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Cinedigm CEO: Alternative Content in Movie Theaters Could Be A $1 Billion Business

Cinedigm Entertainment Logo - H 2011

Former studio top executive Chris McGurk tells an investor conference about his plans to unlock the opportunities of digital cinema screens.

NEW YORK - Cinedigm Digital Cinema Corp. chairman and CEO Chris McGurk told an investor conference here on Thursday that alternative content in movie theaters, enabled by digital cinema technology, could be a $1 billion business worldwide.

Speaking at the fourth annual Gabelli & Co. Movie & Broadcasting Conference, the former movie studio top executive said that "digital cinema is no longer a promise, it is a reality." But unlocking its opportunities takes more work.

He outlined key steps to get there, including programming recurring content or content series in theaters, developing a way to distribute into consumers' homes and letting film exhibitors participate in ancillary revenue opportunities.

"We put butts in seats with one-off events," McGurk said about the programming side of his company's business, which has offered such things as music events, sports and kids cartoons. "One of the real keys to success…is to really program the theatrical network almost like a [TV] network." For example, under his vision, action sports, indie films that don't get other distribution, concerts or other types of programming could become a mainstay in theaters on certain days of the week to regularly bring back people with an interest in them. 

In terms of reaching into the home via streaming or downloadable content, McGurk said his team has looked at partnering or buying a company that would provide the necessary distribution capabilities. A recent partnership with digital distribution company New Video, which works with the likes of Apple and Hulu, is one first step for Cinedigm into that direction, he said. The partners will jointly acquire and distribute independent films.

Studio veteran McGurk has run Cinedigm since Jan. 2011. He is a former CEO of Overture Films, COO of MGM and Universal Pictures and was also president of the Walt Disney Motion Picture Group.

His goal overall is to turn alternative content "into the big business it deserves to be," he told the Gabelli conference.

With more than half of U.S. movie screens now being digital, the potential for alternative content to boost attendance during traditionally slower times of the week was a recurring theme at Thursday's conference.

NATO CEO John Fithian earlier in the conference had also highlighted the need to make non-film content available in movie theaters, saying that consumers must be trained to see them as broader "entertainment destinations."

And Carmike Cinemas CEO David Passman said that providing regular themed content on the same nights every week, from opera to mixed martial arts nights or the like, can help make the offerings and their promotion more efficient. "If every Tuesday you know it will be there…people know it's there," he said.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai