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Will 'Stars' Align For New Business Model?

Theater chains have long been counting on alternative content and live events as a way to bolster bottom lines. A special 'Fault In Our Stars' event tonight billed as the largest ever live simulcast experience might be a key test case. Deadline's David Lieberman reports.

Night Before Our StarsTechnological barriers to offer music, sports, and other forms of video content “are gone” now that most theaters have digital projectors, and many receive content via satellite, Cinemark CEO Tim Warner told investors at the Gabelli & Co Movie & Entertainment Conference. “Now it’s just [about] developing the business model.” He and other execs hope to persuade major studios and other content owners to look at theaters as a kind of pay per view network for non-mainstream movie content on weeknights when most seats typically are empty. Exhibitors don’t necessarily need new relationships. “When you’re talking to ESPN you’re talking to Disney. When you’re talking to Fox Sports you’re talking to 21st Century Fox,” Warner says. Some are willing to experiment. For example, he says, Fox approached Fathom Events to help promote The Fault In Our Stars in a special event tonight. Execs said “Look, let’s do a premiere on the satellite network called ‘The Night Before Our Stars'” which is being billed as “the largest ever live simulcast experience.” Theaters will offer on-screen interviews and musical performances, and give attendees a charm bracelet and poster ahead of a screening of the film — for a $25 ticket price. “It not only pre sold the movie, you got a $25 average ticket price. So this is a great development,” Warner says. “The fact that Fox did this and was so successful, the studios are going to be right behind this….It’s probably a way to help pay for their premieres.”

Related: Regal Gears Up To Add Large Screens And Recliner Seats

Digital Cinema Destinations Corp CEO Bud Mayo — a longtime champion of alternative content — also talked up the strategy. “We have unused capacity in every theater in the U.S….Monday through Thursday, no one’s there,” he says. Once theater owners see themselves as programmers, instead of simply buyers of studio content, it could “create a different kind of conversation at film festivals.” They need to recognize that a lot of people are “not interested in Hunger Games or X-Men” and might show up for ethnic, religious, sports, and music content. But sports is “the killer app” — if local broadcasters can be persuaded that simultaneous showings of games on a big screen “would increase viewership.”