Constellation Launches Virtual Theatrical Exhibition Service

4:59 PM PST 11/15/2011 by Georg Szalai
"The Eagle"

The online movie theater experience allows audiences to watch films and special events at specific showtimes with such interactive elements as guest hosts.

NEW YORK -- Following VOD, will VT be the next acronym to take the entertainment industry by storm?

Constellation, which just started offering an online movie theater experience allowing audiences to watch films and special events at specific showtimes, thinks so. The virtual theatrical (VT) exhibition provider, which brings together film and social media, is led by CEO James Lawler and co-founder Reid Carolin.

"As the consumption of media content has changed dramatically over the last few years to include subscription on-demand streaming services like Netflix and online rentals and downloads via iTunes, YouTube, Facebook and others, a new form of film distribution is now in place," the company said Tuesday in announcing its launch.

Its initial schedule of films at www.constellation.tv includes Focus Features’ The Eagle and documentaries The Carrier and Bombay Beach, among others. 

The company says tickets will cost less than traditional movie tickets -- with a range of $3.99-$6.99. The site also offers a group ticket discount if people invite friends to join them for a screening time.

For many of Constellation's showtimes, VIP guest hosts will look to add excitement to the mix. Via Webcam, they will interact with audiences and answer questions during and after the film. Among the hosts are actor Channing Tatum for The Eagle, Albert Maysles for Grey Gardens and musician Jack Johnson for documentary Bag It.

"Unlike other online platforms, watching movies on Constellation is a social experience -- users can invite their friends to watch with them, and can interact with VIP hosts," the Web site says in touting its social aspects.

Similar to the process in a real-life movie theater though, Constellation’s patent-pending VT technology allows audiences to buy tickets to attend scheduled showtimes -- or create their own showtimes to watch with friends when they want.
 
“A Constellation experience is the closest thing there is online to a brick-and-mortar live movie theater experience short of going to a physical theater,” said Lawler. “But many movies you may hear about and want to see aren’t in a theater near you, or might not yet be available on other platforms. That’s where Constellation comes in." 

To filmmakers and distributors, Constellation promises a tool to increase awareness and revenue around new titles.  

The company also promises a "competitive revenue split" and zip code specific geo-blocking that will prevent cannibalizing traditional theatrical box office revenue. Plus, it touts "the highest level of streaming security and content protection available."

“We constantly heard from filmmakers, producers and actors that they wanted to engage their fans and followers more around their content, and we saw how online audiences were yearning for more interaction with the content and VIPs they followed,” said Carolin. “So we built a platform to bridge the gap.”

Tatum, who hosted a Sunday Constellation screening of The Eagle, for which viewer data wasn't available, said: “Hosting a film on Constellation brought me closer to the audience than ever before. Beyond being an incredibly fun way to watch movies, it delivered an experience that is, in many ways, far richer and more personal than a physical theater.” 

Allison Anders, director of the documentary Border Radio, said: "It was every bit like a film festival experience within your own home.”

Upcoming VIP screening hosts include director Rob Epstein of The Life and Times of Harvey Milk on Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST, Tatum for another The Eagle showing at 8 p.m. EST on Thursday, as well as Jack and Kim Johnson who will be part of a Bag It screening on Sunday at 8 p.m. EST.
 
Lawler’s previous experience includes producing credits for 2010’s The Lottery and ESPN’s 30-for-30 film Fernando Nation.
 
Carolin previously worked as a digital marketing manager at Viacom's Paramount and produced such films as Stop Loss, HBO’s Earth Made of Glass and Steven Soderberg’s upcoming Magic Mike.

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