Atmos isn’t just evolution; it’s a revolution: Senior Marketing and Sales managers of Dolby
Friedrich Deininger, Senior Director – Sales, Cinema, and Ashim Mathur, Senior Director – Marketing, talk to us about how Atmos technology has proved to be a gamechanger for Dolby Laboraties
Having toyed with channel-based audio for years, what caused Dolby to come up with a new technology in Atmos?
Friedrich Deininger: Around six years ago, we were thinking of where we should head next. Sound mixers and directors told us that that the cinema experience was still somehow not as immersive as they wanted it to be. We knew we didn’t want more of the same, and decided that it was time for a paradigm shift in technology. That’s how we came up with Atmos, which allows for speakers to be placed around the theatre including on the ceiling, with each of them capable of being controlled independently. We can place as many as 128 objects in a cinema and control them all.
How important is it for Dolby that technology development occurs in collaboration with creative talent?
Friedrich: It’s crucial. Dolby’s among the very few organisations to understand the importance of the product chain. From directors and sound mixers to distributors, exhibitors and consumers, we are constantly thinking about everyone when making improvements. It’s necessary to engage in dialogue with the creative community, so they know what they can do with the technology. We are the vehicle here, and enable audiences to hear the film as the filmmakers intend. This explains our growing footprint across the world. In Europe, not a single cinema today is built without Atmos. Every multiplex in Europe and US has at least one Atmos screen.
Ashim Mathur: Today, we have 450 screens in India. When you remember that we launched Atmos just six years ago, you will recognise that this is rapid growth. In Tamil Nadu alone, we have 100 screens, and half of them are in Chennai, the first city to take to Atmos.
Not all screens in a multiplex, however, are enabled with Atmos. Why’s this?
Ashim: Atmos-enabled screens are increasing in number. To answer your question, it’s a business decision by the exhibitor in alignment with their overall strategy. But I can see that every day, more and more multiplexes are bringing in more screens under the Atmos wing. They realise its importance especially in view of the variety of Atmos content being generated across languages.
To enable a screen with Atmos is one thing, but delivering films made for the experience is quite another. Is there a lot of South Indian content being made?
Ashim: In all, we have had almost 400 films made for Atmos so far. And yes, the South Indian industry has played a large part in this. Ultimately, it’s good content that influences exhibitors to adopt new technology. When audiences are exposed to Atmos, they look to return to those screens.
Do you believe people get the difference?
Friedrich: I sincerely do. In Germany, a cinema owner wanted to find out the answer to this question with a simple experiment. He played a film in two screens in his multiplex, one with Atmos and the other without. He charged one more Euro for the Atmos screen, and was surprised to find out that this screen sold out first. Audiences do understand that it’s a higher value proposition. Exhibitors constantly tell us that audiences are asking them about Atmos.
Do you believe this holds true in India as well?
Ashim: I wouldn’t say we have reached that stage here yet, but that’s why we are doing all we can to spread the word. We play the Atmos demo video at the beginning. We carry our logos prominently. For instance, in newspapers, there’s a call to action with the Atmos logo. We are trying to educate audiences at every one of the consumer touchpoints. We understand sound’s not tangible, but we do see that people are able to recognise that Atmos gives them a better-sounding experience. Multiplex owners tell us that footfalls have increased because of it.
How are you tackling the increasing impact of home entertainment?
Friedrich: It’s important to note that home entertainment mustn’t be compared to cinema, which is a different experience entirely. Filmmakers are creating material for both. Having said that, our roadmap does include Atmos for Home. The recent FIFA World Cup, for instance, was captured and broadcast in Atmos. Netflix has said yes to Atmos. Bluray has been associated with us for almost four years now. So, we are definitely providing options.
Is it hard to convince exhibitors with a new technology when you have likely told them that the previous one was the way to go?
Ashim: Well, technology keeps on evolving. We change mobile phones and television when something new comes along, don’t we?
Friedrich: I want to point out that our transition from channel-based audio to Atmos isn’t just evolution. It’s a revolution. An adequate comparison would be when people switched to smart phones. You’re right about the evolution of channel-based technology, but Atmos is a paradigm shift. It’s our only goal now, and it’s the future.