Met Opera Standoff Threatens $60 Million Theater Business

Opera Standoff Threatens - H 2014
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Opera Standoff Threatens - H 2014

Live performances being broadcast into theaters could come to an end if a federal mediator can't help solve a worsening labor dispute.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

Movie theater owners throughout the world are fretting over the possibility of a lockout at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The Met's live broadcasts into theaters on Saturdays have generated an estimated $300 million since Julie Taymor's production of Mozart's The Magic Flute was beamed into cinemas in 2006. Those performances will go dark if a federal mediator can't help solve a worsening labor standoff between Met management and 12 of its 16 unions.

"We remain optimistic that differences will be resolved," says John Rubey, CEO of Fathom Events, the go-between for the Met and theater owners in the U.S. Adds one executive with a major theater chain, "It will leave a huge hole if there is a lockout."

The Met: Live in HD was the brainchild of Met GM Peter Gelb as a way to make opera more accessible to the masses. Last season, 10 operas were transmitted via satellite into at least 2,000 theaters in 66 countries, including more than 800 U.S. theaters. Box office hit $60 million worldwide (average ticket prices were $23 last season), with theater owners splitting sales 50-50 with the Met (insiders say the split is more advantageous to the Met in North America) and Fathom taking a small percentage as well.

The first HD broadcast of the 2014-15 season isn't set to take place until Oct. 11, and as of now, Rubey and a Met spokesman say no contingency plans are in place should the season be delayed or canceled.