Alternative cinema content to pass $500 mil

Cinema is fast becoming a multi-arts venue" says report

LONDON -- Alternative content in theaters is set to become a money-spinner worth more than $500 million globally by 2014 according to a report Monday.

The research from Screen Digest puts the global market in alternative content -- think live opera screenings or traditional theater productions -- to hit $526 million in five years, up from the lowly $45.7 million reached by the end of 2008.

And while the U.S. market laid claim to two thirds of global revenues gathered from such content, Screen Digest says that will likely fall to under 50% as the appetite for non-movie programming across the rest of the world grows.

The report entitled "Alternative Content in Cinemas: Market assessment and forecasts to 2014" says the cinema is fast becoming a "multi-arts venue" with the last two years posting a growth in alternative programming on the back of a boom in digital cinema screen technology.

The report points to there being over 12,000 digital screens worldwide and cites high-profile events such as New York's Metropolitan Opera beaming live into cinemas as pointing the way.

Cinema exhibitors have sniffed out the opportunity of screening events at price levels higher than the average cinema ticket.

Some opera-in-cinema tickets in the U.K. sell at £35 ($59) and boost occupancy rates in what are often traditional downtimes.

But report author and Screen Digest head of film and cinema David Hancock warns that there are still challenges ahead.

"As well as digital cinema, the exhibitor needs to have a satellite infrastructure in place, something that is still in the early stages," Hancock said.

High-profile events such as opera, theatre and some sport have emerged but a range of other content is appearing on cinema screens, including live Q&A link-ups, comedy, music concerts, poetry, President Obama's inauguration and even Michael Jackson's memorial service.

The report cites Digital 3D as a driving force for the development of alternative content in cinemas.

Live-action concert films, such as "Hannah Montana" and "U23D," led the first experiments with 3D for alternative content.

And now broadcasters such as BSkyB and ESPN are getting closer to launching 3D TV channels, which will serve to bolster available content.

The research says there are over 6,000 3D-equipped screens around the world, and over 10,000 screens committed to installing 3D worldwide.