Disney's success, Matt White screens and 2019 Box Office - An Interview with Harkness CEO Mark Ashcroft

Harkness Global CEO Mark Ashcroft discusses the uniqueness of Harkness Matt White screens plus their value in the industry as well as 2018’s Record Box Office and why Disney seem to have that extra edge.

2018 Box Office pleasing with a bright 2019 ahead

I think with all figures, you are going to see some ups and some downs, but the overall figure was very pleasing for the industry as a whole. There are many moving parts.

We have seen for example, in Australia, there has been an increase in box office, but average ticket prices seem to be lower. We’ve seen in India, massive movies like 2.0 that have obviously impacted the box office. I’ve talked about it before, but Bohemian Rhapsody just continues to go from strength to strength so within the figures, there are ups and there are downs, but there are great surprises.

I personally wouldn’t want to be an expert in picking which film is going to be a success in 2019! It’s very pleasing for the industry.

Disney’s magic is unsurprising!

Disney is an organisation which I have long admired not just because of my time in the cinema sector. In a previous role, I worked very closely with Disney Consumer Products and to see how professional they were, was always very revealing for me.

I have become very aware of Disney’s influence and their expertise at making movies. They’ve got a fantastic back catalogue. They, from what I can see, have a formula to build franchises and the ability to do that is something quite unique about them.

As I mentioned, that movie release can result in so many different revenue streams. My previous work within ‘Party City’, we would have seen Disney appear on balloons, table napkins, kids treats etc so as a joined-up organisation, Disney have got a lot going for them.

Frozen 2, The Lion King and Toy Story 4 will tick all the boxes for the younger generation

I understand from a number of people in the industry, they are very excited about Disney’s slate for the next two years. It is going to be interesting for us because we have already seen two or three of our cinema exhibitor customers taking about ‘Kids Theatres’.

Many people see Disney as the leaders in providing kids movies. A movie theatre for kids is very interesting in terms of how you create the right environment. A lot of cinema screens are easily damaged because of the specialist coatings we put on there. We start to ask ourselves questions like ‘Can we put a different coating on there so the kids could actually touch the screen without damaging the optical properties?’ It will be interesting to see where the idea goes.

The film distributors are incredibly interested that their movies are premiered to the standard the film maker envisaged.

The premieres are very often managed by the film distributor and what I’d describe as a ‘specialist premiere organiser.’ We’re fortunate that we work very closely with those organisations, both here in the UK but also in the United States. That gives us [Harkness] great access to that ‘premiere’ market.

The film distributors are incredibly interested that their movies are premiered to the standard the film maker envisaged. They would like to be able to guarantee that. Knowing where those theatres are,  in every country in the world, would reassure film makers there is a minimum performance standard and that’s where the movies would be premiered. That is not that easy. Guaranteeing light and presentation is on everybody’s agenda as something we have got to do. If we could do it collectively, the movie studios are going to benefit because they will know when they launch a movie, they can say ‘We’ve only got to launch it on these screens’ because they know these have got the guarantee for presentation. That would be a great place to be.

Matt White is part of the future and we will play a major role
The movie makers themselves will tend to see the movie in a more sterile environment than what it would necessarily be like in a movie theatre. The screens, in most cases, will be a Harkness screen, but it would be something we would describe as ‘Matt Preview’ or ‘Matt White’ not necessarily with a coating. So, the movie maker will see screen in a very pure form and that, in itself, is an interesting phenomenon within the industry.

So, the movie maker sees their creation on a ‘Matt White’ screen whereas you and I may see it on a ‘Silver Screen’ or we may see it on a ‘Pearlescent Screen’ in the cinema.

However, it is not as simple as every Matt White screen is the same. In fact, Harkness are one of the only cinema screen companies in the world that actually formulate and specify the Matt White screen. That, in itself, gives the Harkness Matt White Screen huge differentiation. We are able to give the screen a unique surface and we’re able to enhance the optical properties. One of the most interesting pieces of feedback we get time and time again is that a Harkness Screen straight out of the packaging looks better than anything else.

That is down to experience and skills of the people who manufacture our screens, but it is also down to the fact that the Matt White base is so well formulated and so scientifically thought out. Too many people in the industry are of the opinion that Matt White is the same across the board, but it can be  completely different. A Harkness Matt White Screen is different. With the introduction of more and more laser-based projectors, that Matt White Screen is important.

For us, we have now got a challenge that we are going to have to educate the market that when specifying a Matt White, its not one size fits all. A Harkness Matt White is truly different. That is going to be a new journey for us in 2019/20 but we have the technology.

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