Coming soon to a theater near you: VR pods and Minecraft?

Cinema chain Cinemark sees virtual reality and gaming as big opportunities to pack its theaters with alternatives to movies.

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Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
2 min read

Beware if you tend to veer into dystopian paranoia: Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi offered a glimpse of moviegoing's future Wednesday, and it includes windowless rooms where our children have replaced Little League baseball with Minecraft tourneys.

The executive said Wednesday that Cinemark anticipates virtual reality and gaming as opportunities for "significant alternative content" to the traditional feature-length films in its theater chain, which is the third biggest in the US by number of screens.

The comment is a sign of the shifting tastes of consumers. Once upon a time, a simple run of movies was enough to satisfy audiences. Now tastes have gotten more sophisticated as consumers seek more-immersive forms of entertainment.

Zoradi touted the opportunity for hosting video-gaming events both for players and spectators. Commonly known as e-sports, video gaming as spectator entertainment has been growing in mainstream popularity, with researcher Superdata estimating its worldwide audience will widen to 275 million people this year.

Plano, Texas-based Cinemark is already hosting Super League Gaming competitions, which Zoradi likened to video game Little League. "Your kids are in a league...and they're playing literally in our seats on their laptops against another team in another city," he said.

Zoradi also said the company is looking into all aspects of bringing virtual reality into theaters. That could be "pods" for individual viewers to watch 15-minute VR shorts in theater lobbies, or it could mean group VR experiences inside some of its small cinemas, he said, speaking at the Goldman Sachs investor conference in New York.

Cinemark is the latest to talk up virtual reality, an entertainment format that makes viewers feel like they're in the middle of the action. It's among the buzziest consumer technologies this year, as big investments in VR hardware by tech giants like Facebook and Samsung start to deliver those products to consumers more widely.

Cinemark's bigger rival AMC has begun bringing virtual-reality demos into its theaters. In the last year, it's offered some moviegoers the opportunity to check out VR experiences related to the "Paranormal Activity" franchise and "The Jungle Book."

Last year, Zoradi said VR wasn't likely to be a "big strategic initiative" for the company in the near future.