Shopping Center Embraces VR, Maybe Undercutting Theaters?

By Robert Marich
   July 25, 2019—A shopping center giant signed a deal to install virtual-reality Star Wars activity-game centers, which may represent a competitive threat to movie theaters.
   Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW)—a global shopping center operator—pacts with tech outfit The Void to establish 25 VR spaces to URW’s malls in the U.S. and Europe. The first wave will be popup stores, but a second wave will be installations in regular store spaces.
   “The deal represents yet another way America’s malls are adapting as a record wave of store closures has forced the make-up of a traditional shopping center to change,” says a story written by Lauren Thomas. That evolving makeup means more floor space devoted to entertainment and less traditional dry goods.
   “The Void offers an experience where customers pay $35 to physically feel like they’re in a certain movie, live in action,” continues the story. “So with Star Wars, for example, you put on goggles and a vest and walk into a room where a Darth Vader battle scene is playing out. The temperature of the room heats up as lava surrounds you. The wind blows when you have to jump across a bridge. You pick up a blaster to battle Darth to the end.”
   That's the news. My thinking is that movie theaters—facing worrisome cinema trends as online movie streaming takes hold—are a more natural host for such location-based entertainment VR outlets. Cinemas may find it necessary to re-purpose some (but not all) of their movie auditoriums for other leisure activities, if cinema-going declines. But shopping centers may beat them in diversification.
   “To spice up the moviegoing experience, exhibitors try various enhancements,” says the third edition of book Marketing To Moviegoers. These include dine-in cinema (where patrons are served a full meal in theater) and location-based entertainment with enhancements like seats moving in synchronization with surrounding activities.
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