Game over for fading matinée idols

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The Independent Online

UCI, the cinema group jointly owned by Paramount and Universal, is looking to open up its big screens to computer games players and the business market in a bid to boost revenues.

UCI, the cinema group jointly owned by Paramount and Universal, is looking to open up its big screens to computer games players and the business market in a bid to boost revenues.

The cinema chain is reviewing plans to provide a wider range of non-film activities ­ such as video games and televised conferencing services ­ on the big screen.

The moves have been driven by the introduction of new digital technology and the desire to make better use of facilities at a time when cinemas are suffering from overcapacity and low growth.

Plans to provide videoconferencing facilities for businesses are in the early stages, but UCI said that it has established the technical feasibility of offering such a service, and would be investigating possible business models over the next three to six months.

The cinema chain has already held preliminary trials of the gaming service, using digital projection facilities recently installed at one of the company's new flagships, Thefilm-works outlets in Manchester.

The first-stage trial was designed to test the technical feasibility of the service and measure demand.

It used a games console linked to a digital projector, enabling users to play head-to-head on screen, using standard controllers.

Ironically, it is the popularity of video games among today's children that has helped to kill off the traditional Saturday morning matinées much loved by their parents' generation.

In the wider market the introduction of new digital projection technology in the US and UK has already led a number of operators to investigate the possibility of screening a range of music and sports events delivered by satellite or cable.

UCI stressed that it was too early to tell when the projects might be rolled out across its network of 39 cinemas in the UK and Ireland.

"What we're trying to do is look at new opportunities that can be developed. We're exploring the potential of digital projectors in games and other areas," said Gerald Buckle, vice-president of business affairs at UCI.

"Operators are looking at new ways to use cinemas and digital opportunities for other types of entertainment. We want to look at areas that capitalise on our existing infrastructure, and at programming that fits in with our existing cinema operations and core competencies. We are looking at videoconferencing and discussing sports and music ­ anything that is really going to drive an audience ... The issue is finding the appropriate programming and licensing to show it."

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