Barco’s multi-screen format Escape has suspended its operations effective mid-February 2018, and is now looking at the best way to wind down the business and its installed sites. Barco partly lays the blame with the ability of a potential strategic content services partner to react quickly enough when entering a new marketplace, which left the format with no exciting content to drive it, in the same way that Avatar drove 3D a decade ago. The lack of compelling content for exhibitors was a key factor in ending the business.
Barco Escape was launched in April 2014, as a leap forward in consumer experience terms as well as using new digital projection technology to drive that experience. The idea of multi-screen is not exclusive to Barco, with CGV’s ScreenX also involved in developing this area. The complexity of the screen set-up, with three projectors and moveable screens, was an initial challenge but not the main reason this format didn’t get the necessary traction in the market. One of the key goals of new technology in the market is establishing a wide enough footprint to make distributing content onto these screens worthwhile. Barco Escape is installed in 36 sites, similar to 2016, while ScreenX (backed by CGV) is present in 128 screens at end 2017. CGV had the benefit of an exhibitor link.
By the same token, the regular and sufficient supply of content for exhibitors is a key to a new technology becoming established and thriving. One of the issues with multi-screen formats has been the availability of content, partly due to the complexity of producing and post-producing it. Barco could not agree a deal with a content services partner in good time and whereas ScreenX screened 10 titles during 2017, including mainstream titles Kingsman and Pirates of the Caribbean, Barco Escape had a significantly smaller release slate during the last year, with Star Trek in 2016 the last mainstream film to be screened (and that only in part). This disparity of content supply is probably the main reason behind the difference in footprint and continuation of ScreenX as a concept.
The format also probably suffered in comparison with the ease of installing 4D and immersive motion seating, and the content available, as well as the current focus on contrast ratio, image quality and colour space, with HDR and projection advances, as opposed to adding complexity but taking away image quality that a multi-screen format can do. While the market generally saw a potential in Escape, and ScreenX, and Barco needs to be admired for driving innovation, this now looks like one initiative too far.