Daily Cinema Digest – Tuesday 21 October 2014

The Space Italy

Last week’s big news was the announcement that UK/European exhibitor Vue had acquired Italian cinema chain The Space. Having previously expanded into Germany and Poland, this was a vote of confidence in the troubled south European market – though The Space is the cinema leader in an otherwise fragmented market, plus Italy had unless most other European territories an excellent cinema year in 2014.

European exhibitor Vue Entertainment International said Thursday it has agreed to acquire The Space Entertainment, a cinema chain in Italy with 36 multiplex theaters with 362 screens.

The deal is Vue’s fourth acquisition in the past three years and is supported via a follow-on investment from the firm’s Canadian owners Omers Private Equity and AIMCo. Over the past three years, Vue has more than doubled the number of cinemas and screens under its ownership from 70 to 187 cinemas and from 678 to 1,727 screens.  LINK

Wanda Cinema

China (PRC) – Wanda has re-filed its IPO documents for a listing in Shenzen. So much for the conspiracy theories that the first failure was a face saving strategy to list in Hong Kong or abroad.

Wanda Cinema Line, China’s biggest theaters chain, has re-filed its application for an IPO.

Its earlier attempt to float on the Shenzhen stock market in July was denied by regulators who said that its documentation was insufficient.

The company plans to issue 60 million shares and raise RMB2 billion ($326 million) of fresh capital.  LINK

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CJ@ECA Conference: Event Cinema Awards 2014

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It is time to hand out the Bronze, Silver and Gold awards for event cinema, which is for 100K, 250K and 500K admittance to any event cinema event. This is to help cast a light on the success of events in cinemas. The second category of awards is excellence awards, voted on by the members of the ECA. Sponsor is Rentrak.

The first Gold award goes to BBC WorldWide for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary – Day of the Doctor, for getting more than 500,000 admissions this year. No silver, but five Bronze awards: Arts Alliance for The Nutcracker. Nobody from Arts Alliance is here to collect the award, but nobody is here from AAM to collect it. which is a shame, because they also win the next two prizes. The last two bornzes go to Omniverse for Muse and More2Screen for Pompeii, both of which got more than 100,000 admissions.

Mark Allen, Picturehouse picks up first excellence award and the second goes to Graham Spurling for Movies@. Final exhibition award goes to Mark from National Amusements. He is also not here to collect. “It is a bit like the Indian films awards” our host quips.

The first Excellence in Programming Award goes to The British Museum for Pompeii Live. Then Omniverse gets one for Keane and the final one is for Nexo for the live Cannonization. Caspar from AAM appears and runs down and collects his stack of awards, slightly out of breath.

Phil Grabsky, Exhibition on Screen delivers the Closing Address.

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CJ@ECA Conference: Practicalities of Live Cinema Delivery

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The afternoon break out session No. 1 looked at technical issues, such as delivery of live events to cinemas. Fabrice Testa of DSat gave a presentatio earlier over lunch (which they sponsored) of the company and its network 1,300 cinemas, showing 50 events and 400 hours of content last year. Isabelle Fauchet is the moderator.

The session structure will include a tour of the OB truck parked outside the Genesis cinema, with a live video link into the theatre. “We want to show you the sharp end of digital cinema,” were the opening words from Arqiva’s Nigel Crow and the OB truck that could be used for small and medium sized events.

A Tour of the OB Truck

We got a walk-through of the equipment in the self-contained truck. Nigel talks the audience through the routing that the signal takes in reaching the cinema, having a choice of four different satlites (Thor 10-02, EUT 5WA, IS-905 and Galaxy 16), which can then pass on the signal via the Arqiva Winchester Teleport all the way via fibre to Hong Kong or Atlanta. It will be used for Manon from the Royal Opera House this evening. With that he signs off and prepared to come in and join Fabrice and Isabelle on the sofa.

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CJ@ECA Conference: New Business Models and New Technology

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Micheal Gubbins of Sampo Media chairs the afternoon panel looking at new business models and new technology for event cinema. He begins with an anecdote about pensioners in his neighbourhood that book up entire opera seasons, go to every performance and all of them dressing up in their best operatic gear. Even the 90-year old gent.

Starting on the far end of the Salim Mukaddam, BBC Worldwide, who works on the music side on thing like the Westlife concert, in addition to Doctor Who and other content. Tom Shaw of Digital Theatre who captured some of the content we saw before the panel started (including flashing Philips lights0. The Matthew Aspray from LANsat/MPS. Thgen award winner Mariusz Spisz of Multikino in Poland (who I  just saw at the SAWA event in Berlin last weeks). And finally the Philips rep – Ronald Maandonks.

