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West End Shows to Get Movie Theater Distribution

Legit productions rep 7% of event cinema screenings in Europe

LONDON — Audiences around the world will be able to see London’s West End legit productions at movie theaters after event cinema producer and distrib CinemaLive struck a deal with Blighty’s Digital Theater.

The pair will launch their first screenings of, as yet unidentified, legit productions in September, comprising upcoming shows and titles from Digital Theater’s existing catalog.

It’s the first time shows from leading West End producers have been made available in high definition for a global cinema audience. Event cinema, or alternative content, now is offered in more than 50 countries.

“We know how attractive West End theater productions are to exhibitors looking to bring their audiences must-see event cinema and we are thrilled to be able to satisfy this need,” said Peter Skillman, director and CEO of CinemaLive.

Digital Theater works with legit companies to capture live performances using multiple cameras and HD technology. Recent titles in Digital Theater’s catalog include acclaimed productions of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” toplining former “Doctor Who” stars David Tennant and Catherine Tate; Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (pictured), starring David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf; and “A Doll’s House,” featuring Hattie Morahan.

The news comes as IHC Screen Digest and European trade body the Event Cinema Assn. published the first pan-European study of event cinema at CinemaCon. The report, covering the  U.K./Ireland, France, Germany, Russia, Netherlands, Austria and Sweden, demonstrated the growth of the event cinema sector and identified pan-European and territory specific trends to help distribs and exhibs focus on potential opportunities for growth.

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The relative paucity of theater productions across multiple markets to date shows opportunity for growth in this area.

On average cinema screenings of legit productions make up just 7% of events, proving most common in Sweden (15.4%), France and the Netherlands (both 9.3%). In the U.K. in 2012 just nine out of 131 events screened in cinemas  were legit productions while opera accounted for 52 (39.7%) of total events.

Theater productions are not live events but the study shows that live events are not necessarily the audience driver for event cinema that many assume.

In Russia just 10 (19.6%) of the 51 events in 2012 were live, while all markets studied except Blighty (51.9% of 131 events) and Sweden (87.2% of 39 events) saw live events in the minority.

While live events can add an extra sense of event to a screening, recorded productions are easier for flexible programming, enabling exhibs to fill dark screens on off-peak times and days.

3D shows are not yet a draw. In 2012 only 10 (7.6%) of U.K. events screened were 3D, down from 17% in 2011. Germany and Austria (14.3%) and France (13%) saw the highest percent of screenings in 3D, coming off seven events apiece. The success of non-live, non-3D events suggests it is the content not the format that draw its core audience.

Overall opera remains the core genre with an average of 36.7% of event cinema screenings. In Russia the genre accounted for 56.9% (29) of screenings in 2012.

Blighty is the most advanced market for event cinema in Europe. Its 131 events in 2012 grossed £12.5 million ($19.2 million). Opera, ballet and classical music accounted for 65% of content, up from 61% in 2011. The territory saw 28 content providers in 2012, up from 20 the previous year.

The Netherlands was close behind the U.K. with 129 events in 2012, which collectively generated 910 screenings. Although opera remained the most common, accounting for 31 (24%) of events, the market also saw a unique popularity for TV shows on the bigscreen, with such events accounting for 30 (23.3%) of the 129.

The value of the sector is easily seen in France where CNC figures for 2011 showed 6,837 screenings of 54 events, which delivered 452,063 admissions. The average ticket price for an event cinema screening was $23.83 compared with $8.28 for a standard cinema ticket, resulting in $10.8 million total revenue.

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