Event Cinema (formerly known as alternative content) could account for 3% of the worldwide box office by 2017, according to experts at an all day networking event dedicated to the sector.
While there are still issues to be overcome around the areas of technology, pricing, marketing and production costs, the future is looking bright for Event Cinema.
That was the message from the sector at the first annual Event Cinema networking event held in London yesterday (Oct 15).
Organised by the recently formed Event Cinema Assocation, the all day networking session was made up of a series of panels discussing the roles of content providers, distributors and exhibitors in bringing alternative content - including ballet, opera, sports, musicals and most recently exhibitions - to audiences.
“Event Cinema is still in the early stages of learning and understanding, but the figures suggest that this is a growing area with massive potential,” said Phil Clapp, CEO of the UK Cinema Exhibitors Association, who chaired a panel discussion on the role of exhibitors in delivering Event Cinema.
However, Clapp said that it was important for the sector to “continue to innovate and remain a gold standard experience.”
With 65% of all screened events in Europe made up of opera and ballet, Isabelle Fauchet, former head of cinema at the Royal Opera House, who left to set up her own company Live Digital Cinema to meet the growing demand for live digital cinema events, warned of the danger of saturation.
“We are at a crossroads now. We know opera and ballet work, we now need more product. It’s about innovation. We need to keep it really vibrant and creative.”
“If there is going to be growth in this sector, it has got to come from other sources,” said Austin Shaw, co-founder of Event Cinema distributor Ominverse Vision, which was behind concert film Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day.
One growth area is filmed exhibitions, such as the National Gallery’s Leonardo Live, which drew in strong box offie figures when it screened in cinemas in the UK.
Phil Grabsky of Exhibtion On Screen, which was behind the Leonardo film as well as more recent filmed exhibitions on Manet and Vermeer, said that exhibitions were “made for the cinema. 99% of the world’s population can’t get to an exhibition, so it is fantastic for audiences.”
Steve Lewis, who was responsible for bringing the V&A’s David Bowie exhibition to screens in the UK in August, agreed that it was a great way of reaching audiences.
“We had 500 people queuing up to get tickets and the exhibition was sold out. We saw what was going on in the industry and it felt that this was a new way for a museum to take its research and years of planning and distribute it to a new audience.”
Live vs Recorded
While Lewis admitted that there was a pressure to make the film “live”, Grabsky suggested that when it came to event cinema, pre recorded material worked better, arguing that “audiences would rather see a beautifully crafted film.”
“Doing Leonardo on opening night was exciting, but long term I want to build a brand that audiences want. The “event” is the opportunity for international audiences to see the film, at the same time. There is something about building up to one date.”
According to Emma Keith, producer at NT Live, which created a live filmed performance of NT production The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time for cinemas, “liveness depends on original art form.”
“Theatre is a live performance and so we intentionally make it live to replicate that experience, with exhibition it’s a more solitary experience, the live element isn’t as important,” said Keith.
Director Julian Napier described the process of turning the Royal Opera House’s Carmen into a 3D film for cinemas, as “a conscious decision to create a new art form out of an existing one.”
Napier’s decision to film in 3D came out of wanting to give audiences the sense of having “priviledged access” to the performance. “The whole point of creating a film is give audiences the sense that they are there, more or less on stage with them. You don’t get that in 2D.”
Still Napier admitted that filming events in 3D led to extra production costs, due to the access required, and the loss of revenue for the Royal Opera House, who had to sell tickets at discounted prices for the performances being filmed.
The cost of production
Production costs continue to be an issue in general, when it comes to creating event cinema content, with Lewis arguing that a growing interest from TV channels could provide a threat to theatrical output. “Television has seen what’s going on with event cinema and broadcasters will often pay whole production budget. From a museum’s point of view, you can do similar things for TV.”
He added: “The commercial model is really difficult for producers. If this is going to become more permanent genre, there needs to be reworking of model. “
Another issue is overcoming the technical hurdles of putting on an “event” screening, especially at a local exhibitor level.
“I would make a plea that whatever issues people have at cinema level, that they come forward with that. Within minutes we can sort out 60-70 percent of issues, which would stop a screening having to be cancelled,” said Fauchet, who pointed to the need to make Event Cinema “commercially viable over longer periods of time for exhibitors.”
One solution, said Fauchet, was putting on a series of events, as opposed to a one off. “People come back, bring friends, meet friends. It’s abot a sharing of experience, and thinking about cross promotion and being in there for the long haul.”
One area of debate was the higher ticket prices attached to Event Cinema, due to its “premium content” label.
“Audiences get added value that they might not get from being at a concert, like exclusive interviews. It’s about trying to give fans value for money for a small amount of added cost,” said Helen Jones of distributor CinemaLive which recently moved its headquarters to London from Sydney.
“We always roll out the red carpet, people dress up in suits, we try to make audiences feel like they are at something really special,” added Elise Brandt of Finnish exhibitor Kuusan Kino Ky.
Still, the combination of premium ticket prices and content such as opera and ballet, continues to attract, primarily, an older, wealthier type of audience member, with the sector agreeing that more needs to be done to attract youth audiences, in the form of concert films such as JLS 3D.
Generating public awareness as a whole is one area where more clearly needs to be done, with social media being described as a key tool for most distributors and exhibitors.
“You have to create a story for every event,” said Atena Balint, head of alternative content at Grand Cinema Digiplex Romania, which has created its own Event Cinema facebook page. “And that needs to be communicated at least a month before.”
Penny Nagle of UK distributor More2Screen said it was about creating a shift change in people’s minds, so that they see “cinema as no longer just a place to see films, but as a local arts centre.”
Meanwhile, Shaw suggested that the key to bringing in audiences was about having a recognisable brand. “It’s about finding an inbuilt audience. Where is the fanbase, and how do we get to it,” said Shaw, who argued that content providers, distributors and exhibitors all had a “collective responsibility to shift tickets”.
Marketing at a local level was also described as a key driver for bringing in audiences, whilst exhibitors called for the need for distributors and content providers to provide them with more “additional materials” such as handouts, well written programme notes, access to talent and educational materials.
When it comes to delivering an “event”, Mark Allenby of Pictuehouse Cinemas said it was vital to have knowledgeable people on the ground at cinemas. “It is important that staff are trained because then when there are problems, you have people who can resolve them.”
Looking ahead to the next five years, all the signs point to growth in the sector, with David Hancock of IHS Screen Digest predicting a “growth curve.”
He added that Event Cinema was on target to make $380m worldwide next year, and by 2017, nearly a billion dollars, accounting for 3% of the box office.