The Not-So-Secret Rise of Immersive Entertainment

For several months over the summer of 2015, I exited Canada Water tube station on my evening commute to a queue of Jedi Knights, intergalactic wanderers and storm troopers. In south-east London, the cult-like Secret Cinema had taken root. By the end of September, over 100,000 people had paid staggering prices to dress up as their favourite characters and re-watch an old movie, which was otherwise available for a few quid on DVD.

This single production alone generated box office takings of over £6.4 million – which if we put into perspective was higher than the 20th biggest film of 2015 (Source: BFI). This success has seen the team now setting their sights on the no doubt highly lucrative US market.

But, when did this become a thing?

It all started with theatre, which has, for as long as people can remember, tinkered with breaking down the fourth wall and engaging audiences in a more intimate way. According to the Future Laboratory, “theatre is becoming more cinematic and cinema more theatrical”. Theatre stages become as detailed and extensive as film sets and live-action becomes part of a cinema trip. Secret Cinema is lauded as the pioneer, but they are now merely one of many players in the immersive cinema and theatrical market.

So why does it have so much momentum?

Real-world experiences are an increasingly valuable social commodity. In a world where millennials alone spend 29 hours a week online (source: GB TGI 2015, R2) and we binge-watch TV shows in our spare time, there is a psychological backlash against purely digital interactions. We are bored of merely seeing things on a screen and clamouring to experience and feel them first hand. Successfully crowdfunded in 2015, Immersit produce sofas which use hydraulics to create a 4D viewing experience in your own home. Haptic technology also provides us with opportunities to make the mobile viewing experience more physical and personal – as we demoed with Peugeot’s UK first vibrating mobile ad in 2015.

There is also an element of escapism which cannot be ignored and is mirrored by the rise of immersive obstacle race fitness challenges – who wouldn’t want to distract themselves from the pain of a 5k run by simultaneously being chased by zombies?

I digress. Ultimately, we are no longer wholly satisfied by a sticky carpet, a huge box of popcorn and the trailers. We want to feel part of the action.

But what does this mean for advertisers?

There are multiple implications for the media community. Heightened expectations around what cinema can offer us will ultimately extend to our TV experiences too. Perhaps by the time we reach series 12 of Game of Thrones, we will be watching it on a Barco Escape panoramic, multi-screen system which wraps around the room and immerses you in the action. Or maybe series premieres will be as big a deal as movie premieres, and Secret Cinema style performances will become commonplace for The Walking Dead, Humans and other futuristic dramas.

How will our expectations of the ads we wrap around this content also evolve? Perhaps in 2020 or beyond, Monty the Penguin will be waddling alongside us as we watch John Lewis’ Christmas campaign air for the first time, through virtual or augmented reality technologies. As our entertainment channels become more physical, then so should our approach to branded content. The future will be one where the lines between AV and Experiential ultimately blur, and consumer expectations of both are heightened like never before.


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