CineEurope: Event Cinema – Taking Stock and Looking Forward

By Patrick von Sychowski | August 4, 2015 3:49 am PDT
Event Cinema panel CineEurope 2015

This post is a transcription composed in real-time during one of the many seminars at CineEurope 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. As such we often paraphrase the presentations being given.

The record box office movie summer has far from eclipsed event cinema (nee alternative content), with the Take That pulling in over a million pounds in its screening the week before CineEurope 2015. So the panel session was full and a strong lineup very ably moderated by Julien Marcel shared some gin insights into the topic, which was described as below in the programme:

“The Event Cinema phenomenon continues to generate interest and record breaking revenue but what is so special about the format? Who is benefitting and how can exhibitors get the most from it? How has it changed the exhibition landscape and really, where is all of this leading? Explore these themes and more with a cutting-edge panel of high profile industry experts.”

Introduction: Melissa Cogavin, ECA

Moderator: Julien Marcel, CEO, North america – BoxOffice Global Entertainment, WEDEDIA

Panelists: John Bullen, VPF and Content Manager, Sony Digital Cinema, UK
Grant Calton, European Business Development, Fathom Events, USA
Johnny Carr, Content Manager, Vue Entertainment, UK
Emma Keith, Producer, National Theatre Live, UK
John Lewis, CEO, Broadway Cinema, Letchworth Garden City

Melissa opened the session with an overview about event cinema. “What’s it worth, what’s the market share? Questions I keep getting asked. The forthcoming Rentrak and IHS report will reveal all,” she promised.

“The event cinema business was worth $330m world-wide last year. Represents a 35% growth since 2013. UK is the strongest market (3.2% market share of box office). Event cinema revenue grew by 76.7% in France in 2014. 6 world/UK box office records were set and broken in the last 18 months.  The Event Cinema Association (ECA) has 100 members from 23 territories.” And with that the introduction was done and it was over to Julien and the panel.

Melissa Cogavin Event Cinema Association CineEurope 2015
Looking right: Melissa Cogavin, ECA

Julien began by pointing out that “we have the right mix of exhibitors, content producers, distributors and technology companies on the panel. We will look at what went right and what went wrong.”

“Three key topics that the panel will cover, how all different stakeholders work together as partners, how do we reach the audience, and a look at different event cinema genres (there is not one genre, but several with different drivers). Is event cinema only a gap filler or is it more than filling the gaps?” Julien asked, by way of introduction. Each panelists then got to speak briefly about their company’s involvement in the event cinema field.

Grant: – Fathom Events is majority owned by Regal, AMC and Cinemark. Another 45 affiliated networks across US. The company’s aim is to get better cinema seat-fills Monday-through-Thursday. Now event cinema is more than a ‘gap filler’. Fathom covers 820 sites in total. Key difference between us and other distributors is that we are co-owend by exhibitors as well as being an exhibitor, so that gives additional layer of expertise.

Emma – NT Live started working with Sony for “War Horse” 18 months ago. Broke box office records. Test to see if 4K capture was feasible. Next one is “The Beau Stratagem” in September and then “Hamlet” from the Barbican this autumn, in 4K for both. Great opportunity for National Theatre to be on the cutting edge.

John (Sony) – What’s in it for us is the committment and long term relationship with cinemas. Vue is deployed everywhere for 4K with Sony projectors. So we want to look at existing content end develop new revenue for them.

Johnny (Vue) – The results have been the very best viewng experience. With Sony 4K viewing technology it doesn’t get better. Also helps 90%+ stadium seating in our cinemas.

John (Broadway) – We are an independent cinema, 4 screens, north of London. We want as much warning as possible in advance for event cinema content. What we don’t want is two days’ notice because we won’t to be able to program it as a premium event with long lead-in time to anchor it locally.

Julian – This brings us onto the issue of engaging the audience.

Johnny – We try to re-create the theatre going experience. We ensure we have managers on hand to talk to the customers. They tell the customers how long he event will be playing, we dedicate 4 sheets in the monthly magazine to event cinema. Inform our staff. Sales sheets and briefs on every event. Managers will have staff meetings to brief everyone in advance. It is not just event cinema audience that attend events. Just look at the weekend gone, Take That came in for the whole weekend. 950,000 pounds for the weekend. You get events that surpass what was 5 years ago an event.

John (Lewis) – The whole idea of hosting is really important to us. We make it a theatrical experience. It is important to use the word ‘theatre’. Dress out staff in shirt and ties. We need to put on an extra staff of nine people for every event. The free glass of wine is tremendously important. If we stopped it we would be b***erd. We still do newsletters, do live print outs on the night. We see people book six months in advance – it’s incredible.

Julien – Five years into it, how well do you know the audience?

Johnny – There is a healthy percent of the audience that has not been in a cinema for twenty year. We have seen that audience swell. In the early days it was a shaky satellite [dish] on the roof. These days we rarely have an [technical] issue. Gone from 2K to 4K, from single camera to six cameras.

Julien – What’s been the learning curve on the technology side?

John Bullen – We are not trying to replicate the movie experience. We have to accept that we are never going to replace the live experience. Some lucky people will get to see Benedict Cumberbatch do “Hamlet” live. That is a golden ticket. The work we do together will be close to replicating that.

Emma – An important thing to remeber is that this is like what the future of film might have been in the 1930s. At NT we have done live broadcasts for 6 years. It is important to take it out to the widest pssible audience. It bringds back revenue that supports what we do on the stage. It was a trial initially but now it is core to what we do.

Julien – What about sport? Five years we would have bet that sports would be one of the big winners. What are the explanations [for its absence]?

