NYT Wakes Up To Alternative Content As Royal Opera House and Sony Reveal Plans

By Patrick von Sychowski | March 24, 2008 6:26 am PDT

The New York times gets in on the non-film digital shows in cinemas (ODS? alternative content?) with the in-depth article: At Cineplexes, Sports, Opera, Maybe a Movie (with the tag line: ‘As ticket sales slow, theaters are turning to the Mets and the Met.’ – arf, arf!). Main message is, this is going mainstream for a range of events:

Simulcasts of the Metropolitan Opera over the last year helped turn the tide. National CineMedia, a competitor of Screenvision, said nearly 300,000 people attended screenings in 2007, which was the inaugural season; in 2008, simulcasts of Met performances in movie theaters are expected to draw upwards of a million people.The New York Mets could not have been happier with a simulcast last August at Ziegfeld Theater in New York, where a live organist and the team mascot led viewers in singalongs as though they were in the ballpark.“Tickets to watch the game in the theater sold out so quickly that we’re in talks to do a bunch more of them this summer,” said Dave Howard, executive vice president for business operations for the Mets.

Demonstrating amply that the winds are firmly in the alternative content sails, both Sony and London’s Royal Opera House announced that both are getting into the game. Sony smells an opportunity to become an alternative content distributor, according to the article Sony Enters Digital Contents Market in Japan:

First Sony will work with Human Design Co, distributing its musical “Metro ni Notte (Riding on the Metro)” in May. The musical was originally performed last year at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space, and was a huge success. It was performed 13 times and all seats were taken on each live performance.Now in a digital format, the performance will be shown in 3 theaters in the Kanto area initially, and in more areas nationwide, targeting a larger audience than the total number at the live performances combined.

“We hope to appeal to the audience who could not see a live performance, and offer a real, vivid experience on a superior screen, and better access to the show,” says Tomihari.

The company will have to overcome the problem that digital cinema installations have been slow in Japan:

In Japan, 3 per cent, or 102, of 3,221 screens supported digital as of February. Tomihari said that this was the current target of the entertainment company.

However, Sony is also considering expanding its new business outside Japan. “The market for digital contents is larger abroad,” explains Tomihari. “As of last September, 4,869 of nearly 70,000 screens were equipped for digital contents. And this is the market we are aiming at.”

One such market, the United Kingdom, has just seen it’s most prestigious ‘content company’ (terrible term, but then this is the same industry where motion pictures are ‘properties’) announce itself in this space. Despite having been upstaged in the live digital cinema arena by New York’s Met, the Covent Garden Royal Opera house is fighting back by offering both live opera AND ballet this year. From The Telegraph’s Live opera and ballet to be shown at cinemas. For as little as £12 you will get a front row seat in any one of 60 UK cinemas:

The deal comes at the conclusion of almost five years of talks with performing unions to give singers and dancers extra payments for the recordings.

Covent Garden has signed contracts with two cinema chains in this country, Odeon, which has 106 cinemas, and Cityscreen Picturehouse, with 16.

A number of independent cinemas are also expected to sign up and separate deals have also been struck to show Covent Garden’s productions in Europe and America.

The opera house, which plans to film 14 productions a year, said the transmissions would be of the highest quality with High Definition digital technology and Surround Sound.

What is interesting here is that these will be shown both at Odeon and Picturehouse, who were previously exclusively affiliated with Glyndbourne and the Met. So the biggest change is not so much these events appearing in cinemas (that dates back to the thirties) but that the audience is now considered large enough to constitute that much needed critical mass. Roll on fat lady and the skinny ballerina!

Patrick von Sychowski
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