Is alternative content working?

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Alternative content has been around for years, but with the magic of digital it is about to become a regular attraction in your neighborhood theatre. As one prominent exhibitor notes, “It’s all about utilization,” and that’s the beauty of this programming—it’s an opportunity to sell out your theatre during off-peak hours. Imagine that…the chance to make money during a weekday when a film in your theatre is entering its third week.

There are still big questions that need to be answered about alternative content. Is it making money? What is the core audience? And how do you market the content?

FJI assistant editor Sarah Sluis looks into all these questions concerning alternative content in a detailed report in this issue. She interviews some of the top executives in the industry and gives them the opportunity to speak out on this topic.

Paul Glantz, CEO of Ohio circuit Emagine Entertainment, observes, “Alternative content is still in the proof-of-concept stage and the profits are considered negligible.” James Dobbin of U.K. circuit Vue Entertainment notes, “Each event requires an enormous amount of effort and the financial return is relatively low.” That said, alternative programming provides ancillary income that would not be there otherwise.

Does the audience seeking this content consist of regular moviegoers or those who usually look for entertainment elsewhere? Conventional wisdom would indicate that alternative content is a way to bring in new customers. But it has been proven that these programs also appeal to those who regularly attend the movies. Bob Goodrich of Goodrich Quality Theaters wants to “super-serve our core audience—that’s where alternative content could really work.” People who love coming to the movie house will come just as readily on a weekday as a weekend if they have something different to see.

As for marketing, “We’re not utilizing mainstream media, television, radio and newspaper,” reveals Kurt Hall of National CineMedia. “Those mediums are just too expensive… We rely on in-theatre marketing to support the event as well as Internet marketing.”

The longstanding opinion of the studios that they would never allow alternative content to usurp a movie of theirs is changing because they are also content providers and, with their distribution system in place, they are capable of exploiting this trend. One major studio has recently established such a division within the company to produce alternative content and take advantage of their relationships with exhibitors to have it played.

It’s inevitable that movie houses will come to be known as entertainment centers, and as distribution becomes more readily available, more content providers with a variety of offerings will be arriving on the scene. The possibilities are very exciting.

End of an Era
During my tenure as publisher of Film Journal International, I have witnessed the departures of Mort, Jerry and Jimmy Sunshine from this trade magazine and their retirement from this great industry of ours. Never did I anticipate seeing another family member leave these ranks before me.

All the transition scenarios that I imagined for the past five years outlined an exit strategy that saw me fade away into the sunset, sooner than later. But as Al Pacino said in The Godfather Part III, “Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in!”

Of course, I’m referring to the departure of Mitch Neuhauser from the Nielsen Film Group to become show director for the new and upcoming NATO convention in Las Vegas in 2011. Mitch and I have enjoyed nearly 29 years of working together. So walking into the office on September 14 and not having him there to greet me is going to be a new experience. Managing ShowEast and our next three shows without him is going to feel a bit odd. Not having my associate and friend to pamper me and attend to the smallest of details will definitely feel different and probably create a great deal of stress during the operation of the shows.

In 1980, when Mitch came to work for me, he was a novice and wet behind the ears. He was unsure of himself, but quite enthusiastic. I became the teacher and Mitch the student. The student learned quickly and before long was handling all the operational aspects of the conventions with a great deal of skill and professionalism. Today, the student is the teacher and he’s been re-educating me about all the tricks of running a show.

It certainly won’t be the same around the office without Mitch playing a prank on someone or greeting me at 6:30 a.m. We know that the National Association of Theatre Owners has made a very astute and intelligent decision in hiring him to run their show in 2011. He will be a tremendous asset to NATO, and his knowledge of managing conventions bodes well for the industry as a whole.

We are extremely happy for Mitch, wish him well in his position, and will miss him.