Veezi ideal for indie cinema

FIONA ROTHERHAM
Last updated 05:00 15/06/2014
Goondiwindi Cinemas
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EARLY ADOPTER: Micheal Farmer, from the Goondiwindi Cinemas in Australia.

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The thing about software geeks is they have this view that if they build a really cool product and put it out there, customers will come.

But usually it takes a bit more than that. That's what cinema management software company Vista Entertainment found with its software-as-a-service operation Veezi.

Vista is the world leader in providing management software solutions for cinema exhibitors - keeping track of the backroom operations like the ticket you buy and the food you eat.

It has a 37 per cent global market share in the large cinema market (20 screens or more) and is considering a public listing to help fund its growth strategy, including ramping up sales of Veezi and expanding from cinema exhibitions software to providing analytics and marketing for film production studios, distributors and cinema exhibitors.

About four years ago Vista chief executive Murray Holdaway decided to get his research and development team working on a cloud-based software-as-a-service product for smaller independent cinemas that wanted a cheaper and less complex offering to help run their back room operations.

It was also a good way for Vista to get its head around cloud-based products as a test run for other future developments.

Veezi was launched in 2011 with Ruby's Cinema in Wanaka the "guinea pig", and it was then fully rolled out last year.

It has a monthly pay-as-you-go business model, which differs from Vista's model of charging upfront for the system and then an annual maintenance fee.

Holdaway said they developed a ground-breaking piece of software but initial global sales were slow and they now needed to up the sales and marketing effort to make it really successful.

"We have a great story to tell but we have to get out there and tell it."

Currently around 70 cinemas in nine countries are subscribed to Veezi, but the potential global market is in excess of 10,000 sites.

The US market is the initial focus because of its size and scale - it has some 2600 independent cinema exhibitors.

Growth has really ramped up this year, said Veezi general manager online Matthew Preen, once they started sending out emailed customer testimonials that include a stylish photo and backstory on each Veezi user and are a bit edgier than traditional advertising.

"This is a distinct group of people who are quirky, maverick and independent by name and nature. We've taken the approach of making case studies out of some of our customers and making them into hero images. The feedback has been that people love the advertising."

The testimonials range from customers as far north as Thurso in Scotland to Heber City in Utah and The Crest in Los Angeles.

Another came from Micheal Farmer of the Goondiwindi Twin Cinemas, a small operator about 3.5 hours inland from Brisbane in northern Australia.

He was an early adopter of Veezi, installing it in July 2012, after he came across it by chance while googling for a cinema management program online. The cinema is run by him and his wife, and he also has a day job working with cattle and doing odd jobs such as welding.

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Farmer said for over three-and-a-half years he used to spend more than eight hours a week doing everything the slow way - manually inputting the cinema's operations. It left him little time to think about developing the overall business.

He instantly found he didn't need so many staff. "Which is great because 80 per cent of them are useless anyway. Tell them to do something and they go upstairs and do nothing," he said. "Veezi is a trooper, it just keeps on working."

He said Veezi had taken a lot of the stress out of running the 120-seat twin cinemas and while there was a bit involved in the set-up process, it was easy to use once up and running.

Another user is Kelly Rogers, owner of the Monterey and Bridgeway cinemas in Auckland along with the Rialto Tauranga.

Operations manager Clayton Morgan said the Monterey and Bridgeway were originally using Vista but found it difficult for a small chain to use and too expensive.

They switched to Veezi 18 months ago, installing it into the Tauranga theatre at the same time, and Morgan said they were now saving an estimated $7000 to $8000 per site a year.

What he likes most about the cloud-based system is being able to log in and work from home.

Some independent cinema owners in New Zealand are still using an Excel spreadsheet and inputting everything manually, he said. "It's a very old-school industry. But we need to focus on what we do well which is promoting movies, servicing customers and making sure they have a great time, not punching in numbers and sending out reports," Morgan said.

One of the other key changes Veezi made was having dedicated salespeople in market as opposed to just using the same distribution channels as Vista. This led to 30 new sites signing up in the US alone. But it is sold as Veezi by Vista in order to trade on the established company's reputation in the market.

The other change they've made has been to refine the target market down to those most likely to want to adopt the system and contact them by email. "It's a sniper approach rather than mass broadcast," Preen said.

Another key move has been a deal with webticketing consolidator Fandango in the US - its system is how most Americans buy movie tickets. Smaller independent cinemas had never been able to access that service before but are now able to via Veezi's cloud-based system. Fandango is now interested in doing a similar deal outside of the US, Holdaway said.

"We're starting to get it right in the US and do some significant volume. And in the US you don't have to win every one. If you pick up one in three you have a nice piece of business," he said. But he won't be content until Veezi achieves the same market dominance that Vista has, and that's still some way off.

"At one stage Vista had only 55 customers and we thought then we had a nice business," he said.

- Sunday Star Times

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