Pan-European Industry Trade Body for Alternative Cinema Content Launches

The Event Cinema Association aims to support and promote the growing market for movie theaters offering audiences filmed live events such as operas, theater and concerts.

LONDON --  A new pan-European industry trade body to push the alternative content agenda to the public and the exhibition and distribution sector alike is being launched.

The Event Cinema Association (ECA) aims to support and promote the growing market for movie theaters looking to offer different types of filmed live events to audiences such as operas, ballets, theatre, concerts, sport and audience question and answer debates.

As a trade association, the ECA promises to provide "a united voice for the alternative content industry and work to rebrand live cinema screenings of different kinds of programming as ‘event cinema’ in order to engage other audiences."

The start up body has already set up a seven strong board of directors corralled from all sectors including reps from exhibition, distribution and alternative content providers.

The board includes a North American voice in the shape of Mark Walukevich, svp, international film for National Amusements U.K./U.S.

Other board members tasked with steering the ECA's policy and direction will be Omniverse U.K. COO Austin Shaw, Cineworld U.K. alternative content manager John Travers and Belgium's dcinex alternative content and distribution development vp Fabrice Testa.

The organization's first act is to distribute a quarterly trailer reel in European cinemas to promote forthcoming programming and set up a website with information for cinemas and alternative content providers.

ECA chair Melissa Keeping, a former distribution executive, told The Hollywood Reporter she set the body up because there was a real industry need for a unifying voice to boost public awareness.

"Audiences are increasingly responding to a variety of content, in particular live event broadcasts, which presents new opportunities for cinemas and content providers to engage with a broader demographic," Keeping said.

The plan is to concentrate on Europe initially with a view to broadening the organization's horizons into North America and South America although no timescale is in place at the moment.

“This area of programming is still a new development in cinemas but a trade association such as the ECA will be able to offer the kind of support that cinemas need in engaging with alternative content as well as to alternative content producers and distributors who want to engage with cinemas," Keeping said.

Event cinema, or "live casts," is described as the screening of alternative content delivered digitally to cinemas across the U.K.

"Having worked in the distribution business for 12 years, I can see the emergence of alternative content and the opportunities for cinemas to capitalize further on their digitization and bring both something new to their audiences, as well as bringing new audiences to their screens," Keeping said.

Isabelle Fauchet, head of cinema with the Royal Opera House and ECA board member added: "The Royal Opera House has been keen for some time to develop a relationship with cinema and has established its own cinema department to develop new business, deliver analyses on new and existing markets, expand the overall cinema network worldwide and tackle technology issues. We need an organization that will support us in developing our offer to audiences and in marketing the alternative content offer to audiences."

The last five years have seen a sharp rise in the variety and frequency of alternative content screenings as more cinemas have become equipped with digital screens.

In 2011, more than double the number of screenings took place in the U.K. – 109 compared to the previous year’s 54.

Although revenues from alternative content events are still small compared to film box office, they are growing year on year.

In 2011 revenues from alternative content events were just under £13 million ($20.7 million) compared to £8 million ($12.7 million) two years ago and less than £5 million ($7.95 million) in 2009.

Recent events include the National Theatre Live’s program of screenings, which included Frankenstein by filmmaker Danny Boyle. Live music has featured with Omniverse Vision’s live streaming of British Boy band JLS’s “Eyes Wide Open” concert with ticket sales exceeding 65,000 in the U.K. and Ireland alone.

The single night screenings of the Met Opera’s Anna Bolena brought in £135,000 ($214,8700) box office and the 25th anniversary performance of The Phantom of the Opera from the Royal Albert Hall grossed £551,000 ($876,700) making it the third biggest cinema draw in the U.K. over the weekend.

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