This time last year it looked like on-ride video was about to take off as the next big thing in secondary spend. New companies limbered up to make their mark on the amusement industry with technology that captured not only riders’ faces, but their screams and full facial movements too. A year on, has the technology become the hit we were promised? Owen Ralph investigates.
Walk around any amusement park and you’ll see that photos are still the image format of choice for those wanting a souvenir of their ride. Even those venues that have installed DVD systems have only tried them on a handful of their rides and attractions. Tellingly, most of the established suppliers of ride photo systems chose not to offer video until recently, leaving it to a handful of newcomers, most of which have since failed.
Based in Minneapolis and with a development team from Israel, CDRide was arguably the most prolific supplier, equipping over 20 attractions in the USA and Europe. The company installed its first systems at a handful of parks in New Jersey back in 2005 and expanded into many more venues including Carowinds, Knott’s Berry Farm and Mall of America.
From 2007 onwards Alton Towers provided the test site for a product called YourDay at the Park. Launched by the consortium YourDay Technologies after considerable development and installation costs, the system tracked guests throughout the park using RFID (radio frequency identification) and presented highlights on a 20-minute DVD available as they left.
Research had shown that “50% of Alton Towers park guests would definitely or likely buy a DVD,” but this proved to be optimistic. YourDay Inc has since gone into liquidation and the system at Alton Towers was suspended at the start of this season.
It is also believed that CDRide has ceased trading, although Park World could not get hold of anybody from the company to confirm this, and other suppliers are having difficulties too.
“Some of the systems have proved not to be as robust as everyone expected,” notes one ride supplier who helped broker a deal for a DVD system last season in Europe.
It’s not just technical issues that have left some suppliers exposed, but also the fact they are single product companies. “Fortunately for us it’s not our only business,” highlights Michael Mack of Mack Rides, which recently developed its own DVD system combining a pulse-rate monitor. The prototype is now in use on the new Blue Fire Megacoaster at Europa-Park in Germany (Mack’s own park).
Europa-Park had already tested systems from CDRide and the German company Ridercam, on its Euro-Mir and Matterhorn Blitz rollercoasters respectively, but found that they struggled either to equip a complete train or film the whole ride. Mack’s system does both those things, and the manufacturer now hopes to make it available to other operators.
“As park owners, we have the in-house operations knowledge and are honest enough to tell people how many DVDs they can expect to sell and how reliable the technology is to use,” says Mack. “Above all else, the system has to be stable.”
One of those companies that held back at first was photo specialist Picsolve. “We wanted to get it right,” says UK regional business manager Simon Nicholson. “We watched to see what others did and then try to do something a bit different.”
After trials on Oblivion at Alton Towers, Picsolve finally went public with a system this spring on the new SAW coaster at Thorpe Park, one of Alton Towers’ sister venues near London. Nicolson says small improvements to the system will be made but the company now feels confident enough to make more installations for next season.
Last month the Dutch technology company Lagotronics replaced a Ridercam system at Port Aventura in Spain with its own Camride technology. Now in use on the wooden coaster Stampida, the system has been installed initially on two trains, with a further two due to go into use for peak season.
“We spent over a year developing the technology and wanted to get it right because some of the earlier systems were very poor quality,” says Lagotronics CEO Carlo Görtjes. “It is important to minimise the vibrations you associate with a rollercoaster to ensure a smooth picture. We also had to get the wireless system just right so that the pictures are transmitted back to the shop in time for the riders to see as soon as they leave the ride.”
A number of other companies are believed to be perfecting their own products, including a system for waterparks being developed by KPN and Van Egdom. But one question remains: Will ride videos ever outsell ride photos?
“My retail guys tell me they won’t,” says Michael Mack at Europa-Park. “We will have to wait and see. I do not think it will happen in the next couple of years.”
“DVDs will add to the customers’ experience of the ride, but stills photos capture that moment of intensity best,” notes Paul Bennett at Picsolve. “We must also bear in mind that not all rides would be fit for DVDs, so the simple answer would be no.”
Although DVDs sell for higher retail prices and offer greater profit margins than photos, several observers expect the real value of ride video to be in small clips available as downloads and mobile phone applications that guests can buy and then, with a bit of luck, circulate as viral marketing to their friends. Get ready for Video 2.0!