One of the big hopes for digital cinema is the opportunity it provides for alternative content. If it can be digitized, it can be shown in a digitally-equipped movie theater.
The L.A. Times takes a look at one of the early movers - Bigger Picture (a division of digital cinema aggregator AccessIT) - in what may prove to be an important source of revenue for theater owners.
The technology also enables theaters to easily switch what's being shown in a theater, opening venues up to specialized shows so they can sell tickets and popcorn when they aren't showing Hollywood's latest blockbusters. Although major studio movies attract big crowds on weekends, Dern said that over the course of a typical week auditoriums are often filled to only 10% to 15% of capacity.
"If we can move the dial 1%, that's a big number," Dern said.
Bigger Picture started three years ago, when Dern and Rutkowski came up with the "Kidtoons" animation programs. A typical program might include a G-rated feature, such as this spring's "Strawberry Shortcake: Berry Blossom Festival," plus cartoon shorts, music videos and singalongs.
Concerts, opera and sports have all taken a turn at the alternative content turnstile, with live theater simulcasts from New York's Metropolitan Opera proving a surprising success. Still, we're early in the exploration of just what sort of content will drive audiences to movie theaters in off-peak hours. As digital cinema grows and approaches a critical mass, well see a lot more companies looking to turn alternative digital content into a sustainable business.
Michael Karagosian, a Calabasas-based consultant to the theater industry, sees several challenges. Niche offerings may end up playing best in rural areas where access to concerts and other events is limited, he said, but prove a tough sell in cities.
Competition is heating up, he notes. National CineMedia, for example, a digital theater advertising company, distributes concerts and other events under its Fathom brand.
Still, Karagosian said, what Access is doing boosts the appeal of digital technology to exhibitors.
"Content will drive the business more than equipment," Karagosian said. "It's recurring revenue, and a company like Access IT is looking to sell razor blades, not just razors."