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Lincoln Center Bets on Its Brand in Bigscreen Market

With the launch of “Lincoln Center at the Movies” tonight, New York arts complex Lincoln Center moves into movie theaters with one eye on claiming a place in the growing market for alternative bigscreen content, and another on creating new performing-arts fans that will sustain its constituent companies in the years to come.

The initiative, which partners Lincoln Center with Fathom Events, kicks off with Sept. 24 screenings in some 600 theaters nationwide of the San Francisco Ballet’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the first of a four-title series presented under the banner Great American Dance. The coming months will see cinema presentations of works by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ballet Hispanico (pictured above) and New York City Ballet. Adding a little TV-personality star power to the mix, Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan host each screening, which will incorporate interviews with the artists and backstage insights into the production.

According to Jed Bernstein, president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the project was hatched to stand alongside Met: Live in HDthe popular, longrunning series of opera cinemacasts originating at the Metropolitan Opera, one of the 11 constituent arts organizations that make up Lincoln Center. Live in HD has ballooned into a $60 million business for the Met, and served as a trailblazer for other efforts in bringing live performing arts to the screen, including NT Live, the successful, expanding series of screen programming from London’s National Theater.

“We think there’s a lot of opportunity for more in that space, and as a brand, Lincoln Center is a pretty big umbrella that has some breadth to it,” Bernstein said. Although Lincoln Center presents a range of arts including symphony (the New York Philharmonic) and theater (Lincoln Center Theater), the selection of dance as the theme of the first presentations was strategic.

“There’s isn’t much dance out there in this space,” Bernstein continued. “We felt this was a chance for us, with interest in dance so intense thanks to reality-TV competitions and, recently, the interest in Misty Copeland and everything she’s done,” Bernstein said. “We think dance has an audience that wants more exposure but doesn’t know how to access it.”

Although for years the conventional wisdom, especially on Broadway, held that screen distribution of theater events would cannibalize audiences away from the stage, now most people in the live-arts industries believe canny content distribution, on screens of all sizes, can seed future audiences for the performing arts.

The Great American Dance cinema screenings — costing in the realm of $1 million a piece to capture and market — are part of an overall digital push for Lincoln Center, which in the last several months hired David Link as its chief digital officer. The capture-and-distribution activities of Lincoln Center at the Movies coincide with efforts to spruce up the campus’ overall digital experience, from ticket sales to ordering amenities during the show.

“We have to find a way to to make digital distribution our friend, and be pro-active about how we distribute and engage and what we expect in return,” Bernstein said. “It’s all in the service of more live attendance.”

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