Micheal starts off with question to BBC WW about what it is with technology that now makes event cinema possible. Salim begins by stressing BBV WW’s television strength, being the biggest non-Hollywood studio television exporter. “Back in 2009 event cinema was possible and we were looking at things like Met Opera about how we can replicate things for things like the Proms. We split the world with By Experience in US and another company for Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.” Aparently the experience with By Experience was good [but what about the other one?] and they continued doing Last Night of the Proms with them.

They then continued the trials with Robbie Williams’ comback concert and Westlife, both of which were record breaking event cinema events. “It’s really about cost of taking it to the market. Prior to 2009 we would never have done it for the cost of taking such a film to cinema,” Salim states. “It is the move to digital that did it for us.”  The point is made about technology becoming’ invisible’ and now it is about the business model and the experience. Salim confrms that “the key for us is live, so if we can go briefly live over satelite makes it a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience,” as well as “cost effective ways of going live across the globe or near-live” rather than going out on DCPs.

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CJ@ECA Conference: Farsight Blueprint of the Future – Discussion Session

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Christine Costello from More2screen introduces the session looking ahead by quoting Bill Gates about over/under estimating change in the short/long term, as well as getting it wrong (as Bill Gates and Microsfto did with the Internet).

There is no panel, but an opportunity for discussion between Christine (a true veteran and event cinema expert) and the audience. She starts off by giving a background to her companyand the industry, ticking off several firsts and partnerships with the likes of Glyndbourne and the Royal Opera House into UK and international markets.

More2screen has gone out on 5,000 screens, 60 territories for 150+ productions (as you can see from the slide at the bottom). What’s new in 2014 is the British Museum for the first archeological exhibition (earlier ones had been art-focused), representing new genres. “Where there is new technology, we want to be using it,” Costello affirms. Which ties in neatly with how they also did the 4K concert for Peter Gabriel this year.

Key themes are using new technology, building new genres, collaboration, innovating wherever possible and partnering. “That’s us. Now we come to the big question: how will event cinema change ib the next ten years.” Admitting that none of us have crystal balls, she sent out the question ‘How will Event Cinema landscape develop in the next decade?’ to leading members of the industry all over the world.

The question/statement was: Event cinema is on a steady growth curve and by 20202 will represent the following % of my territory’s box office: 5%, 10%, 15%, or other. In the US it is just 2% today. The majority seem to be voting 10%, with 3-4 people voting 15% (including myself and Hancock, so that’s the analyst’s guess) with Rickard and Isabelle voting for ‘other’.

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CJ@ECA Conference: Utilising the Intermission to Generate Ravenue

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The second breakout session looked at revenue generating opportunities in the intermission, presented by Atena Simovic, head of event cinema department in a multiplex in Bucharest with 13 screens for past three years, during which they have had over 500 events, which inlcludes renting out the venue.

Their cinema organises live on-stage event, including stand-up comedy and concerts with full staging capabilities. “The first time when we had intermissions is when the distributors told us about the line-up of their shows,” she explains. There was a conscious effort to extract more revenue, but in the beginning effort such as opening new bars didn’t work. So they said, “let’s announce it and it started very slowly to grow. But then they had the first event without intermission. So we had an idea to have the intermission BEFORE the event.”

Initially this didn’t work because people didn’t shw up on time. “OK, we said, let’s create and Event Before the Event, which is a complegte experience.” So people gathered before for socialising, sharing and getting together as friends. During the week theyhave kids’ theatre, so they come up with After-the-show-Intermission with breakfast, games or face painting for their children, because the mall didn’t open early enough to do these events before the show.

They then tried product presentation and for an event that had not been selling well, once the commercial partner offered a beer and a sandwich for each attendees, the event sold out. “This is a little bit of what we have done and learned a ot in thr process, but we had questions; questions we want t share today.”

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CJ@ECA Conference: Marketing Event Cinema panel

Marketing Event Cinema

The first panel of the conference is a ‘big sofas’ discussion on the major and challenging topic of marketing event cinema, with a panel of truly leading industry expert. Each sofa sitter introduces him/herself  and provides a background to their company. There seems to b a friedly competition as to who has the longest experience in the field, with Cineplex’s Brad LaDouceur probably winning with the PPV wrestling events from WWF in the lat 90s in Canada.

The discussion kicks if with moderator Austin Shaw (Omniverse) highlighting the value chain, pointing to films having a long value chain of exploitation rights, but this is simply not the case with event cinema. “We’ve talked about some great success, but there have also been turkeys along the was,” so the question is how to make every event a success at every level, thus maximising returns for everyone involved. Given the limited marketing budgets, there is thus an imperative to grow the market together.

