A24 had a queue of highly anticipated feature films slated for release in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic brought all theatrical releases to an abrupt halt. With social distancing being a necessary reality for months on end, A24 reached out to Type/Code to explore how we could reimagine their theatrical release experience in a digital context, and launch a virtual screening platform as quickly as possible. With independent movie theaters also hit hard by the pandemic, this platform offered an opportunity to let theaters become screening partners, engage their audiences directly, and be directly supported by ticket sales.
Through multiple rounds of rapid design iterations, we focused on the key aspects of the film screening experience that would need to be executed perfectly, while laying a foundation that could be built upon with new screenings in the future. The design system needed to embody A24’s brand voice while creating an experience that was specific to each film being screened, and offer private co-branded screenings for partners.
We opted for a “semi-synchronous” experience: maintaining the universally understood notion of purchasing tickets for specific showtimes, including bonus Q&A content with the cast and filmmakers following each screening. This allowed A24 to build up some buzz around the event before tickets went on sale, and preserve a bit of the intangible magic of a large group sharing an experience — while still providing flexibility in each screening’s viewing window for an easier audience experience.
The audience experience was finessed to be as simple as possible — from purchasing a ticket through watching the film on any device — which required a lot of sophisticated technology under the hood. With over fifty thousand people buying tickets and watching the film, we need to build a platform that could scale to support traffic surges while seamlessly maintaining 4k video playback quality.
Powerful platform tools were developed to allow A24’s team to manage screenings, ticket sales, affiliate sales tracking, and customer management. Anticipating evolving requirements as the platform would inevitably grow with future screenings, we architected a seperate application to manage customer accounts and transactions, establishing a single-sign-on authentication system that could be used across multiple A24 digital experiences, and serve as a centralized repository for customer data.
As the first public release of a highly anticipated film, mitigating leaks and piracy was a key requirement. This involved integrating cross-platform DRM, user-specific overlay watermarking, and invisible forensic watermarking to identify specific culprits should the film leak — technology typically only used for internal industry screeners, but now leveraged for a much larger public audience.
Complex video encryption and DRM, coupled with supporting high-resolution video across a wide array of devices, browsers, and casting options meant lots of compatibility variables to solve for. Through a series of large user tests, we refined UX design details, established and optimized live customer support processes, and designed easy to understand compatibility and trouble-shooting resources to scale a seamless customer experience across thousands of potential device and browser variables.
Working closely with A24’s marketing team, we helped orchestrate multiple weeks worth of sold-out nightly screenings, culminating in dozens of screening sessions for over fifty thousand viewers. Through a focused user experience design with high attention to detail, the screening events unfolded flawlessly — opening up an entirely new channel of business that A24 can now scale, and supporting independent movie theaters throughout the country.