Behind the scenes at Famous Players
Behind the scenes at Famous Players

Sep 1, 2001 12:00 PM

Famous Players is Canada's top-grossing and fastest-growing theatrical exhibitor. The company operates 871 screens in 99 theaters throughout Canada, predominantly in metropolitan areas such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. These theaters include those operated in partnership with IMAX Corp. and Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc. Famous Players employs approximately 7,400 people nationwide and is internationally-recognized for its technology and innovation in theater design and guest services. Since 1997, the company has opened 45 state-of-the-art movie theaters as part of the largest expansion in its history.

At the beginning of Famous Players' state-of-the-art movie theater expansion, the loss prevention department, headed by director Rick Elliott, assessed the CCTV systems in use at the theaters and compared the systems to what was currently available in the marketplace. A model for techno-gadgetry itself, Famous Players wanted its CCTV technology to keep pace with its new-concept theaters.

During its research, Famous Players formulated six basic objectives for an ideal system:

  • a CCTV system that maintains or enhances guest and employee safety, and safeguards the assets of the company;

  • an effective loss prevention and management tool that operates with a minimum of maintenance and supervision. Rather than add more responsibility to management for the operation of this system, the goal was a system that would free up management, allowing them more time to operate their theaters and attend to the needs of guests;

  • a reliable and user-friendly system. The management teams are familiar with computers, and can quickly adapt to a computer-based head-end CCTV system;

  • an "open-end" system; a head-end that could be expanded, rather than one that had to be replaced as technology advanced;

  • a system that could be assessed remotely, concerning its status, operation and performance; and

  • a CCTV system priced competitively to the systems currently in use.

VIP, a digital video solution produced by Intivid Solutions, Ville St. Laurent, Quebec, a subsidiary of Frisco Bay Industries, best met the objectives of the Famous Players management team.

Frisco Bay/Intivid Solutions's video image processing (VIP) is a computer-based video surveillance recording and retrieval system that captures, digitizes and compresses high-resolution video images of transactions and events. The images can be stored on a computer hard disk, where they can be accessed either on-site or remotely via a point-and-click Windows interface. Retrieved images can be enhanced, printed, faxed or e-mailed.

VIP is a supervised system. Fully automated, the "Autowatch" preventive maintenance system polls all VIP systems and provides a report of any service issues (i.e., a loss of camera recording, power outage, hard drive utilization or other hardware-related issues). The system is also used to upgrade software, perform system changes or do remote diagnostics.

A 60-day trial and thorough review of client support services and quality of training processes convinced Elliott and his Famous Players team that the Intivid solution was right for their facilities. With a dedicated analog phone line and an uninterrupted power supply, the system is reliable and simple to monitor. Through live view, each camera can be checked remotely to determine if the shots are properly framed and focused. The system gives management an easy-to-use tool for enhancing the safety and security of a building. It is also more resistant to tampering than a videotape-based system, and the images do not deteriorate over time.

Frisco Bay has installed 30 systems at Famous Players theaters over the last 36 months. The length of the installation depended on the scope of the install. One of the facilities, the Colossus Toronto Theatre, included 58 cameras, four networked VIP servers and 10 miles of cables that took three weeks to install.

The system has detected, stopped and prevented employee fraud. Management observes or receives information about suspicious activities of an employee and confirms the behavior by reviewing the images on VIP. Without this proof, it is often one individual's word against another's.

The system has already been useful in detecting employee theft. At one theater, a manager, acting on a tip from a guest, observed an employee pocketing money from a sale. After further thefts were observed on the VIP system, an investigation was launched by loss prevention, and the employee was arrested. At another theater, an employee was suspected of stealing supplies. The manager reviewed the images on VIP for proof. While reviewing theater statistics, a manager noticed an unauthorized transaction, and by using VIP, the manager identified the individual. With the images from VIP the manager had enough evidence for dismissal. The VIP system also provides management tools. Using remote capabilities, managers are able to determine if unsupervised employees adhere to policies.

Since the Oklahoma City bombing, video surveillance records have become a common tool in police investigations. For example, the police used images from one of the Famous Players VIP locations to re-create a timeline leading up to a serious car accident.

"There are plans to increase storage, and to upgrade the software at all existing VIP locations," Elliott says of the theater network's plans for expansion. "We also plan to convert some other conventional CCTV systems to VIP."

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