Producer Dione Orrom gets the word first, and she points to personal experience of living outside London and the frustration of meeting people who had not heard of NT Live (“Friends say, ‘I didn’t know that was happening’”) and school classes seem ignorant of things such as Matisse Live. “There is less time for awareness to percolate” for event cinema.

Next Austin points to the trio on the ‘distribution couch’. Craig from Altive Media says that they try to emulate film distribution, saying they have an average of GBP 60 to spend per cinema venue for posters, post cards, tralers, etc.. This is little, “but when Bon Jovi was done there was NOTHING spent per cinema. If they were lucky they got a PDF to print.”

BBC Worldwide’s Julia Nocciolino talks about building brands and communities around those brands, with ‘activations’ in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the Doctor Who event. “Innovating, creating unique experiences, which gets you attention in the press and that gets it out to a wider audience.”

Arts Alliance’s Mark Foster contridicts Craig and states that “we are NOT trying to replicate the movie distribution model.” He talks about engaging with schools, “since Shakepeare is always on the curriculum.”  (AAM has the rights to The Globe theatre).

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CJ@ECA Conference: Keynote by Melissa Cogavin & Niels Swinkles

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The second-ever Event Cinema Association annual conference attracted over 200 delegates, almost double last year’s figures, neatly illustarting the gorwth of the burgeoning sector. Located this year in the charming Genesis Cinema in London’s East End, the day was opened by ECA President Melissa Cogavin (nee Keeping) giving an introduction and a brief overview on the topic of event cinema (nee ‘alternative content’) – but first a promo from the sponsors Philips LightVibes, which has installed its system in the cinema for extra effect as the walls flash and pulse in time with the action on the screen (see above). 

“We feel strongly there should be something for everyone”, Melissa says, “which is why there are no less then six breakout sessions” throughout the day [Note to self: remember to clone myself ahead of the next conference ]. Melissa states that the purpose of today is “to provide a sense of where are as an industry in 2014 and how ECA can help you find your place in it.” Also some good news in that ECA has just this week received funding from Creative Skillset, a UK arts funding body.

Melissa gives a brief overview of what ECA does for its 72 members in 19 countries. She then provides a snapshot of some of the biggest blockbuster hits of event cinema in recent times, including Doctor Who, Billy Elliot and  the 1D (One Direction), the latter of which proves that there is significant potential for music acts in cinemas.

Melissa talks about the activities at trade shows and the launch of the Technical Handbook. She then hand over to Niels Swinkles MD for UPI, whois this year’s keynote speaker.

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Good Dose of Reality Is the Perfect Antidote For All the Netflix Fear Mongering

Crouching Tiger Sequel on Netflix and IMAX

It’s been a week since streaming media giant Netflix announced two big agreements which signal the company is aggressively moving into a space once occupied exclusively by motion picture distributors and exhibitors. One calls for a sequel to the martial arts classic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” to be released next August day-and-date on Netflix and in select IMAX theatres. The other sees Netflix enter into a deal with actor Adam Sandler to finance and distribute four feature films.

In their pieces on the announcements journalists used phrases such as “landmark”, “game changer” and “paradigm shift” so often the words lost all meaning. A week later, it turns out the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west, North American movie theatres were just as crowded as ever over the weekend and cinema goers still gobbled up popcorn while watching the latest releases.

This is not to say Netflix’s moves weren’t noteworthy or significant, but rather that the pots of ink (both virtual and otherwise) spilled covering the news were, more often than not, used to write overblown treatises filled with hyperbolic predictions of the industry’s demise crafted primarily to play on the fears of those who depended on it for their livelihoods. Now that everyone’s initial excitement has died down we hope to bring some sanity back into the conversation by examining a few often overlooked concepts.

Crouching Content, Hidden Sequel
Before last week, how many of you actually knew that a sequel was being made to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”? After last week’s Netflix news, you can more than triple the number of people who know about the movie, and that’s being extremely conservative. Mainstream media had hitherto paid little notice of the sequel being made to a fourteen-year-old Chinese-language film.

Sure, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was a blockbuster when it was released in 2000; the first foreign language film in the United States to earn more than USD $100 million and for years was the country’s highest grossing foreign language movie of all-time. The movie was also nominated for ten Oscars, the most Academy Award nominations ever received for a foreign language film, a record the film still holds. “Crouching Tiger” went on to win four trophies including Best Foreign Language Film and it served to jump-start the career of director Ang Lee, who was already a well respected helmer.

