Hannah Montana rocks film biz

Disney's diva grabs attention at ShoWest

Hannah Montana is more important than you think.

Disney’s success with Miley Cyrus’ 3-D concert film got the attention of everyone in the movie business, but folks in the alternative content arena have been waiting for a phenomenon of that sort to stimulate interest from the masses.

That was the gist of Wednesday’s “The New Frontier” panel at ShoWest, where four of the niche exhib sector’s top execs gathered to talk about possibilities and business models.

“Revenue could grow dramatically if the studios got involved,” said Ellis Jacob, CEO of Cineplex Entertainment. “They have the largest marketing machines in the world.”

Alternative content as it stands now consists mainly of concerts, opera, sports, comedy events and wrestling. And, frankly, it’s been more of a hit in Europe, where everything from Kylie Minogue and Genesis shows to Formula One racing and soccer matches have been beamed to theaters that have charged premium prices for tickets.

In the U.S., the Metropolitan Opera has scored some early success with its move into theaters. That leaves videogames as the biggest untapped potential source of alternative bigscreen product, despite inherent obstacles, said Tim Richards, CEO of Vue Entertainment.

“We’re trying to get the message out to the software writers that this is a (valid form) of presentation,” he said.

Richards also pointed out the success Vue has had with presentations of World Cup matches and the Grand Prix.

“We know from what we’ve done that a premium will be paid,” he said.

Indeed, premiums have been paid. The average ticket paid for the “Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds” 3-D concert pic was $15, while the average movie ticket is under $8.

“We sold out 29 out of 33 shows,” said Rave Motion Pictures CEO Tom Stephenson. “The only shows that had seats left were ones we added at 8 in the morning. It’s the first time ever (our theater partners) had to increase operating hours.”

As real estate prices rise, that use of theaters, which otherwise would be dark at certain hours, is the driving force behind the urge for more profit opportunities.

But it also means time-shifting is a huge issue, as live events from Europe would have to screen at times designated for the unspooling of movies — or, in some cases, in early morning or latenight, when theaters are traditionally closed. That’s why more Stateside product has to evolve.

“Scheduling is a major factor for us,” Richards said. “Right now, it’s probably a business that is regionally specific.”

All agreed that their business is the future of the biz at large. “Putting regular 2-D movies on screens is not the future,” Stephenson said.

Richards bolstered that argument, saying, “Alternative content is coming out at the best time. Stadium theaters and the sound systems in place are meant for this experience.”