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Trade body formed for alternative content in cinemas

Event Cinema Assn. to promote new market in U.K., Europe

LONDON — The Event Cinema Assn., a new industry trade body to support and promote the developing market for alternative content programming in U.K. and European cinemas, launched today in London.

The nonprofit org aims to increase public awareness of live cinema events such as concerts, opera, stage theater and sports; provide data on the market; and work to rebrand alternative programming as “event cinema.”

“Rebranding is an important part of promoting and supporting event cinema,” ECA chair Melissa Keeping told Variety. “We want to say, ‘You think you know cinema, think again.’ ”

Problems that Keeping highlights: the current scattershot approach to programming and the lack of marketing, the latter of which means few people are aware of events.

There are currently approximately 22 U.K. companies providing event cinema programming. The ECA will work with content providers, distributors and exhibitors to provide a cohesive approach to reaching audiences and continuing to grow the burgeoning sector. The org will undertake a series of marketing initiatives including the launch of a listings-style website for event cinema programming, as well as distributing a quarterly trailer reel for participating theaters to play ahead of standard programming.

“This area of programming is still a new development in cinemas, but 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.

The first trailer reel has been completed and will unspool this month in 350 theaters across Europe that are ECA members. The website is expected to follow in the first half of 2013.

“Another key area to address is the lack of quantifiable box office data,” Keeping said. “What limited information there is tends to be anecdotal and not scientific. Content providers are in a bit of a Catch-22. In order to refine what they are doing they need to justify it in box office terms, but there is a lack of data.”

The variety and frequency of alternative-content screenings has increased significantly over the last five years thanks to the conversion to digital screens. In 2011, 109 alternative content screenings took place in the U.K., up from 54 in 2010, with revenue from the events reported at just under £13 million ($20.7 million).

The ECA’s policy and direction will be overseen by a board of seven directors and president, Chris Coulter, a partner at law firm Morrison & Foerster. Members are Isabelle Fauchet, head of cinema at the U.K.’s Royal Opera House; Rickard Gramfors, project manager for Swedish distributor Folkets Hus och Parker; Austin Shaw, COO of U.K. alternative-content provider Omniverse Vision; Graham Spurling, managing director of Ireland’s Spurling Group Cinemas; Fabrice Testa, VP of alternative content and distribution development at Pan-European digital cinema services company Dcinex; John Travers, alternative content manager U.K. exhibition chain Cineworld Cinemas; and Mark Walukevich, senior VP of international film for National Amusements.

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