High-def transmissions sparks new interest

The Metropolitan Opera’s live high-def theatrical transmissions — seen worldwide by more than 920,000 people during the 2007-08 season — are creating new fans and sparking renewed interest among existing opera fans.

Findings were included in a poll conducted by trade org Opera America in cooperation with National CineMedia, the Met’s distribution partner.

The digital theatrical transmissions have been hugely popular over the past two Met seasons. That’s good news for Hollywood studios and exhibs as they begin to look to alternative digital content to fill theater seats, particularly since they can charge more per ticket for special events.

The Met’s program, whereby select operas are beamed live into theaters on Saturdays, were the brainchild of Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb, who was seeking ways to boost opera’s profile, particularly in the post-9/11 period, when Met attendance dropped off.

“The Met box office is poised to be back where it was before 9/11, and I think this is a major part of the reason. It’s a story that has catapulted opera back into the mainstream cultural scene,” Gelb said. “It’s great for the Met, and it’s terrific for opera in general, particularly in this recessionary time.”

Those watching the Met performances in theaters around the world exceeded the number of people actually going to the Met last season, according to the survey, whose results will be discussed this week at Opera America’s annual gathering in Denver.

The eight live performances grossed $13.3 million in North American theaters and $5 million overseas. Next season the Met will up the number of live transmissions to 11.

Last month, Sony Pictures Releasing launched a unit dubbed the Hot Ticket, which will distribute alternative content, such as concerts, performing arts and sporting events. This fall, Hot Ticket will beam into theaters the September conclusion of “Rent” after a 12-year Broadway run.

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