Category Archives: Alternative Content

China Embraces Event Cinema With ‘Turandot’ and 3D ‘Farewell My Concubine’ (CJ EXCLUSIVE)

NCPA Turandot

China’s two major opera houses are joining the ranks of distinguished institutions like the Met Opera and the Royal Opera House with the first recordings and screenings of their operas.

Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) recording of Puccini’s Turandot opened this month’s Beijing International Film Festival (BJIFF), while the Shanghai Jingju Company will screen the 3D opera adaptation of Farewell My Concubine at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles later this year.

The decisive push shows that China is as ambitious in the field of event cinema as it is in conventional films for cinema, despite the lack of tradition of screening ‘alternative content’ in cinemas.

Yesterday the BJIFF hosts the screening of NCPA Opera House’s Turandot, which has been localised and given a Beijing-setting but sung in Italian. The event was captured in high definition in partnership with  Huaxia Film Distribution Co. and will also be shown at the upcoming 17th Shanghai Film Festival, which will have a special focus on opera movie screening.

Perhaps counterintuitively, the first screening of the event took place at the NCPA itself on Sunday 16 March, as part of the 2014 Opera Festival, where a special 6-meter-high and 16-meter-wide screen was erected on the stage for the HD projection, with the production crew, NCPA orchestra and choir members all present to see their work on the big screen.

Turandot cinema show

The BJIFF screening took place at the Xidan Joy City Capital cinema, which has 290 seats and recorded an attendance well over 70%. Much like western operas shown in cinemas, the audiences clapped and cheered ‘Bravo!’, despite the opera not even being shown live.

Interviewed afterwards by Xinhua news, the audience members were overwhelmingly positive to the new experience.

“The film version of the stage version of the opera and there are still differences.” Audience Li Wei said, “the stage version of the opera actor observed facial expressions, and the movie screen actor expression, subtle emotional changes have been enlarged, more have impact.” In his view, the film more fully meet the opera opera lovers’ visual enjoyment. When Princess Turandot tears appear on the screen, kneeling in prayer picture viewer Hu Fang Yankuangshirun. “I’ve seen the opera before,” Turandot “, but there is no sound in the cinema today feeling good, feeling listening to music today play exceptionally moving,” she said.

As in US and UK, the price is a major factor for the popularity, with tickets for regular screenings in cinemas across China starting from today, costing just 30-50 yuan (USD $4.80-8.00).

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Fathom Events New CEO John Rubey Provides Both Experience and Leadership

John Rubey

John Rubey, CEO of Fathom Events

When National CineMedia (NCM) spun off its alternative content division, NCM Fathom Events, into a completely separate business entity at the end of 2013, it did not identify a chief executive officer for the newly formed company. Kurt Hall, the chairman and CEO of NCM, stayed with the cinema advertising network, and Fathom went off to find a suitable senior executive to fill its open leadership position. Their search came to an end earlier this month when it was announced John Rubey would become the stand-alone Fathom Events first CEO.

If Rubey’s name sounds vaguely familiar there’s a good reason why. Rubey comes to Fathom after spending the last 14 years as the President of AEG Network Live, the concert promoter’s in-house multimedia production company. While with AEG he helped produce some of the earliest noteworthy events in the nascent alternative content industry by beaming concerts into cinemas from the likes of Bon Jovi, Dave Matthews Band, Garth Brooks and Phish.

This is a great hire for Fathom as Rubey brings a lot to the table. He’s got more than two decades of experience working in one form or another on content and marketing for big-ticket entertainment events. Before signing on with AEG, Rubey founded and owned Spring Communications which specialized in pay-per-view events. He has a working knowledge and practical experience in multiple forms of media production, entertainment marketing, alternative content and working with exhibitors. His relationships and ties to key players in the concert and entertainment industries run deep.

The whole purpose of AEG Networks Live is to “eventize” a concert, a tour, an arena or sports, generating marketing opportunities and actual revenue. These goals are identical or complimentary to most alternative content releases. To help him achieve these objectives during his tenure at AEG, Rubey worked with content aggregators and distributors such as Hulu, MySpace, Vevo and YouTube. Thus, he’s no stranger to digital content distribution and its many intricacies.

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Royal Opera House’s Cinema Audience to Overtake Covent Garden’s

Royal Opera House

UK’s Royal Opera House (ROH) has announced its programme for the 2014/15 Season and with it the astonishing revelation that it expects its cinema audience numbers to overtake those watching it in person at its Covent Garden home this season.

Despite ROH selling out 96% of all tickets to its Covent Garden performances, the Live Cinema Season is thus expected to outperform that 607,000 who attend Covent Garden annually.

The news comes at a critical time for ROH as the venerable institution changes head, with Alex Beard replacing Sir Tony Hall, who accepted the post of Director General of the BBC.  Government funding now consists of less than a quarter of ROH’s £110m budget and event cinema is one of the institution’s new “imaginative ways” to increase revenue.

