The event cinema sector could be worth $1bn by 2020. ECA MD Melissa Cogavin talks to Screen about growth ahead of the European trade show.

Benedict Cumberbatch Hamlet

The Event Cinema Association (ECA) – the international trade body for the event cinema industry – is set to host a panel about the future of the medium at the forthcoming CineEurope trade show in Barcelona.

The panel will mark the nominal ten-year anniversary of the medium, which encompasses content from sports to theatre and concerts being beamed into cinemas, either live or pre-recorded.

Speakers will include Marc Allenby of the UK’s Picturehouse Entertainment, Franco di Sarro of Italy Nexo Digital, Nicole Heim of Germany’s Cinecitta, Simon Tandy of the UK’s Motion Picture Solutions, Mönica Tornblom of Sweden’s Folkets Hus och Parker and James Dobbin of Showcase Cinemas UK & International.

Speaking to Screen, ECA managing director Melissa Cogavin [pictured right] recalled the origins of the medium: “We [the ECA] branded it event cinema but before then it was branded alternative content. The hardest thing was trying to get the message out there. Part of what we did at the ECA was to give it a brand and to help it on its way.

“At first, the industry were accepting of event cinema but didn’t instantly embrace it, says Cogavin: “The industry welcomed it but people were bemused by it as well because they couldn’t categories it and they didn’t know where it was going to go.”

Ten years later, bouyed by heavyweight cultural organisations embracing the medium such as the Metropolitan Opera and the National Theatre, event cinema revenues have grown substantially, with grosses hitting $300m worldwide for the first time in 2014.

In the UK, the medium grossed $52m in 2014, 3.1% of the total box office. In 2015, grosses levelled out, while 2016 has seen revenues of $17.4m between the months of January and May.

High-performing releases have included a broadcast of NT Live’s Benedict Cumberbatch-starring Hamlet, which was transmitted live to 87% of UK cinemas.

The future

Looking forward, Cogavin predicts that event cinema will continue to diversify its content, and that gaming could play a big role in growth: “Everyone’s excited about the possibilities of gaming. The key thing is working out how to monetise it.”

“Some events are already packing cinemas, for up to 12 hours at a time, and the audience will spend money on food and beverages while they’re there – it’s great news for cinemas. Now the discussion is how we develop that more and raise the profile of it amongst the gaming community.”

Could the industry hit $1bn by 2019, as previous reports suggested? “We’re in the ballpark,” says Cogavin, adding that the most important thing for now is sustain growth: “It’s a case of building on what we’ve learned – now is the time for steady growth.”

How to achieve that will be discussed on the panel, along with other subjects about the future of the medium including, crucially, rapidly developing markets such as China and India.

“A big growth area will be emerging markets. It’s very complex in China but the BBC did huge numbers on the release of Sherlock there,” says Cogavin. “East and West are getting closer together, the world is becoming smaller. There’s huge potential.”