Johnny – In the UK the rights are tied down by Sky and BT sports. What we can get is the free-to-air stuff like World Cup and Wimbledon, but we can’t charge entry for that, so we would pair up with a partner like Coca Cola.

John Bullen – We last year did work with Vue and Fifa to distribute two football games in 4K. We were the technology behind the Wimbledon screenings in 2012 and 2013. Johnny hit the nail on its head when he said it was a rights issue. Premier League was 5.5 billion pounds last year. We just can’t compete with that.

John Lewis – We are used to seeing live feeds of sport and it is not that unusual and I’m not sure that translates in cinemas. Plus we don’t want beer and the typical audience behavior of football. My only thought is extending the experience of the match with things like interactive games.

Melissa – We were talking earlier about Multikino [in Poland] and Champions’ League. We have to think outside the box when it comes to sport. We have to offer the experience around it. Wait for the dust to settle and see what happens.

Julien – Another genre is the re-release and there are some interesting examples. Is it part of event cinema?

Grant – Anniversary screenings and mining catalogue. We worked with having a marketing partner in this case a televison partner. 50th anniversary of “Sound of Music” which did $2m over two nights.

John Lewis – People are saying that they could come to cinema more often. We do ‘Catch U Tuesday’ where we bring back films from six months ago. Old people are slow to realise what films are good. Brand it and make it feel special. We did outdoor screening and had locals vote for what they want to see. Connect it to the local community.

Johnny – I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to films. Seeing the gala feed from the London Film Festival is big deal. We actively seek special previews of new films with that added content and added value.

Emma – NT launched the first feature film recently and it was first time NT has been involved in a feature. “London Road” had a green carpet premiere and we had a live Q&A. It was something that started on stage at the NT. Use the DNA of what makes NT Live special ties in to a feature fim release.

Grant – On the premiere side what works is the second division red carpet events, so not the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie films. Like events with Turner Classic movies. Hitting the same triggers with historic brands that is doing something new or a new brand doing something old.

Johnny – There are lots of platforms to watch content but peple who are passionate will want to watch it on the largest screen. “Doctor Who” was on TV screens at the same time [ as in cinema] but did 2 million in cinemas because it is fans who want to get together.

John Lewis – Exhibitions is the other great category. Arts Alliance did the Impressionists two weeks ago and it did terrifically.

Julien – Question about music; it would be remiss not to bring it up. Same technology challenge?

John Bullen – Omniverse released Muse Live – a pre-recorded show where eight 4K Sony cameras were used for the capture. We use that one track for our 4K demo reel in Pinewood studios. I get just as passionate about music as National Theatre. It is a different beast. There’s a lot of invested partners. We’ve come a long way in five years. There is still a little bit of work to do to persuade people that there is a revenue stream. Take That took $1.6m in US alone.

Grant – For music the key thing is artist engagement. I’ve seen where you have a great piece of content and the artist has not been engaged and it is a disaster.

John Lewis – One thing we struggle with is that the audience is uncomfortable to react to what is happening on the screen. You almost have to give the permission to clap. Take That last Friday for example.

Julien – Last genre to cover, if we don’t want to sund ridiculous in two years time, is video games. I recently discovered the eSport teend. Vue has been an early adopter.

Johnny – Yes, absolutely. People pay money to watch other people play video games. We have been on the forefront at Vue from the first opportunity. In our Fulham cinema we have a dedicated GFinity eSports arena. They are one of the two biggest eSports companies in the world. The prize money is incredible.  We also beam it into two of our other screens, though people prefer the auditorium with the talent [playing]. We have also signed with ESL. 30 of our sites are committed to showing that content. League of Legends, which is sponsored by Coca-Cola. We can’t just put it on screen and expect people to turn up. We have to give them an incentive to come out of their bedrooms. We have to partner a gaming company, we have to create an event.

Julien – This audience is a key challenge to get into cinemas. How do you incentivise them to come back for a regular cinema movie?

Johnny – We shape our point of sale to whatever is going on. “We Are Your Friends” or “Vacation” will be tailored to them.

Julien – Far from filling gaps we are creating new spaces in the cinema, even creating new venues.

John Lewis – We are changing one of our screens into a space for live events. We can fill 400 seats with guest appearances, recently had Mary Berry (“Great British Bake Off” TV show) that would previously have gone to a book shop.

Grant – Take That was on a Friday and on a Tuesday would only have done 40% of that [BO]. If it warrents higher ticket price then fine. Gone from being a gap filler to a solid genre of its own across several genres. In the US you have fatih-based programs that have a built-in audiences, just like gaming.

John Bullen – Event cinema is legitimate within the cinema space. For Sony we want to ensure the customer has trust and does not feel they are getting ripped off. All we do around Sony 4K shows that the technology is improving.

Johnny – “Hamlet” with Benedict will play Friday through Tuesday. Andre Rieu will play [on more than one night].

There is time for just one question from the audience, so I ask Emma from NT Live about the balance between “live” (real-time) screenings versus time-shorted and non-live “encore” (repeat) shows.

Emmy – We primarily do live. [But we] get to the point where audiences can’t access live events. So 70 live and 30 encore [percent] for new release. For full encore is driven by audience demand and “Frankenstein” had so many strong names [Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller] and we recently did “The Curious Incident of the Dog at Nighttime”. Twice as many [showings] in the second release. Important to give audineces the opportunity. We didn’t release DVDs [of the plays/screenings] so it is important to give audiences the chance to do that. “Hamlet” will probably be another one.

With that the panel ended and Melissa reminded everyone about the one-day ECA conference in London on October 19th.

Patrick von Sychowski
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