Quoted in the Financial Times:

Mr Beard said Covent Garden’s open-house policies had dispelled the notion that it was the preserve of a socially exclusive audience. “I don’t subscribe to democratising art but I do believe in democratising access, by opening up the institution to transformative experiences.

“We have increased the number of ways that people can experience what we do, and they represent great value.”

This message was reiterated in The Telegraph:

“This is our broadest and strongest cinema programme yet. For the first time, cinema attendances will outstrip attendances at Covent Garden,” said Alex Beard, the ROH chief executive.

“The majority of our cinema-goers have been to a live performance, but a significant minority are new to the form. It is an amazing way to reach an audience beyond the Opera House.”

While the Live Cinema Season revenue is split with the exhibitors and incurs the cost of production, it will still make a significant contribution. With the price at Cineworld for ROH tickets spanning GBP £10-£18 a median price of £15 multiplied by 600,000 attendees gives GBP £9 million. At a conservative estimate, event cinema thus contributes around 5% to ROH coffers, i.e. small but significant.

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How the British Museum’s ‘Vikings Live’ Is Set To Storm Event Cinema – An Interview With More2Screen

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Den of Geeks recently posted an article titled ‘Why is cinema so obsessed with Vikings?‘ It listed everything from Kirk Douglas eponymous 1958 widescreen epic, to the recent Marvel/Disney films featuring Thor. But while mentioning upcoming titles The Berserkers and Vikingdom, it overlooked perhaps the greatest viking spectacle coming to cinemas this year: Vikings Live from the British Museum.

The event will be distributed internationally by More2Screen, with whose Managing Director Christine Costello we have secured an exclusive interview to provide unique insights into how the event is being positioned and promoted.

From the Ashes of Pompeii

Vikings Live comes less than a year after the success of the British Museum’s first event cinema outing, Pompeii Live in the summer of 2013, which took GBP £471,000 from 281 venues across the UK where it was seen by 53,885 cinema-goers and came 10th in the weekly film chart, despite being shown just once. Vikings Live looks set to cement museums and exhibition as a viable and profitable sector of event cinema that could see the floodgates open from other museums around the world. As quoted in the BBC:

British Museum director Neil MacGregor said the Vikings event would build on that success, going to 380 UK cinemas and some 50 countries around the world. “We’re going to reach an even larger public,” he said, adding the “worldwide opportunity to see what goes on here through cinema is very important”. He said the guided tour, which will feature television historians Michael Wood and Bettany Hughes, would allow viewers to get “very, very close to the objects” on display, “possibly closer than you can in the exhibition itself”.

The exhibition has had terrific reviews and seen a strong demand for tickets, not least due to the extraordinary Roskilde 6 ship.

YouTube Preview Image Based on the description by the British Museum, this will thus be far more than just a walk-through of the exhibition:

This special event offers an exclusive private view of the BP exhibition Vikings: life and legend in the company of world experts, presented live in your local cinema. A replica sailing ship will be installed in front of the Museum during the live broadcast, which will culminate in a dramatic Viking burial as night falls. With stunning close-up photography of the Viking swords and axes, coins and jewellery, hoards, amulets in the exhibition and a live, torch-lit burial in the grounds of the Museum, the broadcast of Vikings Live will be a reminder of how the Vikings have shaped our modern lives.

Note that the event is rated 12A, which seem the default rating for this type of events, but it means it could potentially feature things that could be frightening to small children. However, there will be a special event for them too, with a pre-recorded show aimed specifically at children to be shown on 5 June.

Called Viking Adventures it will be fronted by children’s channel CBBC’s presenter Ed Petrie, showing that there is joined-up thinking behind the Vikings Live event to cater to the widest possible audience. (Last year there was also a ‘Pompeii Live for Schools’, seen by 13,600 school children, which presumably featured fewer of the phallus status and amulets that were popular with the Romans and featured generously in the exhibition). Read More »

We Need To Talk About Event Cinema Piracy

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It is a measure of the success of event cinema that it is fast becoming a victim of internet piracy, a trend that is only like to get worse, for one very simple reason. With the NT Live screenings proving particularly popular for pirates, it is a challenge that the industry will have to deal with soon, though there are only two ways of doing this, neither of which the rights holders and distributors seem keen to embrace. (While we are aware that by highlighting this trend more people might find a way to access illegal copies online, we feel that a debate is required about how to best tackle this issue.)

The problem of event cinema piracy began with in earnest with the popular 2011 transmission of the Danny Boyle directed Frankenstein, with Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternating in the lead role. The play was one of the early blockbusters of the National Theatre Live (NT Live), with even the encore screenings sold out.

