Exec touting alternative options for theaters

Ready to pitch alternative programming at Cinema Expo

AMSTERDAM -- Howard Kiedaisch's Cinema Expo aria sounds like this: Movie theaters aren't just for movies anymore.

Thanks to the 21st century wonder of digital distribution, Kiedaisch figures his Arts Alliance Media boasts as perfect a pitch as the busty mezzo-sopranos he regularly beams onto movie screens from London to Lisbon.

"Digital cinema can help theaters program opera, soccer matches, a lot of things," said Kiedaisch, here for Monday's start of the annual exhibition confab. "People have been really thrilled with the opera we've offered. But opera is not particularly mainstream, so there must be other things that can be even more popular."

Not that Arts Alliance is without its competitors, with a growing number of companies beaming concerts and sporting events to theaters around the world.

New York-based By Experience and Emerging Pictures offer classical music programming to cinemas in Europe and elsewhere, London's Supervision Media is targeting 3D sports, and several other companies serve individual markets such as Russia and France.

Arts Alliance is primarily a digital-cinema integrator, and its so-called alternative programming is unlikely to displace movies in traditional time slots. But exhibitors have embraced such content to stimulate new sorts of theater traffic in off-peak hours.

Similarly, pitches from Arts Alliance and others now figure among trade show hubbub at Cinema Expo, along with studios hawking more conventional film fare. Industry tech groups will present an alt-programming seminar Monday featuring a presentation by London-based content provider More2Screen.

But studio movie screenings still dominate the confab, which has gained in stature as international exhibition's growing importance bolsters organizers' ability to draw top films and talent to the show.

"The international market is just going gangbusters and is very important to the film companies," Cinema Expo managing director Robert Sunshine said. "So having all of these exhibitors in one locations is very convenient for them."

A once-sleepy, if useful, trade show for regional exhibs, Cinema Expo has seen such industry VIPs as James Cameron and Jeffrey Katzenberg use it to launch worldwide pic campaigns in the last two years.

Cameron visited the show last year to screen 23 minutes "Avatar" footage, the first shown anywhere, and Katzenberg held forth on behalf of "Kung Fu Panda" the previous year. This time around, Universal will bring topliners Russell Brand and Jonah Hill to tubthump at a screening of the comedy "Get Him to the Greek," and other studios are expected to fly in surprise above-the-line cheerleaders.

Operated by e5 Media, parent company of The Hollywood Reporter, Cinema Expo for the first time is affiliated with the Belgium-based International Union of Cinemas (UNIC). The group staged a competing show last year.

"The best thing for the industry was to have one show for the European market, and we were able to achieve that," Sunshine said. "We think we have a very good bond with UNIC that is going to continue for a long time. We want this to become more of a European show, but we will never lose sight of the fact that people want to see the American films. So we will see a healthy combination of the two -- Hollywood movies and product reels and seminars geared more to European needs and perspectives."

Addressing one obvious need, Cinema Expo will broadcast select World Cup soccer matches during dinners and receptions.

Participation by the Hollywood majors seems solid this year. Even Universal is back in the mix after pulling out of all trade show involvements last year because of corporate belt-tightening.

Organizers figure that attendance should top 900 paid registrants, an increase of 10% from last year. They calculate a 9% increase in exhibits on the trade show floor to 18,000 square feet of booths, which in a continuing trend will be stuffed with displays of all things digital in addition to the traditional popcorn machines and sundry other theatrical wares.

Kiedaisch hopes to take a few meetings with exhibs interested in checking out some propriety software Arts Alliance has developed to administer virtual-print-fee agreements around the world. Studios use VPFs to funnel money to exhibs for digital cinema installations, complementing conversion funding that's finally starting to flow from banks as credit markets ease.

"The digital business is booming right now," Kiedaisch said.

Cinema Expo continues through Thursday at the RAI convention center.
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