As director of distribution at Picturehouse Entertainment Marc Allenby helped bring the Metropolitan Opera and Bolshoi Ballet to cinemas in the UK and launched both NTLive and RSC Live. In 2017 he helped facilitate the management buyout that re-established the company with its experienced team as Trafalgar Releasing, where today he is CEO. In 2018 he established offices in the United States, a move he sees as “a vital part of the companies’ future plans and growth.” Headquartered in London, Trafalgar Releasing today also has offices in New York and Denver. Before the pandemic the company experienced significant growth and won numerous accolades including most recently the largest ever event cinema release with BTS’ Burn the Stage: The Movie. Despite the pandemic Trafalgar was moderately successful in 2020. Allenby credits his team for that and says the key then and now is to be agile and nimble. One change they made was to schedule multiple nights instead of event cinema’s more typical one-night only bookings. This was to accommodate limited audiences in the theatres that were able to open during the worst of the pandemic. Moving forward, Allenby is optimistic about 2021. Legitimate theatre is critical to Trafalgar’s business; he calls it the company’s backbone. With cinemas opening around the world, with West End theatres in London open now and Broadway theatres set to open in September as the backdrop to our conversation, I spoke with Allenby about how his company coped with COVID-19 and what he sees as the outlook for the future of event cinema.
Digital Cinema Report: Trafalgar was having a good year in 2019, culminating in the acquisition of More2Screen. Then, just a few months later, the COVID-19 crisis happened. What were some of the highlights for Trafalgar leading up to the pandemic?
Marc Allenby: 2019 ended really strongly for Trafalgar Releasing. We had huge successes with BTS, Metallica and Depeche Mode in particular. 2020 started at the same pace with 42nd Street, Kinky Boots and Riverdance standing out prior to theatres around the world closing down.
DCR: What impact did the pandemic have on your business?
MA: As with many companies, the pandemic impacted our business brutally and across the board. We are used to navigating local market challenges, but the global lockdown was unparalleled in impact. Fortunately, our year-on-year growth over the previous three years meant we had solid foundations to support us when the lockdown commenced. We were forced to quickly pivot our business to find other sources of revenue. Our commitment to sourcing and distributing content to cinemas remained the same, but we had to take the concerns of the artists we work with into consideration in terms of the safety of their fans. For example, we distributed a Stevie Nicks concert to cinemas in October 2020, which offered an alternate at home viewing option if fans were uncomfortable visiting a cinema as vaccines were not yet available. We still preserved the theatrical window for the project but were able to adapt on behalf of our clients and still deliver a successful cinema experience.
DCR: It’s difficult enough to merge two businesses in good times but accomplishing that during the pandemic must have added to the challenge. How have the corporate cultures of More2Screen and Trafalgar meshed?
MA: Thankfully More2Screen and Trafalgar are culturally quite similar, we share similar methodology and values and rely heavily of the expertise within our teams. This has led to a fluid and open exploration of working practice and knowledge transfer.
DCR: Your company seemed to begin rebounding toward the end of 2020, notably with the release of Elvis: That's The Way It Is: Special Edition. What was it like bringing that to screens with the pandemic still having an impact on theatres and patrons?
MA: We had a surprisingly busy 2020, all things considered, BTS, Elvis, Stevie Nicks stand out as successful releases within the global pandemic. Ultimately, we had to be more agile and nimble in our decision making. Tracking government legislation and market trends to find optimum dates for our titles. We often departed from the synchronized global release date to multiple dates to reflect the variance in local markets.
DCR: How will your 2021 release schedule compare to the years prior to the pandemic?
MA: We anticipate bouncing back very strongly and have been pleased with the level of interest from our content partners to distribute projects this year. We have several events already scheduled for May, Lindemann Live in Moscow (May 20), Glastonbury: Live from Worthy Farm (May 22) and Bon Jovi (also May 22), as well as Florida Georgia Line (June 12) just announced for June. The rest of the year is shaping up in a similar pattern and the demand for quality, fan-focused titles remains stronger than ever.
DCR: In your view, how does Trafalgar Releasing differ from its competitors?
MA: We are established experts in global event cinema with unrivalled expertise and experience within our team and deep established trust with our partners both in exhibition and content creation. We are the only event cinema distributor that has both a US and UK based team, which gives us an advantage for sourcing, marketing, and distributing content globally.
DCR: What is the long-range outlook for event cinema?
MA: Event cinema is poised to remerge from the pandemic stronger and more relevant than before. Exhibitors have recognized the need for the diversification of their product offerings to decrease their reliance on standard studio theatrical fare, especially as they face the changing landscape with streaming. Exhibitors are looking for ways to entice audiences back to the cinema and the event cinema offerings tend to appeal to a broad range of fans and audiences, which makes it very compelling.