The Harkness Screens 2019 Q&A with CEO Mark Ashcroft

Global CEO Mark Ashcroft answered questions from journalist Chris Heal on Harkness’ end to 2018 and start to the New Year.

CineAsia goes with Harkness Screens…Again!”

Q: So Mark, we sit here at the start of 2019 and we are hoping for another big year in the cinema industry. One key point at the end of last year was CineAsia again choosing Harkness as their screen technology provider. That must be pleasing?

MA: It was a great finish to 2018.The fact that the organisers of CineAsia chose our flagship product Clarus XC, was a real complement.

We’ve spent significant dollars and we have invested in numerous manufacturing facilities in Asia. In 2013-14, we built a facility in Bangalore and we had a record year in India. In truth, the local team in India have done a fabulous job in identifying Bollywood blockbusters and the release of 2.0 really set the Indian cinema market alight. Customers want blockbusters to be shown on great screens. It helps our business.

The China factory we completed in 2017 has all our latest technology. We are excited about our relationships with some of the key movie makers in the region, but also, we have great cinema partners in China; not only did Clarus catch their imagination the introduction of Perlux HiWhite created a real buzz. Elsewhere in the Asia region, there is great growth. The environmental conditions in Asia means screens tend to get that little bit dirtier a little bit quicker. We get a great number of our existing customers coming back to us and saying ‘Hey, help us improve presentation because we need to replace this screen’ and that’s been the case in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia.

We are also really delighted at the start of 2019 and to announce that CinemaCon have once again chosen to partner with Harkness and use Clarus XC as the screen of choice for the sixth year running at the Las Vegas convention.

There is a real respect for Harkness Screen technology and I think when we look at 2018 finishing and 2019 starting, the global box office for 2018 was absolutely staggering - $41.7 billion which was a record. If you had asked a lot of industry experts 18 months ago what the movie slate was for 2018, they would have said not as good as 2017. What I am hearing now is that there is real excitement for the slate for 2019 so let’s be optimistic and I think as an industry, we can beat that $41.7 billion!

Laser projection key for Harkness

Q: Just to go back to something we discussed towards the end of last year, Laser Projection is one of the key topics we have chatted about and the Buyer’s Guide to Laser Projection has been launched. It is co-edited by your colleagues so it must be great to see that Harkness have that sort of influence?

MA: Harkness has, in my experience of its 90 years of history, contributed to the cinema industry as a whole. I was researching the history of Harkness and I found myself smiling because I saw that Harkness were at one point owned by ‘The Rank Organisation’ at the same time they also owned the Odeon Group.

Harkness has been part of the history of cinema. That has been achieved by contributing to industry associations and currently, two of our team Richard Mitchell and Matt Jahans, represent Harkness on technology trade bodies spanning Europe and the world.

It was one of those trade bodies that decided that there was so much new information about laser projectors that it was worth consolidating that in a Buyer’s guide. That’s got to be welcome because the development of laser projections is happening so quickly. Within the four years I have been aware of laser projectors, there have been so many different models from different manufacturers. It is an exciting area because we know that laser projectors give a great presentation to the consumer, but if you are purchasing a laser projector, there is a lot of information out there so I really think the trade body have done an excellent job in putting that guide together.

 Perlux Hi White is Premiere

Q: You reference the history of Harkness Mark, but to bring it back to the here and now, I noticed  Perlux HiWhite was chosen for the Mary Poppins Returns premiere, what a great way to end 2018?!

MA: Over Christmas, it was interesting to see the number of people who actually told me they had been to see ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ and how much they enjoyed it. That was young and old, male and female.

They know that I am with Harkness Screens so they always ask ‘Do you know if we were watching it on a Harkness Screen?’ It would be nice to be able to say yes instantly, but with a 90-year history, there are so many of our screens in different locations, many of which we don’t know!

The Mary Poppins experience for us was fantastic in many ways, we were chosen to do the premiere at the Royal Albert Hall with Perlux HiWhite and it looked spectacular. That coincided with another premiere we supported towards the end of 2018 with Bohemian Rhapsody. That was very positive for us and that Bohemian Rhapsody movie has gone from strength to strength; that spectacular premiere gave the movie a massive kick start.

I went to the movies recently and saw the latest Papillon movie. One of the stars of that movie plays the lead in Bohemian Rhapsody; Rami Malek. He was a Golden Globe winner recently. If you get the chance to see his performance in Papillon, it is absolutely fantastic.

The consumer comes first

Q: And finally, Mark, we talk about the experience for the consumer because at the end of the day, they are a vital part in the cinema industry. We saw that Shang’s new cinemas have been renovated with new Harkness Screens to give a ‘red-carpet’ premiere feel about it. That is great news?!

MA: The consumer will choose not to go to back to the cinema if they have a poor viewing experience. As we work with our cinema customers, projector manufacturers and 3D manufacturers, there is no doubt in my mind that the presentation is improving and will be a contributor to future box office records.

I can see that cinemas are going to give the consumer better and better viewing experiences. Let’s face it, that has got to start with the screen. Harkness are heavily invested in new screen surfaces that make that presentation better. We go beyond the screen surface and we are now able to monitor the light on the screen.

My feeling is that ability now allows us to almost put ourselves in any seat in the auditorium and explain to the cinema operator, but perhaps the consumer, what their viewing experience is going to be like. That could well lead to us being able to provide compelling data to cinema operators that would allow them to create dynamic pricing models.

Dynamic seat pricing certainly works for the airline industry, but my suspicion is that it has been difficult to do within a cinema because you have not been able to quantify what each seat is capable of doing.

With our monitoring and modelling technology, we are getting closer and closer to being able to do that. Rather than it being a flat 2D image of a seat plan, give us six months and I believe we will be able to show that in a 3D, beautifully graphic presentation that should keep cinema’s customers coming back.

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