ECA plans a series of marketing initiatives and will next year launch a public-facing website about alternative content screenings.

Following a sharp rise in variety and frequency of alternative content screenings in the UK (109 screenings in 2011 compared to 2010’s 54), the Event Cinema Assocation (ECA) has been launched today, a new industry trade body aimed at promoting the developing market.

A not-for-profit organisation funded through a subscription service for members, the ECA will provide a united voice for the alternative content industry in the UK and Europe.

Speaking to Screen, Melissa Keeping [pictured], chair of the ECA, said that the idea for forming the ECA was linked to her 12 years in distribution, working for both Walt Disney and Paramount.

“Over that time I became very aware that the industry is growing without a doubt, but it could be growing so much more. The reason it isn’t is basically public awareness,” explained Keeping. “There’s a big issue with branding because it’s not really known outside the industry as anything at all, it’s known as alternative content within [the industry] but even that doesn’t mean much. It needs a name, it needs identity and it needs a voice.”

The ECA will launch a series of marketing initiatives in order to promote forthcoming programming, including a quarterly trailer to be shown in cinemas and a website - aimed to be launched early next year - which will allow the public to see what alternative content is showing near them and when. There is also set to be an awards ceremony at the end of the year, with potential categories including best marketing and best live sporting event.

“The whole thing is about growing the business for distribution and exhibition and content providers. The main way of doing that is by reaching the people who will buy the tickets, so that’s the main drive to get it done.”

For the industry, the ECA will also provide data analysis in cooperation with Rentrak, giving a picture of the alternative content market that hasn’t been available before. “Because nobody’s tracking it at the moment, there’s no real sense of what works and doesn’t at the box office. That will shape the industry as people start to realise what they can and can’t do, and also attract investment.”

Recent alternative content successes include the BFI Film Archive’s world premiere of a newly restored version of Hitchcock’s The Lodger, complete with a live score composed by Nitin Sawhney, and the National Theatre Live’s programme of screenings such as Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein production.

The ECA’s policy and direction will be overseen by a board of seven directors, headed up by President Chris Coulter, partner at Morrison & Foerster law firm. When it came to selecting the board, Keeping was keen to get a balanced mix. “Content providers haven’t been represented before now so this is quite new.

“With the board that we’ve chosen, we’ve consciously chosen quite a mix so there are large companies and smaller companies, a 50/50 split between exhibition and distribution and there are some content providers represented as well.”

The seven directors of the board are: Isabelle Fauchet, Head of Cinema at the Royal Opera House, UK; Rickard Gramfors, Project Manager for distributor Folkets Hus och Parker, Sweden; Austin Shaw, Chief Operating Office of Omniverse, UK; Graham Spurling, Managing Director of Spurling Group Cinemas, Ireland; Fabrice Testa, Vice President, Alternative Content & Distribution Development at dcinex, Belgium; John Travers, Alternative Content Manager at Cineworld, UK; Mark Walukevich, Senior Vice President, International Film, for National Amusements, UK/US.

Currently the ECA is only for the UK and European market, but Keeping sees potential for expansion once the groundwork has been laid. “I’ve been overwhelmed by the response of people in China, Australia, Brazil, the States… people have come to me from all different backgrounds wanting to get involved.

“So it’ll probably roll out quite quickly elsewhere. Not sure how I’m going to do it yet, but there’s clearly a need for it. People have really engaged with the possibility that if we all work together, we can get the message out there and make the public aware.”

For more information on the ECA, visit its website.