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Cinema Expo eyes alternative content

Exhibitors look for further 3D revenue streams

AMSTERDAM — The Cinema Expo kicked off in Amsterdam on Monday with the spotlight squarely on the rapidly growing opportunities of digitization and 3D, which continues to expand globally at a dramatic rate.

While it’s primarily Hollywood blockbusters that are fueling that growth — the current number of digital screens outside the U.S. and Canada has reached 11,300, with some 8,000 of those 3D enabled — digitization offers vast opportunities for alternative content, from live opera and rock concerts to sporting events and gaming tournaments, said Jonathan Ross, prexy of content and distribution at 3D group Xpand.

“We saw between ‘Avatar’ in mid-December to just this past week a growth of about 60% in installations of 3D screens.” With the massive success of “Toy Story,” that growth looks certain to continue.

Of the 8,000 3D screens around the world (outside the U.S. and Canada), about 10% or 800 are live 3D-enabled, according to Ross.

While still small, that number is growing as exhibs around the globe install satellite dishes on the roofs of multiplexes and theaters houses.

“That alternative content business has been projected to grow to about

$1 billion by 2014. It’s going to be a combination of sports, music, video games, previews — everything non-film-based.”

Leading the way is the Met Opera, which accounted for $36 million of the estimated $46 million total generated by alternative content last year, Ross said, adding that live broadcasts of the Met now reach some 1,000 screens worldwide in 44 countries.

While many exhibs across Europe were hoping to screen World Cup soccer in 3D, Fifa, the international soccer governing body, got a red card for failing to take advantage of a great opportunity.

Fifa and its tech provider Sensio are putting the last eight matches of the World Cup, starting with the quarterfinals, in some 500 3D screens around the world. But for many exhibs, it’s too little too late.

“There’s been huge anticipation in the market, but unfortunately they were late to announce it, they were late to book it, they were late to advertise and market it,” said Tony Adamson, manager of worldwide customer marketing at DLP Cinema. “It’s left a lot of confusion in the market place.”

Despite those lucrative possibilities, acquiring and presenting alternative content poses a number of challenges, said Frank de Neeve, managing editor of Dutch digital cinema website Cinserver.nl.

Exhibs enjoy long and established relationships with film distribution companies, but not with distributors of alternative content, and that is something that takes time to form. Secondly, the quality of live events varies dramatically, from immaculate HD to fare “that looks more like blown-up TV,” says de Neeve.

Another challenge is the targeting of an all-new audience. “For 100 years we’ve screened movies. We know they attract people. … With movies, all exhibitors had to do was open their doors and the people would come. With alternative content, they have to target new audiences who have not traditionally been cinemagoers.”

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