Got headphones? Any space can become a multiplex with the Muvix app

Just as Netflix changed the way people view content at home, Israeli startup hopes to reinvent the movie-watching experience in public

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Moviegoers wearing earphones at a Muvix event in Tel Aviv. (Shahaf Haber)
Moviegoers wearing earphones at a Muvix event in Tel Aviv. (Shahaf Haber)

At an old building in South Tel Aviv’s Hatachana complex, the city’s old railway station, sandwiches and snacks were laid out for guests. In a large open space on the first floor, beyond the bar at the entrance, there were partitioned-off spaces, each containing a large TV screen and various kinds of seating arrangements — some set up as cozy living rooms, others more like mini-viewing rooms.

“Welcome to our living lab,” Muvix CEO Nithai Barzam said with a flourish, greeting visitors to his firm’s concept site, which the company boasts is the first in the world to provide movies on demand in a public space.

The company’s motto is “any movie, anytime, any language, anywhere.”

In the Tel Aviv space, viewers were able to watch their choice of content in their choice of language, while being served food and drinks — without disturbing viewers in adjacent spaces.

Each movie watcher was using the Muvix app to hear a high-definition version of the soundtrack through headphones in perfect synchronization with the video displayed on the large screen. Through the app, they can also book tickets, invite friends to join, and order food and drink during the show.

Spare smartphones and headphones are available on site for those who need them.

The entrance of a Muvix on-demand movie concept, in Tel Aviv. (Shahaf Haber)

The global cinema industry is a $40 billion business, but unlike television, the viewing experience has been unchanged for the last 100 years, Barzam said. “Once on TV you just had a few channels, but now companies like Netflix, Google and Amazon are all offering on-demand TV services.”

Just like Netflix changed the way people view content at home, Muvix intends to change the way people consume content when they’re out, explained Barzam. Muvix wants to do for cinema what on-demand TV did for the small screen — provide a greater selection of content — and do so in a greater variety of settings — on rooftops, in public parks, at the beach, in a bar, in a hospital or lobby. In short, to wed the concept of on-demand to the experience of going out to the cinema.

With Muvix, any setting can become a multiplex, with different content projected on multiple screens without the noise of one screening disturbing the other. Once you download the Muvix app, all you need to do is pick the movie and don your headphones.

A Muvix screening at the Hatachana complex in Tel Aviv in summer 2017. (Shahaf Haber)

The multiple screens can show different movies at the same time, but no one is disturbed by the other screenings, because the audio is only heard via the earphones. Moreover, people could be watching the same movie in different languages at the same time.

Watching in this way, said Barzam, doesn’t kill the social experience. “You still have fun with friends, but you also focus on the movie,” he said. “The audio cocoons you” so your movie experience is more encompassing, without, for example, hearing your neighbor eating popcorn. Even so, he said, the company is now working on an app that will allow users to communicate with each other while watching the movie without disturbing the people around them.

The key to Muvix’s patented technology lies in two separate cloud-based sources for the content: one for the video and one for the audio. The trick is ensuring perfect synchronization, Barzam said. “If there is more than a 20-millisecond delay, it spoils the experience,” he said. “It took us two years to solve this issue.”

For each screening the company provides a set-top box. Besides that, what’s needed is internet access, a projector or a large-screen TV, and a seating space.

To give the public a taste of the Muvix experience, the company set up its Muvix Concept site in Tel Aviv, using it as a prototype for the Smart Urban Cineplexes the company hopes will one day be available globally through its technology.

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in the seventh season of ‘Game of Thrones’ (Macall B. Polay/HBO)

Muvix held a screening of the Season 7 finale of “Game of Thrones” at its facilities in Tel Aviv. The episode was available on TV at 4 a.m. when it was screened in the US. “But still many opted to come here at 6 p.m. the next day to watch it in the company of friends, with sandwiches and salads and wine. It just proved even more that people like to dress up and go and watch content outside,” Barzam said.

Hundreds of viewers responded to the Facebook announcement about the screening, and the firm ran multiple screening cycles of the same episode that day.

There are two types of models Muvix envisages: hosting movies on its own premises at NIS 20 per ticket, including a drink — a model that could be replicated anywhere. The other model is working with businesses and municipalities to let them hold multiple screening events for employees, clients or residents on rooftops or open spaces.

The company provides both the technology and the content, and has entered into licensing agreements with movie distributors.

“Israel is a test bed for us,” Barzam said. “The plan is to use our technology to enable tens of thousands of public places, mall owners, restaurants to offer these services. The end game is for us to become a tech company providing a tech service that allows others to provide the experience. ”

One of the screening niche’s in Muvix’s concept venue in Tel Aviv (Shahaf Haber)

The firm was founded by Alon Cohen, the former CEO and chairman of CyberArk, Israel’s second-largest publicly held cybersecurity firm, who left after the firm’s Nasdaq IPO.

Cohen never had time to go out to the  movies and instead watched them on demand at home, said Barzam, but he missed the social experience. Hence the idea for Muvix.

The firm has some 10,000 paying users using the technology and has raised some $6 million to date from angel investors. “We are looking at strategic investors down the line to go global,” Barzam said.

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