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Is drive-in the way to get the world moving again?

Drive-in movies are making a comeback during COVID-19, and by adopting the latest trends in  location technology, theater owners could generate vital new revenues.

During the baby boomer years of the 1950s and 60s, there were more than 4,000 drive-in movie theaters across the United States. They were an icon of America, as symbolic of the culture as baseball, Coca-Cola and apple pie. But over the last few decades, they've lost their appeal as the American love affair of the car dwindled and in-home entertainment prevailed. There are now only 305 drive-ins operating in the states, and these are mostly out of a sense of nostalgia.

However, in recent weeks, drive-ins have started to enjoy a revival fueled by a desire for socially-distanced entertainment during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the country's 5500 sit-in cinemas closed, drive-ins are flourishing. At the end of April there were 25 open and that number continues to grow week on week, says the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association.

And for owners like John Watzke, who runs the Ocala drive-in in Florida, he's inundated with customers. He told the Guardian: "This time of the year I normally would not sell out [of tickets] because children are in school and stuff, but I am finding now on Fridays and Saturdays I am reaching my capacity and have to turn people away."

Among the measures he has taken to protect staff and customers is moving his food orders online, with delivery of hot dogs, popcorn and sodas direct to cars.

This popularity in drive-in entertainment isn't a state-side phenomenon either. From Northern Ireland to the South of France, pop-up cinemas are providing much-needed respite from lockdown.

The idea has even moved from films to music and art, with Denmark recently hosting the world's first drive-in concert. Danish singer-songwriter Mads Langer performed to 2000 people in 500 cars, while country legend Keith Urban put on a drive-in gig for 200 healthcare workers in Tennessee.

In Toronto, Canada, Gogh By Car is billed as the first of its kind drive-in art show. This interactive exhibit can accommodate 14 cars at a time and is said to give visitors the feeling of floating through the display. Co-producer Svetlana Dvoretsky said: "We just had to pivot. People have to see the light at the end of the tunnel and also the light during this situation."

Then there's food business: while restaurants remain closed, McDonald's and other fast food chains are reopening as drive-thru-only venues. The question is, how can drive-in businesses take advantage of location technology to up-sell services and increase their revenue at these difficult times?

That's where beacon technology comes in. By installing beacons that communicate with a customer's mobile device, retailers can tailor their marketing and sales messages based on their location. Let's say you own a drive-in cinema. By installing beacons in the car park, you could push food and merchandise, advanced screening sales and relevant third-party advertisements to a highly engaged audience, without any social contact, through an app.

It's what brands such as Coca Cola, Macy's and CVS have doing in stores to successfully supercharge their local marketing campaigns.

What is beacon technology and how does it work?

1. Beacon technology was introduced by Apple in 2013 and the market has been evolving rapidly: by 2024 it's expected to be worth $25billion. In 2016, Google reported that it was servicing 40 billion beacon-related queries on Android devices every year.

2. Compact and Bluetooth-powered, beacons are wireless transmitters that can push notifications, deals and messages to nearby smart devices.

3. If they have downloaded the retailer's app, customers can receive information that's relevant to their location when they come into range.

4. The technology can help you gain crucial insights into consumer behavior and buying patterns, providing you with useful tracking information that allows you to tailor your sales and marketing to customer preferences.

In a Think With Google article, Peter Lewis, a product manager at Google, writes about the benefits of beacon technology: “For consumers, this means a frictionless shopping experience, with fewer gaps between channels. For retail marketers, it means reaching the right person at the right time with the right message, with new and improved metrics to measure success. These beacon signals enhance how people connect to their surroundings by giving their phones a much better idea about where they are."

In addition, advances in  connected automotive technology means cars are becoming devices that can send and receive messages. For drive-in retailers, the ability to push relevant content, ads and promotions straight to the car's screens through proximity-based beacons will be another valuable marketing tool in their arsenal – and a potentially lucrative new area of business for auto makers who can partner with advertisers to show content in their cars.

As Dr Richard Viereckl, senior vice president and leader of IP engineered products & services at PWC's Strategy& told Mobile Marketing Magazine: “The connected car is more than a new package of automotive technology features. It's a disruptive technology that will upend traditional auto industry structures, usher in new business models, and change the nature of the business. The automobile is rapidly becoming a 'thing' in the Internet of Things."

At HERE, we have a number of location services and connected automotive solutions that retailers and auto makers can use to boost their sales revenues and take advantage of this new take on in-car entertainment.

HERE Geoenrichment

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