Cinema Thinking From Harkness’ CEO

In October and November, Harkness Screens CEO, Mark Ashcroft, was representing Harkness Screens in China, Indonesia and Australia. Holding several customer meetings, Mark also toured complexes in Indonesia and represented the brand at the Australian International Movie Conference (AIMC) on the Gold Coast.

Getting to represent Harkness all over the world is always an adventure. Learning about the different countries where Harkness’ screens are purchased is extremely beneficial to me. China was my first port of call on this most recent trip and it was an extremely interesting learning about the market directly from major customers including the team at Wanda.

It is important to understand the dynamics of how that group are operating. You can do your desk research , but for me it is more important to talk to people on the ground. So, when presented with the opportunity to speak to many of the Wanda folk in China, I took it. 

I wanted to know what was working, how things were going for them and how Chinese cinema is going. One specific thing that I was interested in, was their opinion on what was happening CineAsia. CineAsia has been an important event for us as it has been a magnet for Chinese visitors in the last 8 years.

Attending CineAsia without these visitors would have been difficult for us, so I took the decision to pull out just days before the event’s organisers called it off. 

China is a very unique market, with lots of different dynamics happening. The Chinese government is sponsoring some 20,000 new screens after seeing the strength of the October box office and continuing their commitment to cinema.

That number of new screens is, frankly, staggering. I wouldn’t say that we are a market leader in China if we were to go by screen numbers. But, a lot of the screens that go in are of a standard that we would not normally associate with the Harkness brand. 

Where we have found great rapport with the Chinese market is that they have been trying to do something extra special in their cinema’s and our screens allow them to do just that.

Being able to go to China, be on the ground with our customers to understand what they are seeing in their market is extremely beneficial to me in my role as CEO and allows me to corral our resources so we can do the best for our customers.

After spending some time in China, I headed down to the Gold Coast to represent Harkness at the AIMC. Held in a very prestigious shopping mall, the exhibition itself was within the cinema complex at the mall. As a result I was given a good feel for the event. Trade shows for equipment suppliers to the cinema operators is a difficult environment to manage.

One minute, people are in a theatre watching a movie and the next minute they’re all out. All with limited floor space, so I really do take my hat off  to the exhibitors as they cope so well with all the ups and downs. The surge if you will. 

It was also fascinating to see the number of senior AMC team in Australia, talking very positively about changes that they’ve made in the US. The ways in which people experience cinema, the introduction of loyalty cards, the way in which data is mined, new seating, food at the tables and it was great to see the executives sharing their experiences. 

They didn’t just share that experience with their colleagues from HOYTS either, but across the broader spectrum. HOYTS have always been an important customer to Harkness and being able to get into their cinemas, look at some of the new formats they are using, it was all really interesting and allows me to feed into our research and development efforts. 

One issue that we talked about that is a problem facing many of our exhibition partners is the rollout of laser projectors. Different models, different series, different manufacturers, each one of those projectors seemingly having a different performance characteristic when it comes to laser speckle. What is clear to me is that despite the best efforts of projector manufacturers, as well as from ourselves, is that there is still confusion.

A key message that I have brought back from the AIMC is that we want to, and really should, look at a brand new range of products that are specific for RGB lasers and that there is no confusion about what screen is xenon and laser, whether it’s used for laser phosphor and RGB. Get rid of that confusion.

I am going to be working with David Harrison (Chief Technology Officer) and Matt Jahans (VP Technology) to bring that online, as well as with the two new senior scientists who were brought in whilst I was away.

Laurent Espitalier has joined us as Chief Scientist and Laura Yates has joined as a senior research scientist, specialising in coatings. So, we are really building that science team. We have invested heavily in our photonics capability and  have Dr Tom Kehoe as our key resource. Augmenting our team is critical to serving our customers. Our R&D now combines, brilliant pure science, applications and cinema technologies.

Following my time in Australia I headed back to Asia to visit some very loyal customers in Indonesia. After getting an invitation to go, I was delighted to be there. The country has a population of over 260 million, so there is a significant market there.

Our customers in the country have probably got over 2000 screens and as I understand it there is some excellent local content being made. Indonesian language movies are strong and getting stronger. Added to this, from what I was told, there is a great deal of government sponsorship and private sponsorship going into those movies.

What we know is that in the markets where local content is available and encouraged, it can have a significant impact on the movie going experience. Korea is somewhere that is considered to be the benchmark for the movie going experience per-head of the population. Many commentators believe this is a direct result of strong local content.

Indonesians understand the importance of, not only a greater movie experience in the cinema, but the local content, so that was really interesting. I got to visit some fantastic cinemas and I mean really world class facilities in Jakarta. I have been hugely encouraged by the market and I have come away having learnt lots about our customers.

Being able to deep dive into their motivations, their strategies, their strengths, their competencies and being able to marry up our resources against those. I guess that’s what my role is as CEO.

Harkness Screens

Harkness Screens™ is the world’s leading screen technology company, specialising in the design and manufacture of projection screens and supporting technologies for cinema and live events. From single-screen independent theatres to large multiplexes to large format immersive theatre experiences or live events, Harkness supplies thousands of screens every year helping provide outstanding presentation experiences to audiences around the world.

With global reach, Harkness is regarded as the world leader in cinema and has screens in more cinemas worldwide than any other manufacturer. With its industry leading 2D and 3D screen brands (Perlux HiWhite, Clarus XC and Spectral) along with an innovative range of presentation monitoring tools, digital surveying services and suite of cinema design and specification apps, Harkness continues to lead the way in screen technology for cinema.  

Founded in 1929, Harkness has manufacturing facilities in the USA, UK, France, India and China and combines unrivalled experience with the latest technology and production methods to provide innovative solutions to the company’s key markets.  For more information, visit the Harkness Screens web page at

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