Fans who were unable to get tickets or lived in territories where it was not screened soon found a way to watch the play as somebody had recorded it with a video camera in a cinema, the same way that most films get pirated. Judging by the comments on PirateBay, the quality is not great, but that is drowned out in the comments section by observations such as this one:

MarinaMurr at 2012-11-02 22:20 CET:
THANK you VERY much!!! As the previous author has said, I also created this account just to say THANK YOU!!! I even cannot express how grateful i am! So just thank you once again :-)

Screenshot 2014-02-13 16.23.38

NT was swift to take notice and issued a sternly worded posting in its NT Live blog, headlined, “OFFICIAL Statement re: Frankenstein DVD/Bootleg Recordings” where it wrote that:

“We do not in any way condone the piracy of recording, both because it is an illegal activity and because it is against the wishes of the artists whose work we represent. I would let you know that if you choose to record, distribute or download the screening of Frankenstein, you are breaking the law and risk legal action.”

Signed by David Sabel, Head of Digital Media Producer, NT Live, National Theatre.

However, a badly camcorded version of Frankenstein was no indication of what was to come. Today you can download in full high definition glory the NT Live transmissions of The Audience, Macbeth and Coriolanus, exactly as they were projected onto the screens of cinemas around the world. Searching for ‘NTLive’ on Piratebay yields a full 1080p version of Coriolanus that clocks in at over 21Gb, as well as a more manageable 720p version that is only 3.85Gb, with over 100 seeders. The Audience and Macbeth are also available in 1080p version, both just over 7Gb in size and both well seeded.

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Event Cinema (and its Association) Comes of Age – an Interview with Melissa Keeping

Melissa Keeping

Event cinema came of age in 2013. It is difficult to pin-point one particular big screen event as the defining turning point, though not for lack of spectacular choice: there was Dame Helen Mirren’s blockbuster turn as the Queen in The Audience, as part of the NT Live season, in June; the same month that also saw the groundbreaking Pompeii Live from the British Museum; the Royal Shakespeare Company’s record-breaking Richard II in the autumn, followed by the unprecedented 3D screening of Dr Who: the Day of the Doctor in more than 1,500 cinemas across the world; or the on-going success of the Met Opera and other premium culture events beamed onto thousands of cinema screens globally.

Perhaps the defining moment was an actual event in a single cinema, not transmitted, but bringing together the people and companies that helped to create this very industry. The 15th of October saw the first ever ECA Networking Event for the event cinema industry at the Cineworld O2 multiplex in London. Having only been set up in 2012, this was the ‘coming out’ party for the trade association that had helped to bring together the various companies in this sector and give them a unifying voice.

 Chief amongst its achievements, the Event Cinema Association (ECA), has won the taxonomical battle of shedding the term ‘alternative content’ (as well as the less used ODS – ‘other digital stuff’) and provided the umbrella term for non-film content for the big screen: event cinema. I caught up with the ECA’s Chair, Melissa Keeping, at the BAFTA’s 195 Piccadilly venue in the last week of January to discuss the achievements, challenges and outlook for the event cinema industry and its trade body.

A Young Organisation but Growing Fast

Shaking off the cold rain that has been lashing London all winter, there was no mistaking the passion and energy that drives Melissa, a veteran of theatrical distribution and ops at Disney and Paramount, for whom clearly this is not just a job but a mission. “It’s not often you see a brand new industry pop up from nowhere,” she observed, but perhaps to manage expectations also emphasized that “we are a start-up, like any other company – but non-profit.”

Yet even judged by the yard-stick of accelerated pace that for-profit Internet start-ups mushrooming in the East End of London grow, the ECA has come a long way in a relatively short time. The body has established a Charter with eight board members drawn from both exhibition and distribution across Europe and active in 15 territories, but interest from even further afield outside of Europe. ECA’s stated objective is “to represent and further activities of those involved in the sector” of event cinema.

YouTube Preview Image

Its first stated goal, that of “rebranding and promoting Alternative Content to the general public as ‘Event Cinema’, has clearly been achieved. The term has readily been embraced by cinemas themselves, with none other than the captain of the exhibition industry in UK and Europe, Vue Cinemas’ CEO Tim Richard, giving a long video interview to The Economist (see above) in January 2014 where he discusses the importance of the re-branding and the growing role that event cinema plays for the bottom line of cinema operators.

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Man Booker Prize Makes Its Big Screen Debut

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The Man Booker Prize for Fiction and Picturehouse Entertainment are teaming up on what seems to be a novel idea (pun intended). Literally (additional pun intended). Picturehouse will broadcast readings from authors that made the shortlist for this year’s prestigious literary award. The Prize Readings will be beamed live to cinemas throughout the United Kingdom on October 15th at 7:30 pm from Royal Festival Hall in London.