When it comes to the sequel none of that matters however, in part because so many of the elements which made the original “Crouching Tiger” film a success are missing. Stars Yun-Fat Chow and Ziyi Zhang are missing, leaving Michelle Yeoh as one of the few returning cast members. The screenwriters, including James Schamus, are absent as well. Perhaps most importantly, Ang Lee will not be directing.

Instead, Woo-ping Yuen has been tapped to direct the sequel being penned by John Fusco. Arguably an incredibly influential figure of the Hong Kong action genre, Yuen has only made one film in the past 20 years; “True Legend” in 2010 which cost RMB ¥122.6 million (USD $20 million) to make and only made RMB ¥46.5 million (USD $6.82 million). He has been working predominantly as a fight choreographer for movie such as “Kill Bill: Vol. 2″.

To be sure Yuen may be a fine and capable director, though currently is a bit of an open question due to his limited creative output in recent years. So too then is the quality of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend” itself. When Netflix first announced they would finance and open the film it raised speculation that the sequel may not actually be any good. Realizing this, the movie’s distributor, The Weinstein Company, may have been trying to lay off some of their risk on the production, if not entirely recoup their expenditure, by selling Netflix the rights to distribute it.

Brooks Barnes of the New York Times echoed these sentiments as a guest on Showbiz Sandbox this week stating that The Weinstein Company “…got a huge big publicity pop for this sequel and that has to be viewed in that context. Yes it’s sequel to one of the best performing foreign films ever, but if you look closer at that film there are some questions about it…. you just kind of have to wonder what kind of sequel is this? Is this a route that gets them a big headline for something that may ultimately been a direct to home video title all along.”

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Early Release Of “Interstellar” On Film Is A Nostalgic Marketing Coup

Interstellar Film Ad

A heated industry debate was sparked last week by the announcement that Paramount and Warner Bros. would release director Christopher Nolan’s next movie, “Interstellar”, on film. Many of you may recall film as the sprocketed acetate material used by the motion picture industry to shoot, distribute and exhibit movies for more than a century before Hollywood studios “forced” cinema owners to install digital projectors. Adding insult to what some theatre operators see as injury, “Interstellar” will open two days early in theatres showing it on 35mm, the rarefied 70mm and IMAX.

I can understand the frustration certain exhibitors must feel at such news. Having shelled out millions to upgrade their facilities, they wind up watching those using analog technology get rewarded with exclusive access to a highly anticipated title (even if only for two days).

Maybe because of my age and generational ties, or maybe because I was trained at an educational institution commonly referred to as a “film school”, I am rather excited “Interstellar” will be shown on good old fashioned celluloid. I believe, with certain caveats, the decision can help boost the movie’s box office across all sites in which it is booked, no matter the method of projection.

Let me explain.

I used to own a phonograph. I don’t anymore, though kind of wish I did. My last turntable was part of a component stereo system which I purchased upon graduating high school. It was 1989, a time when record stores still stocked vinyl alongside shiny compact discs. Heck, it was even a time when record stores still existed. Ultimately, those reflective CDs took over more retail space and pushed vinyl records into a small corner of most stores. Some merchants just stopped carrying vinyl altogether.

I lugged that turntable around for the next 16 years from dorm room to dorm room and between every shack, apartment, and home I ever leased or owned. Even though I stopped unpacking my crate of vinyl records after moving into a new home, I’d still make certain to set up the phonograph… just in case someone stopped by with a first pressing of Led Zeppelin’s last album. At some point shortly after Napster had decimated the music industry through digital file sharing, I realized the absurdity of continuing to make room for the record player in my stereo cabinet. It was relegated to the garage… stored next to the crate of records it was meant to be playing.

The phonograph sat there gathering dust for a few years as any sentimental or psychological attachment I had to it withered. I finally gave it away to some friend of a friend. I can’t even remember who exactly. Of course, I would never give up my crate of records. There are some real gems in there dating all the way back to my days in primary school, including an autographed copy of “Bob McGrath Sings For All The Boys and Girls“.

At this point you might be wondering what my record player has to do with “Interstellar” being released on film. Technically, it doesn’t. Emotionally however, there are direct ties. To me, a phonograph and vinyl records evoke a certain nostalgia of a “simpler” time when musicians performed on real instruments, when recorded music sounded better than the compressed bytes we now listen to and when music was considered more important than it is today. Of course, the reality is that musicians were often playing instruments that required electricity, the audio quality of compact discs was far more consistent over time and music is just as important today as it was when vinyl records were en vogue. Still, the vinyl medium and technology are tied in my mind to memories that are generally positive.

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