There’s an elephant in the room, or indeed an elephant-sized opportunity in the cinema: ‘event cinema’ — those non-film offerings that were also formerly tagged ‘alternative content’.
At this week’s Screen Film Summit in London, one hot topic was the success of the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, The Day Of The Doctor, which took $2.3m theatrically on a single Saturday night in the UK despite being freely accessible on TV at the same time.
It made more than $10m globally in cinemas. Both an exhibitor, Philip Knatchbull of Curzon Artificial Eye, and a distributor, Zygi Kamasa of Lionsgate UK, were in awe of such figures. Research points to the sector being worth $1bn by 2015.
BBC Worldwide’s Doctor Who was one of the first fanboy event cinema launches; usually the audiences (to generalise) are older and wealthier, and coming in for opera and theatre events. Kamasa noted the free-to-air The Day Of The Doctor was a big step forward for event cinema, because the content wasn’t exclusive and proved that audience demand exists for experience viewing.
There are other recent success stories — The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Richard II starring David Tennant made $1.6m during its launch night in the UK on November 13. That’s better than the UK opening weekend for something like Disney’s awards-season contender Saving Mr Banks or Sony’s Carrie remake. The British Museum’s Pompeii Live and the V&A’s David Bowie cinema releases were also innovative and profitable launches earlier this year.
The growth of event cinema is a boon to the whole industry. Film distributors shouldn’t feel scared of a new kind of competition, they should be happy new kinds of audiences are flocking to cinemas. Once they’re in and have a nice night out, they are likely to come back. Also, cinemas have a depressing vacancy rate during non-peak hours and these event offerings are usually not taking over Saturday night prime-time screens (the Doctor notwithstanding).
For exhibitors, these audiences are ways to keep their businesses growing as film admissions flatline. For some cinemas, event cinema represents as much as 12% of their box-office revenues, according to trade group the Event Cinema Association. No wonder box-office-tracking company Rentrak has recently started tallying event cinema releases.
Where such fortunes lie, inevitably there will be copycat companies trying to cash in on the trend but without the top-notch content that audiences will demand. Quality will win out.
You’d think the studios might try to use synergies with their music or TV businesses to create more event cinema offerings.
Savvy content creators of all shapes and sizes should learn from the buzzy, must-attend marketing for event cinema to make their films stand out in a similar way — with competition for screens so tough, every opening weekend for a film, especially a smaller independent release, can be seen as an event.