Madrid theater showing vid games


MADRID -- Movie theater operators are expected to continue to look for new entertainment offers in the new year.

Yelmo Cineplex, one of Spain's leading exhibitors, already has made its first step in 2007, saying Wednesday that it has converted one of its screens into the country's first interactive video game experience on a big screen.

The company described the move as a first innovation to fight the downward trend of cinema admissions.

The concept, called Cinegames, uses 7.1 surround sound with smoke and laser lights as special effects in the theater, while 50 gamepads and control consoles allow individual users to connect their 17-inch screens to the larger screen, which shows the interactive game of all the participants. A commentator in the theater gives a blow-by-blow commentary of the game.

The opening weekend saw about 250 people take advantage of the newly renovated theater in the southern outskirts of Madrid in a free trial offered by Yelmo.

"There's a tremendous explosion of multiplexes in Spain," said Enrique Martinez, head of Yelmo's technical department and responsible for the implementation of Cinegames. "We have to try to distinguish ourselves with new products."

The concept has launched with three games, including a driving race that sees the contestants from three different angles race against each other. Martinez said Yelmo plans to introduce games targeted at different age groups, including children as young as 6 years old.

The gaming is intended to combat the weaker profitability of smaller-screen theaters by enabling them to be used for other products. The renovation of the Yelmo theater cost about €300,000 ($397,000), the company said.

"Exhibitors are going to have to update their offer," Martinez said. "You'll see traditional cinema, other video game products and 3-D movies as some of the new products on offer."

Cinema operators also have signaled that they increasingly might bring book readings, concerts and sports events to their screens to build audiences.