Ster-Kinekor Theatres, the market leader in filmed entertainment in South Africa, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe, recently converted three screening rooms in its large portfolio to 2k digital, with two having 3D capability — with the acquisition of Christie CP2000 2K D-cinema projectors.
Part of the Primedia Group, the company’s circuit contains more than 400 screens in 55 theatres, giving them a 66% market share. In the last year alone they have added 60 screens to their portfolio, with more promised in the next 12 months.
Ster-Kinekor’s CEO, Fiaz Mahomed, says that the company’s decision to take a leading position in the market is already paying dividends. When digital 2D and 3D releases of the epic fantasy adventure Beowulf became available, box office increased ninefold, while similar attendance increases were registered when Ster-Kinekor screened U2 and Hannah Montana in 3D.
“Our current thinking is that the digital rollout will be linked to 3D, while the Virtual Print Fee (VPF) model is addressed.” They will then focus on the 2D platform.
Headquartered in Sandton, Johannesburg, Ster-Kinekor auditioned the Christie CP2000 against two competitive brands, preferring the simplicity, quality of picture and reliability, backed by the reassurance of local support; this followed meetings with Christie representatives at ShoWest in Las Vegas and Cinema Expo in Amsterdam.
“We liked the uniqueness of Christie’s approach and saw them as a partner who would participate in the process. It was the level of support that was the deciding factor,” confirms Fiaz.
The company initially brought in a CP2000 on a six-month rental agreement for the launch of Happy Feet — and then purchased the unit. “The next two were based on feedback from technical staff and the relative ease with which the project ran — from an installation, operational and support perspective,” said Fiaz. “The CP2000 is absolutely our digital projector of choice.”
The cinema approached the Arts Alliance Media model, although Ster-Kinekor’s CEO confirms that the Alliance has yet to form agreements with South Africa. As a result, the exhibitors have turned for support to the studios pending a decision on the VPF.
The company is using Real D digital stereoscopic projection technology, with delivery to the projector via a Doremi digital cinema player. At the same time the screens have been upgraded to Harkness silver screens.
Ster-Kinekor first acquired a CP2000X 2K projector, with the split body, for the Sandton City multiplex. “It was the obvious place to start, given that it is our flagship complex,” said Fiaz. “In fact it was the first one installed in the country.” They followed this up with the simultaneous acquisition of two CP2000S projectors (with electronic switching ballast) installed at The Zone at Rosebank and the Gateway multiplex in Durban — launching with the spectacular Beowulf in 3D.
Ster-Kinekor now moves to the next phase where they will put one in Brooklyn, Pretoria, one in Cavendish, Cape Town and another in Johannesburg, which will enable them to develop a national footprint.
All multiplexes will have 3D screening capabilities and there will be “a direct correlation between the number of 3D screens and the digital rollout,” says Fiaz. “In fact we intend rolling out a lot more when the VPF is in place.”
Fiaz Mahomed realises that his company had taken something of a leap of faith in their adoption of 3D cinema, but to date their projections are on course.
“We had to ask whether the financial model stacked; the challenge we faced was funding [the investment cost] out of our budgets because although we believed in the technology, the financial model is stringent.
“We also had to ask what it took to correctly install it — as from the technical support side we didn’t really have that infrastructure. However, our technicians were able to carry out the installation entirely with telephone support from Christie. It was on the job training — as we were installing, so we were learning.”
Christie engineer Francis Zee assisted in all three installations and provided some on-site training, but the company’s South African-based representative, Phil Lord confirmed: “While Ster-Kinekor engineers will be receiving CP2000 training in the UK they did a very good job of supporting the sites themselves.”
The exhibitor has also taken the opportunity to build armchair luxury into the digital rooms, providing enhanced comfort, and tweaking the sound — adding additional sub-bass and ensuring a pristine 5.1 surround soundtrack using Dolby CP650 processing.
Summing up, Fiaz says, “When we showed Beowulf, audiences were really awed by what they saw — and they loved it. The Real D signage and branding are unbelievable. Although there is obviously some novelty value we are delighted by the response.”
The Group has also strategically developed the black cinema market, in the past five years, advancing into under-serviced areas. They have moved from a 2% black consumer mix to a 38% — which has greatly enhanced market share. This has been the result of a combination of factors: content, innovative marketing, the re-engineering of pricing and proximity to cinemas.
“We never have to worry about content. All the distributors support us in digital media and since we are an English-speaking cinema medium, consistent with the print that is used in the US or UK, it’s a perfect fit.”