Digital cinema is headliner as concerts hit big screen

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"We had people dancing in the aisles. It was really fun to see," says Jonathan Dern of an audience enjoying a recent Beyonce concert.

But Dern -- who is co-president of the Bigger Picture, the alternative concert arm of digital-cinema provider AccessIT -- wasn't describing a live concert experience. Instead, he was referring to an audience at a digital-cinema theater that recently played a one-night-only engagement on a Monday of "The Beyonce Experience."

The same month, the Bigger Picture had similar success with a concert screening of Bon Jovi's "Lost Highway."

Meanwhile, two of the most anticipated digital 3-D releases of 2008 are high-profile concert films: "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour" and "U2 3D."

It seems that you can't stop the beat. It looks like there will be more of this sort of concert content -- in 2-D and 3-D -- in 2008.

"We're looking at different programming scenarios for concerts," Dern says. "Fans of performers are fans, and they want to come out."

The results could be such theatrical releases as Hannah Montana and U2 or concerts playing as alternative content. "The whole idea of alternative content is to (attract audiences) at times when occupancy is low in theaters," Dern says. "On a Monday or Tuesday night, it is very easy to book a location, certainly in a multiplex. ... Not only did (Beyonce and Bon Jovi) do better than the regular-run features (on their Monday night screenings), but in some cases there were more people in our theater than there were in the entire multiplex combined.

"It's all enabled by digital cinema," he adds. "If we had to strike prints to do these types of events and programs, it would make no financial sense."

He says that alternative content models vary -- for instance, some might originate from footage shot for DVD release, while other performances could stem from digital-cinema distribution deals.

As an example of the latter, the Bigger Picture recently entered into a deal with the San Francisco Opera for worldwide distribution of six operas per year beginning in March.

Of 3-D, he says, "We are developing programs right now to fill off-peak hours."

Looking ahead, he believes the opportunity to deliver performances live is going to bring a new kind of excitement to this model.

"In 2008 you will start to see it," he says. "We are able to go live, full 2K digital cinema and we are able to go live in 3-D."

Imax also is eyeing that model. "When they are digital, you can make them in real time. I think that is going to create a lot more excitement," says Greg Foster, chairman and president of filmed entertainment at Imax. "It's like sports. You wouldn't want to see something when you already saw the results on ESPN. You want to see it happen for the very first time. When we have Imax digital -- certainly when we have Imax digital 3-D -- we'll be able to pipe a lot of that in, whether it's sporting events or concerts. That's when I think we are going to focus on it."

With Imax planning to introduce its digital projection system in mid-2008, that time might be not too far off.
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