People expect a larger-than-life view when they sit down to see a movie on the six-storey screen at IMAX Theatre Niagara Falls, but until recently, the attraction’s online presence fell short of describing the experience.


620-seat theatre, which already competes with many museums and the Falls themselves for tourists’ attention, has begun recognizing the value of the Internet as a means of promoting itself. That why theatre director Chris Thompson, when he joined the firm a year ago, made sure one of his first acts was to take its old site offline.

“”We did have a Web presence beforehand. It was sort of a . . . well, it was really gross, to be completely honest,”” he said. “”With the theatre, we had closed it for three months, sunk $3 million in renovations. We wanted to put a new face on it. A slick, new fresh look with all aspects, including the Web site.””

The company turned to Toronto-based e-business solutions company Kinberlin Associated Inc. to develop its new portal, which went a few months ago. Reuben Barkin, Kinberlin’s CEO, said IMAX is a good example of a company that needs to differentiate itself, given that its theatres are typically put in the midst of famous locales like the Grand Canyon and that chains like Famous Players are offering IMAX screens inside their own theatres.

“”They put up a really, really shabby one, one that wasn’t worthy of the IMAX Niagara name,”” he said of the old site. “”What they’ve noticed over the years is attendance is slowly dropping. Tourism is up in Niagara, but more competition — there’s more attractions.””

Kinberlin provides outsourcing to companies like IMAX at a time when Barkin admits many others have lost faith in Web development firms. “”A lot this stuff resolves around source code, proprietary information that the developers hold,”” he said. “”All of a sudden these people disappear or companies go bust and now customer are left stranded, either without their Web sites, unable to update stuff, information went missing.””

Kinberlin provides customers with “”editors”” that allow them to update the site in their office without any programming experience and in a sense “”insource”” the site on their own.

“”The frustrating part about this industry is that it’s very blind — it’s almost like someone going to a mechanic, getting their car serviced and having no clue about the price of servicing the car,”” he said. “”Especially in the larger corporations, there are still a lot of older CEOs or managers which are not computer-savvy. This is like Chinese to them.””

The new IMAX Niagara site offers users information on group planning, long-term schedules and purchasing tickets, though this is done by e-mailing back a form. Thompson said the company is assessing the volume of online demand but will probably move to a full e-commerce tool in the future.

“”We’re such a visual medium — it had to be graphically interesting, it had to be bold,”” he said. “”We like to lock in people’s visit to our theatre when they’re coming to the destination, and that’s the ideal way to do that. When they come to the destination and they think of you as an afterthought, you might miss them. I think the ability to purchase tickets online takes care of that.””

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