Vista's the Reel Deal
Sunday Star Times
13 March 2011
It started out as a piece of custom development for the old Kerridge Odeon theatre chain, but 20 years later, fortune appears to have conspired to grant New Zealand global software success in the niche business of developing cinema management software.
Vista Entertainment traces its history back to a company called Madison Systems, an IBM dealer in the early 1990s. After developing software for theatre chain Kerridge Odeon, some of that company's staff moved over to Village Cinemas, and found it needed some software help too. They remembered Madison, now acquired by Infinity Solutions, and asked it to do the work.
Then Infinity, itself acquired by Fujitsu in 2007, decided cinema software was not core to its business. Six of its staff bought the software and set up Vista Entertainment in 2001.
It turned out to be a very good move. Auckland-based Vista now claims around 17% market share among global cinema chains with more than 20 theatres. Sales are now around $25 million a year, said chief executive Murray Holdaway.
In Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Vista's market share exceeds 90%, but there remains massive room for global growth.
The company has only a 2% share in the US, for instance, which accounts for 40% of box office spending worldwide. Vista does have a high-profile foothold there in the tiny but influential ArcLight chain in Los Angeles. One of ArcLight's four cinemas is the ArcLight Hollywood, venue for many premieres. That profile helped it win another US chain recently, the 30-site Goodrich Theatres chain, from Michigan.
And then there's the developing world. Vista, with 80 staff and offices around the world, already has many customers in Latin America and is growing fast in China, India, Europe and elsewhere. A Japanese chain is now evaluating Vista's software and could become a beachhead into that market as well. "We don't even think of ourselves as exporters," said Holdaway. "We do what we do and our customers are in other countries."
In a niche market, he said, you quickly run out of customers at home. Holdaway said Vista was also founded at a fortuitous time. Most cinemas were running on PC software built on DOS, software that used command line controls rather than icons as on a modern Windows desktop.
Vista built its software in Windows, providing those cinemas with an upgrade path onto modern user-friendly technology. More luck followed, with an early customer being a chain in Argentina. That led Vista to build multi-language support and multi-currency support into the software very early, something that made sales into other territories easy.
And still more luck: New Zealand was one of the first countries to develop Gold-class cinemas, offering catering and drinks as well as cinema seats. Vista integrated the management of such catering into its software.
As high-class cinemas developed around the world, that gave the company another edge. Instead of running separate cinema and restaurant software (which didn't recognise seat numbers), chains could now buy one package that managed both.
In 2000, Vista became one of the first systems to allow ticket buyers to choose their seats online, Holdaway said. Applications for Facebook, the iPhone and Google mobile Android platform have either been developed or are on the way.
Vista also counts Apollo Cinemas, the UK's largest independent chain with 14 sites, as a recent win. The company's largest customer, Mexico's Cinepolis, is aggressively rolling out up to 20 new theatres a year across India, the US and Latin America.