THE BLOG: Contemplations on the Brand (cont)


In 1996, a group of industry professionals split from the International Space Theater Consortium (ISTC, predecessor to today’s GSCA) to form their own industry organization.  Primarily film technicians  and 8/70 exhibitors who felt their needs were not being met by the larger organization, they decided to call this splinter group the Large Format Cinema Association (LFCA). 

What is unique about this name that differs it from something like “Giant Screen” is that “Large Format” refers to the type of film running through the projector.  Typically, this is made up of 70mm film stock of three differing frame perforation measurements.  8perf, which was primarily used on Iwerks and Megasystems projectors;10 perf, used by the Japanese manufacturer Goto; and 15perf, used by IMAX and CDC projectors. Additionally, special formats such as 3-strip Cinerama and the 8perf/35mm VistaVision format are often included.  Some industry experts also include anamorphic 5perf/70mm due to the large amount of information captured in a single frame as compared to standard 35mm film.

But in an age of digital projection, where the film stock no longer matters, the term “large format” has been compromised.  A large format theater now refers, as spoken by the Wall Street Journal and independent circuits building them, to an IMAX-type digital theater.  When one Northern California chain told me they were installing a large format theater in their newest cineplex, they explained it as “a floor to ceiling, wall to wall screen and 14.1 channels of sound.”

To be certified by the GSCA as a “Giant Screen,” a theatre must meet two key specifications:

  • The screen must be 70 feet wide OR 3100 square feet in total area for flat screens OR 60 feet diameter for domes
  • All seating must be within one screen width of the screen plane.

There is one other key specification: to be certified, a theater must be a member in good standing of the GSCA.

At this point, I pull your attention to the good state of Kentucky, where Tea Party candidate Rand Paul received his board certification in ophthalmology not from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, but rather from the National Board of Ophthalmology, which Paul himself created.  With all due apologies to Tammy Seldon, the GSCA’s Executive Director, I have now certified my home theater as being “Giant Screen.”

So the question arises as to how to protect the “Giant Screen” brand? How does the GSCA prevent its misuse?  To answer this, I’ll provide a four-part solution:

1. Expand public recognition of the GSCA.

The GSCA is very well-known to those who work in the industry.  Although its website has a public component, it is not the easiest site to navigate.  I  recommend the GSCA instigate a unique consumer website that showcases the technology and gives a guide to movies and theaters.  IAAPA’S Ticket For Fun consumer website, which is a unique product very different from the organization’s website, is a good example.

In the public eye, the GSCA does not garner as much recognition as ASTC, AAM or AZA.  The reason being that these organizations have reciprocating admission for members of their partner institutions.  Although offering a GSCA reciprocating benefit may be redundant when thrown on top of something like one offered by ASTC, it does get the GSCA name into the public domain.

2. Be recognized by other industry associations

In Sacramento, there is a very beautiful IMAX theater in downtown.  A few years back, a digital IMAX house opened about 25 miles away.  Although people in my part of the county prefer the downtown one for the image size and overwhelming immersion, they have given up and are now going to the digital house simply out of the convenience of it being closer. 

As another example, let’s say that the Wakovia IMAX Theatre in Raleigh is designated as a “Certified Giant Screen” and a cinema in Chapel Hill opens what they call a “Giant Screen Theater.”   Will the certification make enough difference or will Raleigh lose a contingent of college students?

To prevent this misappropriation by non-GSCA members, the GSCA needs to work with other industry associations, such as ASTC, AAM, AZA, IAAPA, IMERSA,  and especially NATO, to ensure that it is the ONLY body recognized to give the “giant screen” designation.

3. Trademark the term

The GSCA has trademarked “Giant Screen Certified.”  Now they need to go one step further.  Trademark “Giant Screen Theater.” Go ahead.  I’ve checked with the USPTO and it’s available.

4. Sue the hell out of anyone who infringes on your trademark.

Remember when Phoenix made it to the Superbowl?  They were going to show the game in the Arizona Science Center’s IMAX until the NFL sent a cease and desist order at the last-minute.  I know how hard they can be.  At the National Infantry Museum, I spent a number of days speaking with their lawyers, continually being denied, even if the showing were free and just for our men in uniform.  The NFL has made an art form of protecting their intellectual property.

To protect the term “Giant Screen Theater,” the greatest threat, in addition to local exhibitors, is Eastern Europe and China, places that organizations such as the MPAA are still having problems with.  In 2005, Maria Costeira of Slovenia-based XpanD, stated during the ShoWest International Breakfast (at which Rich Gelfond also spoke), “With us, you don’t need to worry about DCI-compliance.  I mean, who really cares about DCI?”  It is this kind of attitude that could cause formidable problems.

As for China, James Hyder, publisher of the LF Examiner, pointed out that Chinese officials were referring to the Saudi Arabia pavilion at the Shanghai Expo as having “the world’s largest IMAX screen.”  In actuality, the pavilion features a Sky-Skan full-dome theater.  Hyder continued, “In an interview that Rich Gelfond did with The Hollywood Reporter in China, interviewer Jonathan Landreth asked if he knew that ‘IMAX is often used incorrectly in China to refer simply to a big movie.’ Rich said he hadn’t ‘come across misuse’ of the brand.

I find this surprising as IMAX is notorious for protecting its brand identity.  As for who to lead the effort to protect the “Giant Screen Theater” brand, may I suggest, IMAX’s lion of litigation, Mr. Rob Lister, himself a former GSCA board member.  His tactics in protecting the IMAX name have proven quite successful.  If you need proof, contact the owners of MAXIMAGE and the Dinomax Theater. 

So to sum up:

  1. Be friendly and inviting to the public
  2. Make friends give you power
  3. Protect your assets at all costs
  4. Sue the hell out of anyone who gets in your way.

It’s the way politics works, it’s the way Scientology works.  It works.  The GSCA needs to do more for the “Giant Screen” brand than just certifying it.  It must act as its protector.

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