When the phrase “live entertainment” is used in a word association game, most people aren’t likely to jump up and down screaming rebroadcast or replay. The phrase also isn’t likely to conjure thoughts of a big screen unless one is part of the staging. For most people, “Live Entertainment” is, well, … live. It’s the energy of a packed house, the buzz of the crowd. It’s Broadway. It’s concert halls and small clubs. It’s the spectacle of a show revealed second by second. Sony (SNE) is hoping in the right settings, with the right context, that “live factor” won’t be so important; that replays will catch on.
Earlier this week, Sony Pictures [media/entertainment unit of Sony Corporation of America] announced a plan that will make them the first studio with a dedicated division focused solely on making and distributing alternative digital programming to movie theaters. The concept, which is being called “Hot Ticket,” is to film events like concerts and theater performances which can then be projected in theaters during off hours. It’s a way of bringing Broadway to the backwoods, or taking that sold out concert and making it available to all those whose ticket karma came up lacking – and for a fraction of the price. Effectively, it’s an effort to build a “long tail” for what are, typically, fleeting events.
All the events shown as “hot tickets” will be pre-recorded from live events. The aim is not to simulcast material, but instead to extend its reach and lifespan for a short period of time.
“Our mandate will be to identify one of a kind and sold out events that people in the country most want to see, and we will work to present them to audiences everywhere,” said Rory Bruer, President of Sony Pictures Releasing.
The films are expected to be shown in off peak hours and limited to one or two week engagements per film.
“This is somewhat of a new frontier for movie theaters,” Bruer further said. “And with all of the possibilities that come with the digital cinema rollout, you’re going to see a lot of new things like this.”
With the competition for consumer entertainment dollars and leisure time fierce, the plan has its share of both detractors and proponents. Some believe replaying a concert or theater performance in movie hall is a cheap facsimile. Others seem to welcome the idea of a lower cost (movie ticket prices will be far below concert or theater ticket costs) alternative to the concert hall.
Box office data seems to suggest both sides have evidence to support their views. For the proponents, Disney’s (DIS) Hanna Montana/Miley Cyrus Concert Tour film is the best example. Released earlier this year, the tween/teen concert film earned $65.3 million at the domestic box office. And supporting the idea of a limited engagement: 47% of that revenue was tallied in the opening weekend.
In contrast, critics have a few choices of their own. A recent U2 in 3D concert film generated only $8m in total domestic office returns over a similar release period of about 115 days. A Rolling Stones concert film called Shine a Light, which is still in release, isn’t fairing much better. At about 48 days, it’s running a current tally of about $5.1m at the domestic box office (data via Box Office Mojo).
Sony’s Bruer acknowledges that many of the films shown in the early days of “Hot Ticket,” like the U2 or Stones’ movies, may not be money makers. Finding the right formula, and convincing consumers to experiment on non-traditional movie theater releases may take time. And like with traditional movies, careful selection of titles will be essential to any chance of success too.
Another bottleneck that could pose problems: only about 1/7th of the 38,000 screens in the U.S. and Canada are currently equipped for digital projection. That number is improving rapidly, however.
The curtain will rise on the first test of “Hot Ticket” in August with the presentation of Cirque Du Soleil’s final London performance of “Delirium.” In September, Sony will return to show the final performance of the Broadway musical “Rent” which is concluding its 12 year run.
The initial roll out is estimated to be in about 500 HD equipped digital theaters. Tickets could cost anywhere from normal movie ticket prices up to $20 a person.
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