Exhibitors struggle to find alternative revenue streams, reports Richard Brass.
For exhibitors it is the holy grail: how to maximise the use of all that expensive real estate by getting paying customers through the doors at off-peak times.
However, despite regular announcements of its imminent expansion, using cinemas for anything other than film screenings remains a fledgling ambition, and examples stand out more for their scarcity than for being part of a trend.
Vue Entertainment is taking a big step in that direction this month by broadcasting a live Genesis concert from Germany to its cinemas in the UK on June 27, offering 13,000 seats at prices ranging from $20-$50 (£10-£25).
Vue's sales and marketing director, Mark de Quervain, says 'Music is just one area for us. We're also looking into sport and other areas as well. We see a good future in alternative content.'
Vue's chief executive, Tim Richards, adds: 'Our goal is to change our customers' perception of what a cinema is all about. We're trying to get them to think of it more as an entertainment centre and not just a venue to watch movies.'
However, he says the alternative-usage possibilities of digital are being held back by the reluctance of US film studios to export the virtual print fee (VPF) funding model for digital to Europe.
'There are a couple of studios which have said definitively that the VPF model will not happen internationally. I respect that, but if there's not going to be a VPF model, what's the alternative' The alternative of silence is not constructive.'
Cineworld chief executive Steve Wiener says the prospects for developing alternative uses are limited by the lack of anyone actually driving the supply side.
'We have 72 digital projectors installed right now, out of 753 screens, and they are greatly under-utilised,' he says. 'The biggest gap in our industry is that we need some professional hucksters out there who can pound the pavement and get the content.'
Things are more advanced in both continental Europe and the US. Belgian chain Kinepolis has long led the way in alternative content in Europe, offering screenings of children's movies that would normally have gone straight to DVD, showing episodes of popular TV drama series, and even screening eye operations for the benefit of trainee surgeons.
However, beyond the pioneers, Karsten Grummitt of Dodona Research says that developing alternative usage demands a new marketing approach the cinema chains are not yet equipped to provide.