Chris McGurk aims to build network of alternative theatrical fare

Cinedigm Digital Cinema chairman and CEO Chris McGurk has big plans.

In June, he told Los Angeles Film Festival attendees that the “indie renaissance” was just around the corner and called on exhibitors to try different release plans. At Wednesday’s MultiScreen Summit, held at the Hollywood and Highland Center, the former head of MGM and Overture Films elaborated on his vision and explained how Cinedigm can lead the charge in reshaping how content reaches auds at theaters.

“When I joined (Cinedigm), I felt that just being a theatrical distributor wasn’t really the right way to go — we needed to adopt more of a studio approach,” McGurk said.

That meant finding ways to incorporate home distribution and well as to expand Cinedigm’s presence in the digital, alternative and independent content spheres, especially when it comes to filling empty theaters during the week.

“The fact I quote ad nauseam is that less than five percent of seats is filled in theaters from Monday through Thursday, and less than 15 percent on an annual basis,” McGurk said. “There’s a huge under-utilization problem in theaters right now.”

McGurk took note of the success of the Met Opera’s in-theater screenings and now has a plan to build channel-format alternative content (as McGurk puts it, anything not a feature film that “looks great on screen,” like action sports) for exhibitors around the country.

“Almost everything we’ve done on a weekday or night has been successful,” he said.

And with hopes of creating a profitable ancillary platform for the company, Cinedigm acquired New Video, a New York-based home- and digital-content distributor, in April. With theatrical, home and digital releases working hand-in-hand, McGurk sees a brighter future for smaller productions normally lost in the major-studio undertow.

McGurk argued that by tailoring unique release schedules (such as stacking an early video-on-demand release before rolling out a limited release in theaters based on target auds) and marketing plans for indies, everyone — filmmakers, producers and Cinedigm alike — can win. The plan seems to have worked for the critically acclaimed docu “The Invisible War,” which as part of its unique strategy eschewed TV promotion altogether.

“Instead of spending and wasting all the money on a shotgun approach, really focus the marketing on a precise approach using social media and the Internet,” McGurk said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all method here.”

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