Contact-Free Movie Theaters

South Korea is hoping to combat coronavirus fears with contact-free movie theaters, because this is the world we live in now. Last month, the country’s number one exhibitor CJ-CGV tested AI robots, automated kiosks, and LED-controlled food delivery boxes. Other theaters followed in their footsteps, all with the hope of revitalizing the box office.

Variety is reporting that South Korea is testing contact-free movie theaters to reduce physical contact with strangers. They’re calling it “untact,” and CJ-CGV turned its Yeouido branch into an “untact” theater with the following methods:

To accommodate local audiences’ growing fear of physical contact with strangers, including cinema staff, the exhibitor giant replaced its human staff with AI robots, automated kiosks and mobile app services. Cinemagoers no longer need to encounter a human staff member to reserve, pick up, or scan their tickets. Snack bars have been replaced with LED-controlled pick-up boxes which deliver food items ordered through CGV’s app.

Another exhibitor, Lotte Cinema, also adopted these procedures in 22 of its 130 complexes in late April:

Visitors can reserve, change and pick up tickets as well as order snacks on smart kiosks with voice-recognition systems. To purchase tickets for films that are not allowed for certain age groups, audiences may need to scan their ID cards.

The Variety story doesn’t mention anything about the seating situation, though. Sure, having the entire theater be run by AI might help reduce contact, but wouldn’t that be null and void if you’re just sitting directly next to someone? However, an article from Forbes last week does mention that theaters are planning to feature “distanced seating,” although that doesn’t come up in the Variety story.

Oh Dae-sik, head of CJ CGV’s smart innovation team, released the following statement: “It is predicted that moviegoers’ demand for un-tact [services in cinema] will also grow as a part of the new normal. We will monitor feedback from visitors and operations, and consider expanding the un-tact cinema system, which is expected to enhance the level of convenience for our customers as well as the efficiency of cinema operation.”

One has to wonder: will American theaters adopt a similar plan? I have my doubts, but time will tell.

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