is the steel-cut oats of a thriving business — perhaps not the most popular choice, but undoubtedly good for you.

Succeeding at disruption requires business to have a finger on the pulse of the industry, markets and consumers; to remain nimble; and to be comfortable with constant rethinking, reinvention, and repositioning.

Our cinema business is a case in point. With VOX Cinemas possessing the region’s largest network of cinemas, it seems fair to query our viability in the face of increasing streaming options, changes to traditional distribution, and shrinking theatrical windows and box office revenues. To put it simply, why choose cinema over couch, big screen over sofa?

At Majid Al Futtaim, our answer is not either/or — it’s both/and. At the Cannes Film Festival last month, renowned director and festival jury president Spike Lee reminded us that cinema and screening platforms can coexist, and that the digital vs. theatrical question is not a new one. At one point, he added, people thought TV would kill cinema. It didn’t happen. That’s a lesson we’ve seen repeated across industries — rather than wholly supplanting previous technology, a newer one is more likely to trigger industrial evolution. Instead of shrinking your piece of the proverbial pie, disruption often grows the pie.

When we first discussed the changing face of cinema at the board level years ago, we didn’t just pose the question of digital vs. theatrical and wonder how we would deal with the streaming challenge. We acted, and continue to act, on multiple fronts.

First, by doubling down on customer experience. VOX is a fantastic consumer experience and in a continuous improvement journey, fed by a constant stream of data and analytics that allows us to remain close to our customers.

We understood two elements of digital-theatrical coexistence early on: that those who watch movies in theatres more frequently also tend to consume streaming content more frequently; and that streamers tend to watch series, documentaries and older library movies — when it comes to new releases, audiences prefer to watch in theatres if possible.

Our response has been to make the cinema experience even more attractive and irreplaceable — not least with the world’s first interactive film.

Second, by finding new ways to be customer-centric. We’ve all heard the old saw ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ — why not join our customers in their homes as they stream content?

Our popular F&B offerings at VOX are a natural fit; extending those offerings from mall-only to at-home allowed us to reach and satisfy our customers where they live. It also enabled us to complement and support their in-home streaming experience. By sharpening our home delivery and ensuring quality and service, we’ve been able to move successfully into this adjacency. We’ve added to our great experiences at the cinema by delivering great VOX experiences at home.

This is not as easy as it looks. Building this food business, its online and delivery capabilities, and ensuring we can fulfill it and deliver it in the best possible time and with the best possible quality is an immense undertaking. We will continue to win in this space because we have a great offering in our eclectic menu offerings, great creativity, a great team driving it and great relationships with customers — and because we will remain committed.

Third, by identifying and filling gaps in our market. Content is still king — and one of the shortfalls in streaming is in local and regional content. We are working a lot, and will work much more, to develop local content. Our markets love it, we love it, and we are in a position to leverage this across our markets.

This will be one of our differentiators: Our content will not only give people more reasons to come to the cinema, it will also enable us to showcase talents from our region across distribution platforms. We have great plans here — stay tuned for more.

In short, our cinema business has a great future because we embrace disruption. I’m confident that all businesses can — and must — do the same. The pace of disruption in business is increasing exponentially as technology, competition, supply chains, and consumer behaviours change. The only way to thrive is to anticipate those changes in time and act on them quickly and confidently.

What do you think?

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