TORONTO – Cineplex Entertainment is looking beyond Hollywood with a new concept that combines arcade games and live performances. The country’s biggest movie theatre chain said Monday it plans to launch The Rec Room later this year in Edmonton, as part of a pilot project that will ramp up to a bigger expansion.
Each location will have space for a restaurant and bar, as well as an array of entertainment options, like an arcade and an auditorium for live music and comedians. In addition to an arcade, the company is also considering offering other games like bowling, billiards, shuffleboard and ping pong.
The first Rec Room in Canada will open late this year adjacent to the existing Cineplex theatre at the South Edmonton Common shopping centre.
Another 10 to 15 locations will follow in major cities across the country over the next several years, though they won’t necessarily be next to a movie theatre, chief executive Ellis Jacob said in an interview.
“When you look at Canada we really don’t have a location-based social environment where people can game, have a meal, watch (sports), all of those kinds of things that create a destination,” said Jacob. “It allows us to capitalize on our strength, from our infrastructure to the assets we’ve built up.”
Cineplex already operates 18 Xscape Entertainment Centres with popular arcade games and billiards. Some of the locations also have lounges with liquor licences.
What makes the Rec Room different is the broader game and food selection, and the large digital screens, Jacob said.
He hopes Cineplex can tap into the rising popularity of video game tournaments on the big screen, where audiences gather to battle each other playing Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4 games.
Cineplex also owns an advertising business and premium-priced movie theatres.
Last week Cineplex announced it will be opening a second premium theatre in Edmonton, to be located in the Downtown Arena District. The theatre is scheduled to open in 2018 and will feature five VIP Cinemas, two UltraAVX auditoriums and a licenced lounge, similar to what is offered at the Cineplex Odeon Windermere and VIP in southwest Edmonton. It was the company’s first VIP theatre in Alberta when it opened in 2012.
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For a higher price (around $20 a ticket), the adult-only VIP Cinemas offers reserved, plush seating and service at your seat from an expanded menu, which includes alcoholic drinks.
Movie-goers can also enjoy food and drinks in the lounge before and after a movie. UltraAVX also offers reserved seating, but is open to all ages and comes at a lower price (around $16).
The company has been focused on diversifying its business to lessen the impact of the volatile movie industry, which thrives on blockbuster hits but falters when a big movie tanks.
Last month, Cineplex backed out of screening the controversial Seth Rogen movie “The Interview” when hackers threatened terrorist attacks at theatres showing the comedy. While Cineplex said it only planned to postpone screenings, the company decided against showing it at all when Sony Pictures made “The Interview” available to rent and buy online.
With files from David Friend, The Canadian Press