Let's Put on a Show! Event cinema can liven up your theatre environment

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Cinemas Features

As the Event Cinema Association (ECA) turns five years old this month, the anniversary reminds us that while we have come a long way as an industry, there is still so much potential out there.

Over the past ten years, the exhibition industry’s response to the increasing availability of event cinema—aka alternative content, additional programming and my favorite, “Other Digital Stuff,” has been impressive. There are countless inspiring case studies of exhibitors taking absolute ownership of their premises, their own promotional workload and their databases, exploiting their community connections and reaping the benefits. We’ve seen theatre owners increasing their in-house offering to include all manner of finger food and beverages delivered to your seat, printed programs, opera-singing ushers, staff in dinner jackets, merchandise, bulk ordering of an entire season online, even opening their doors around the clock for international gaming events. Increasingly, and most valuably, we are seeing cinemas taking on event cinema managers, sections on websites devoted to upcoming event cinema releases, and glossy brochures showing a years’ worth of opera, ballet and theatre events laid out for the audience to plan ahead. Event cinema has opened the floodgates and is enabling exhibitors to become showmen, impresarios, curators of their own content…and audiences are loving it.

As a result, we have anecdotal evidence of box-office share for event cinema releases occupy as much as 26%, 48% and in one instance even an eye-watering 51% (Bio Rio, Stockholm, Sweden, October 2016). Worldwide averages are currently between the one and three-percent mark, however, although averages can be misleading and don’t always show the true picture—which is that some cinemas don’t screen event cinema content at all. Why is this?

It would seem a golden opportunity to maximize the technology the VPF financing enabled, and now that those agreements are coming to an end, there is some room to maneuver for exhibitors to program what they want around mainstream content. Cinema attendances haven’t been this healthy in years, so the time has never been better to market to those audiences and get them back into cinemas to see something in addition to conventional studio product, which can be screened when those screens are dark, away from the Thursday, Friday and Saturday-night peak times. And at a premium ticket price, with average occupancy rates far in excess of averages produced by studio content, the opportunity for exhibitors to make good money at this is right there, right now.

The ECA provides the members, infrastructure and the support for newcomers to make this new revenue stream work for them, and ten years in the steady stream of world-class content by the biggest brands in documentary, theatre, art, museums, ballet, opera and music means the element of risk is reduced. In partnership with IHS and comScore we are also producing a third edition of our event cinema industry report in addition to those published in 2013 and 2015, which launches in Barcelona this June at the same time as CineEurope. This newest report will demonstrate the growth of the market in the U.S. for the first time.

We are seeing an increasing amount of diverse content on screens now. Two that spring to mind immediately are the Lost in London Live event that took place in January this year, featuring a harassed Woody Harrelson chasing his tail around London in a feature-length movie filmed live in a single take, and broadcast live into cinemas in the U.S. and U.K. (Fathom Events). The other was David Bowie’s last live Ziggy Stardust & Spiders from Mars concert (CineEvents) in association with Bauer Media, who produced a limited edition copy of Mojo magazine especially for the ticket holders who were handed a copy on their way into theatres. Screening this sporadic, one-off content around the more regular, once-a-month live and recorded content like opera, theatre, ballet, etc. means you can build your audience slowly and effectively. Exploit your database, segment your audience and target your marketing accordingly—there are plenty of software solutions out there to enable this—and it’s likely that the same crowd who saw Mötley Crüe would probably be interested in a Kiss concert. You can maximize your efforts, minimize the risk and reach the people that matter. Dig out your concert t-shirt, add a little stage makeup and make your customers smile! The smallest efforts are really appreciated.

In these fractured times, putting on a show is more relevant, necessary and welcome than ever, and goes a long way to establishing your cinema as a community hub. Connecting with your customers, giving them some added value and a reason to give you those coveted five stars on Trip Advisor has to be a winner. Event cinema is about putting on a show in more ways than one.