Alternative Content Market to Grow 150 Percent by 2015

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Tue, 11/29/2011 - 19:00 -- Nick Dager

Consumers worldwide spent $162 million in 2010 attending non-film events in cinemas according to a new report from analysts Dodona Research. A single market the United States accounted for more than half of this $88 million. The report also says that the business of showing events like opera sports and rock concerts in cinemas figured almost as an afterthought in the business plans of integrators – the firms which were set up to finance and execute the introduction of digital projection technology in cinemas in place of 35mm projectors the internationally accepted standard since 1909. To their core business of financing installing and maintaining digital projectors and delivering digital copies of films to them these firms often added ancillary businesses in screen advertising and distributing so-called alternative content. Dodona regards a string of deals undertaken by one of these companies Cinedigm as marking a decisive shift away from this model towards greater specialization and focus on the different needs of these disparate activities. Cinedigm sold its screen advertising business to Screenvision its film delivery business to Technicolor while it and Technicolor pooled their alternative content activities all in early 2011. Pointing to the currently small scale of the industry and the tendency of alternative content distributors to get involved in different types of product often on an ad hoc basis Dodona argues that more focus and structure is exactly what this market needs if it is to fulfill its potential. The biggest success story so far has perhaps surprisingly been opera thanks to the commitment and energy with which New York's Metropolitan Opera and its distributor BY Experience have approached the market. Worried by its aging audience the Met saw that distributing operas to cinemas could be the key to broadening its audience for the future. In the current 2011-2012 season it is distributing 11 operas to 1 600 cinemas in 54 countries in live and encore performances which will be seen by more than three million people. With little money available for marketing compared to feature films and generally significantly higher ticket prices alternative content relies heavily on creating a sense of event. Live performances – previously impossible using 35mm technology – have proved a key element in this. As the benefits of live performances have been recognized and more and more cinemas been equipped with satellite dishes the share of live events in the United States has climbed from a quarter in 2007 to more than half in 2010. While a huge range of content types have been shown three main streams stand out as having established themselves particularly quickly: opera and its cultural cousins ballet and theatre; sports; and popular music concerts. In the longer term it is likely that the broader needs of rights owners will be important factors in the development of the market. For cultural institutions which already sell out their performances and where there may be political pressure to make their cultural products more widely available broadening distribution through cinemas is a no-brainer. The music industry however has yet to figure out exactly where cinemas might figure in its post Napster marketing landscape; while sports can pose problems such as the preferred audience behaviour of fans of some sports and scheduling. Successful non-consumer areas include business meeting and presentations. With big screens to show – and large foyers to allow interaction with – new products cinemas can be particularly suited to launches; and in the United States worship services. No fewer than three million Americans attended worship services in NCM Fathom-affiliated cinemas in 2010. Business and worship events generated $28 million in revenue for US cinemas in 2010. Dodona forecasts that the alternative content market as a whole will reach a value of $400 million by 2015 150 percent more than 2010's figure. Although these figures exclude ancillary sales notably from DVDs of events which as in the movie business provide an additional revenue stream the analysts note that realistically the market remains tiny. According to report author Melissa Keeping The final shape of this industry won't become clear until it passes the billion-dollar mark but on the plus side that's almost certainly coming before the decade is out. Alternative Content is available from