Since 1969 the Man Booker Prize has been awarded annually to the best English language fiction novel written by a citizen of the British Commonwealth, Ireland or Zimbabwe. This year’s list of nominees has been paired down to the following six authors:

  • Tan Twan Eng – The Garden of Evening MistsDeborah Levy – Swimming Home
  • Hilary Mantel – Bring up the Bodies
  • Alison Moore – The Lighthouse
  • Will Self – Umbrella
  • Jeet Thayil – Narcopolis

During Man Booker Live, as the alternative content event has been dubbed, each of the authors will be reading from and discussing their work. James Naughtie from the UK’s Radio 4 will host the proceedings which are taking place just one night before the winner of the GBP £50,000 prize is announced.

Information about theatres showing Man Booker Live can be found on the Picturehouse website.

Arts Alliance Rethinks Its Alternative Content Strategy

Arts Alliance MediaHow hard is it to find success with alternative content? The answer is; very. So many variables have to fall perfectly in place to find success, much less profit. No matter whether it’s sports, concerts or cultural events, there are rights clearances to obtain, theaters to secure and screenings to promote. None of this is easy, though there are a number of companies that have managed to make a name for themselves in alt. content by routinely producing high profile events including, Arts Alliance Media (AAM), Cinedigm and Fathom Events.

So imagine my surprise when in late November I started to receive emails and phone calls informing me that AAM was getting out of the alt. content business. How could this possibly be? After all, I had just interviewed Elizabeth Draper, who heads up AAM’s alt. content efforts, for a story on marketing such events in Boxoffice Magazine.

Rather than contribute to the rumor mill by posting such news with third party confirmation, I figured it would be best to go straight to the source by getting in touch with Howard Kiedaisch, AAM’s CEO. His email response sums up rather nicely not only AAM’s approach to alt. content, but also the company as a whole:

“Over the last three years AAM have released over 60 alternative content titles. Some have been very successful for our content and exhibition partners but in many cases have left little net contribution for AAM. Meanwhile, AAM’s VPF rollout business continues to grow nicely while our software has become a tremendous success with our recent deals. In looking at what to do going forward on the AC side, we have been reviewing our business model including both the revenue opportunity and the overhead requirements. Through that review we found it necessary to reduce the permanent staffing of the AC department at this time.

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Four Broadway Musicals Find New Life In Cinemas

Direct From BroadwayAfter first being announced at CineEurope in Amsterdam last June, more details are emerging about the Direct From Broadway, an alternative content series aiming to bring musicals from The Great White Way to movie theaters around the world.

New York based Broadway Worldwide, whose production of the Broadway musical “Memphis” found success when it screened in U.S. and Canadian cinemas this past spring, is teaming up with Supervision Media out of the United Kingdom to bring at least four hit musicals to theaters. Along with “Memphis”, the series will feature “Jekyll& Hyde: The Musical” starring David Hasselhoff, “Putting It Together” with Carol Burnett performing Stephen Sondheim tunes and “Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller”.

From what I can tell from the press release, Broadway Worldwide is the production company behind each of the HD titles and SuperVision Media will be acting as the distributor. SuperVision Media is no stranger to theatrical alternative content. They recently screened Wimbledon in 3D and is in the process of rolling out Michael Flatley’s “Lord of the Dance 3D”.

NCM Fathom distributed “Memphis” in North America back in April and now SuperVision Media will bring the musical to cinemas throughout the rest of the world, starting with the U.K. and Ireland on November 24th. The title will move on to South Africa, Hong Kong and other European countries before the year is out, and then travel to Latin America, Australia and New Zealand in March of 2012.

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Apollo Gets More From Sony and Vista

Apollo Cinemas More Campaign

Over the past week Apollo Cinemas has decided that more is… well, more. The United Kingdom’s sixth largest exhibition chain is partnering with Sony Digital Cinema to bring more 3D alternative content to its customers and they have selected Vista Cinema Software to increase their overall operational effectiveness.

Apollo launched the More campaign to offer content from partners such as The Royal Opera House, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the English National Opera. Performances will be offered in what is being described as “super high definition live 3D” using Sony’s 4K projectors. The circuit is also planning to show sporting events such as rugby, football and tennis, as well as concerts and music festivals.

Apollo has held their first live 3D event earlier this month when pop star Avril Lavigne debuted her new album at the chain’s cinema in London’s Piccadilly Circus. Lavigne was on-hand for a question and answer session after the video screening. In March, Apollo will be showing a 3D film version of the opera “Carmen”. The George Bizet opera was filmed during performances at the Royal Opera House.

The deal seems somewhat inevitable since Apollo signed up with Sony as their digital cinema deployment entity in 2009. The theatre chain’s press release didn’t specifically detail how Sony was enabling them to bring 3D alternative content into their theatres beyond providing the equipment that makes it all possible. In fact, Nicole Oakley, Marketing Manager at Apollo Cinemas said just that:

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