National Cinemedia (NCM) is a name not widely known to the general public, but moviegoers will certainly recognize their in-theater advertising pre-show FirstLook. Last year, FirstLook debuted the first second screen app designed for use inside the theater. This was originally released as a standalone app, but on May 20, 2013, the Regal Cinemas iPhone app received an update to integrate the FirstLook Sync App.
I am a big movie fan and usually escape to my local Regal about once a week to get lost in the cinematic experience. I use the Regal app for showtime information, but rarely arrive early enough to catch the FirstLook pre-show. This week, I made it a point to arrive extra early to test out the new iPhone integration of the second screen sync product. Rather than review the entire Regal app, I just want to focus on the FirstLook second screen sync portion.
As you can see on the Regal Cinemas app home page, there is a new prominent call out for Regal’s FirstLook Sync. What you don’t realize is that the “integration” was anything but integrated. Clicking that button prompts the device to open a second app, the general FirstLook Sync App by NCM. In order to use the Regal Second Screen Sync, you need to leave the Regal app. From a user perspective, this is never a good experience especially if I’m attempting to do this for the first time after I’m already inside the theater and need to download the second app.
The only integration appears to be in the button prompt handoff to open the FirstLook Sync app and the Regal Cinemas logo in the upper left corner of the FirstLook Sync App which will re-open the Regal Cinemas app when selected. Regal did integrate their movie showtime schedule and immediately users are prompted to select the theater location, film, and showtime. While completing this task, users are able to share the movie they are about to watch with their friends across four social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and GetGlue. This social share feature is not in the primary Regal app and the immediate prompt to select this info is one of the few useful features of the Regal FirstLook Sync integrated version. Fans enjoy sharing what movie they are watching in the theater so Regal pre-populating the extra content with the Regal location name was a wise move and will assist in promoting the local theater.
After the user selects their showtime and chooses whether or not to share it with friends, the app will immediately initiate the audio content recognition (ACR) based sync which is followed by a coupon landing page. Is this unique to the FirstLook Sync app? No, not at all. The coupon is the exact same discount users receive regular notifications about and can use from the primary Regal Cinemas app. If the user originated from the Regal app, the extra step is not providing any additional value to the experience. If I am in the sync process, I’m already seated in the theater and have likely procured my snacks before sitting down so a coupon at this point in time is likely not going to stimulate a purchase. I suppose it could be a useful tool for a concession product paid placement, but as a user this coupon element does not offer a unique experience that I do not already have in the Regal Cinemas app. The only slight benefit to displaying this would be if the user does not have the Regal app and initiates their experience directly in FL Sync – more on that later.
Now it’s time to jump into the companion viewing “second screen” interactive experiences with the FirstLook sync app. Right away the user is presented with a colorful vertical scroll of varying promotions including contests, movie themed game apps available for download, celebrity gossip, photo booth, trivia, movie news, trailers, and more. Wait, watching movie trailers and taking photos? Sure the lights in the theater are still on, but taking photos in theater seats isn’t an optimal setting. I also question the usefulness to users and paying advertisers of FL wanting to encourage customers to watch movie trailers during the FirstLook advertisements – not to mention before they watch even more trailers on the big screen after the FL show finishes. Turns out this area of the app is available regardless of whether or not you sync to the show in the theater. In fact, the majority of the information on this screen is duplicated on the FirstLook website. Given this is a second screen content app experience, the primary focus of the app should want to center around things beneficial while the user is in the theater that are exclusive to the synced experience.
I have used quite a few good companion viewing apps from TV networks like Syfy, USA, and TNT (my Falling Skies app review) as well as those from film studios for Blu-Ray discs. Perhaps I’m a bit spoiled on my perception on what exactly a second screen companion viewing content experience can and should be so maybe I just went into this FirstLook sync experience with the wrong paradigm. What I expected was interactive and additional information synced in real-time to the content on the screen in the pre-show. The FL pre-show I was watching included an ad for TNT’s Major Crimes. Was I automatically served content about the show – cast info, etc? No. This wasn’t the case for any of the content shown during the advertisement driven program. So what was the point of syncing the app to the audio from the show? In the “My Syncs” portion of the app, I am now presented with a list of the advertisers that I was exposed to ads from – loosely similar to previous tags in Shazam without nearly the interactive elements. In the TNT Major Crimes example, I can select that entry and choose to save a calendar reminder for the upcoming episode. Target ran a commercial with a catchy song that I could download for free and Diet Coke’s Taylor Swift ad now lets me enter a contest to win tickets. This area appears to be the extent of the second screen synced content.
Since the FirstLook sync experience isn’t fully integrated inside the Regal Cinemas app, do you need to open the Regal app first to access the FirstLook information? No, you do not. FirstLook Sync is a fully operational standalone application which can be accessed by opening the app directly. The Regal Cinema locations and showtimes along with the mobile coupon page are all in there – along with competitors like AMC. The only noticeable difference is that the upper left corner icon no longer shows the Regal logo. When you open the app directly you are presented with the logo for the Movie Night Out app which prompts the user to download another app product by National Cinemedia. This is apparently not a concern for Regal, but should it be?
In the current experience it probably isn’t a major cause for alarm – although this problem shouldn’t even exist as the functionality needs to be fully integrated into the Regal proprietary app. What should be a concern is the missed opportunity to provide a richer synced experience in the app coupled with a way to tie in more Regal partner rewards for using and interacting with the FirstLook program. During their Upfront in May, NCM announced a partnership with Twitter and Foursquare to expand ad opportunities. Details weren’t released, but the general focus sounded like it would be centered more on cross ad placements instead of richer synced content experiences.
Linking the app to the Regal Crown Club points program would allow for the opportunity to earn bonus rewards for performing actions with the synced content (which needs some pretty substantial improvement on its own) like answering poll questions, viewing additional partner ad information, or playing trivia games. These additional Regal rewards would likely provide incentive for users to arrive earlier to see the FirstLook content. This should translate to increased revenue as I imagine there is a strong correlation for higher propensity to purchase concessions the earlier a person arrives at the theater before the start of their show.
At present, the app prompts you to enter movie mode as soon as the FirstLook pre-show finishes. What follows the FirstLook show is the upcoming movie trailers, but during this time the house lights are still dimly turned on in the room. Why not take advantage of those social sharing elements and continue the sync experience with a darker screen interface? A slight modification could be done to allow users the opportunity to automatically check-in on GetGlue during each trailer and even generate a link to the trailer on the Regal site which they can share with their friends on Facebook and Twitter. The app could prompt a full shutdown mode immediately following the trailer sequence when the house lights turn off before the start of the show. There are so many potential ways to enhance this pre-show and trailer block it’s simply impossible to cover them all in a single post. The point is, the app today doesn’t provide nearly the rich synced content experience that it could give moviegoers nor one that second screen users have come to expect based on other experiences in the entertainment marketplace.
While the FirstLook Sync experience may be the only movie theater second screen experience, it is most certainly far from optimal. A re-tooling of the app program at its core feature set along with deeper integration at the theater chain level (in this particular instance, Regal) is critical. With a more robust experience, movie fans, pre-show advertisers, and film studios, could all see a positive financial lift and create additional exposure for their films and products through the social networks of users.