New concept teams technology with movie craze to produce virtual box office for the common area. It's 16 feet wide, 15 feet high and 5 feet thick, with two 8-by-4-foot screens showing movie trailers. It sits in the common area of a mall, attracts a lot of attention and draws the attention of shoppers, even keeping some of them glued to the small screens at its base.

Gary Leeds, CEO and founder of South Orange, N.J.-based Screenzone Media Networks, describes it as a multimedia center that provides a valuable service for shoppers.

Screenzone has been installed in the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, Calif. The two-sided object features large display screens back to back at the top of the unit and six smaller interactive screens at the base. "The idea is to have a lot of visibility," Leeds says. "It's not a kiosk, but a large, complex piece of freestanding equipment."

Screenzone features a national network of programming that includes music videos, information-related features, public service announcements, mall promotions and live-event promotions in addition to movie trailers. The PSAs and promotional pieces, most of which will brand the mall and Screenzone together, can be customized for individual mall sites while the underlying programming remains the same.

The system is selling well, Leeds reports. The first model went up Sept. 28, and at least three more systems are in the works: one in the New York/New Jersey area in November; one in California early next year; and another in the Detroit market next June.

Creating an experience Leeds and Mitchell Chiger, president and chief technology officer of Screenzone Media Networks, came up with the idea for the product and turned to James Mansour of Mansour Design in New York City to design it. Mansour spent 10 weeks working on the design for Screenzone and another six weeks fleshing out the construction and engineering.

"Gary was looking for a way to capture the excitement and the experience of seeing movie trailers in cinema," Mansour says. "It had to be visually attractive and capture the glamour and fun of cinemas from the 1930s and 1940s, when Hollywood glamour was at its peak."

To balance the desire for a nostalgic feel with the need for high-tech equipment, Mansour designed Screenzone to include elements reminiscent of old movie theaters. "People tend to think before they interact with something if it's too high-tech, and we don't want that," he says. "We want them to be immediately engaged."

A proprietary sound system produces digital-quality audio and projects it over a customized area that can extend more than 25 feet from the movie screens. "When you leave, it falls off so you don't bother the other tenants," Leeds says.

Most Screenzone deployments will have seating areas, allowing shoppers to sit in front of the larger screens and watch the programming. The company analyzes traffic flow patterns and sound dispersal before installation.

Interactive Features The six touch-screens at the base of the unit, complete with listening equipment for two people, allow individual users to access more detailed entertainment information. "It's a method of scrolling through the inventory," Leeds says. "There could be 80 to 100 movies. Each movie preview station is independently controlled by the user. It's not affecting the big screens or anyone else's screen."

In addition to movie trailers, the small screens offer:

* A virtual box office. Viewers can purchase tickets for theaters at the home mall via credit card. Screenzone is working on a prepaid entertainment card, which opens up a market for children to buy tickets.

* Access to movie websites on high-speed data lines. There's no surfing, but viewers can reach certain designated sites and download trailers and scenes or read more in-depth information about the shows and the stars.

* Showtimes from area theaters that can be printed out.

* Coupons for mall merchandise.

* Contests that offer instant prizes.

Screenzone sometimes asks questions when viewers take part in contests and promotions on the interactive screens. "The network provides data-capture demographics," Chiger says. "We always have a record of what's going on."

Bottom-line Impact Hal Bastian, retail leasing director for Macy's Plaza in Los Angeles, says the ability to buy tickets is Screenzone's most important feature. "I think it's a creative concept," he says. "It's an entertainment and an amusement. The issue is, will it create traffic and increase people coming to malls?"

Linda Smith Frost, marketing manager for Century City Shopping Center in Los Angeles, questions the value of a Screenzone system. "What they're trying to do is create a sale on the spot," she says. "I don't think this is in line with current consumer behavior vis-a-vis moviegoers. They call theaters, read the paper or a movie guide. A movie is a pre-destination idea."

But Leeds sees Screenzone as a moneymaker for malls. "Shoppers come back four or five times to use Screenzone," he says. "It becomes a destination at the mall."

Leeds says Screenzone is a revenue source in three ways: through cross-marketing with retailers of music, movie posters and other entertainment-related products; through increased theater attendance; and through branding if Screenzone becomes a point of definition between malls and pulls customers away from the competition.

Mansour says Screenzone could even work in an outdoor area. "We've done the concept for it to roll out in exterior locations," he says. "To see it in Times Square in the future would not be a surprise. Or in Las Vegas."

Screenzone Factoids * Screenzone has a T-1 connection to the World Wide Web, which allows the transfer of information 250 times faster than a 28.8K modem. "Downloading two-minute trailers can take hours," says Mitchell Chiger, the company's president and chief technology officer. "Imagine it downloading in 10 to 15 seconds."

* The larger images at the top of the unit are generated by a number of smaller rear-projection units that read as one seamless picture.

* The system polices itself. As material feeds into the remote Screenzone system, signals return to the central network to ensure that the programming works.

* Local service providers will visit each Screenzone site twice weekly to handle custodial duties like changing the paper, but programming changes and most other modifications to the system will be handled electronically by the central network.