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Event Cinema brings live performances to movie theatres

Did you know that sold-out performances from the Metropolitan Opera, the Bolshoi Ballet and the world’s top bands and sporting events are now as close as your local cinema? The ground-breaking new movie theatre concept Event Cinema has caught on quickly in Finland, and the idea of so-called ‘special screenings’ are expanding worldwide.

elokuvateattarin Killan sali Savonlinnassa.
Event Cinema also features performances from several prominent London stages. Image: Paavo Koponen / Yle

Event Cinema is enticing new clientele to movie theatres with high definition screenings of concerts, ballets, and theatre, symphony and opera performances, as well as coverage of major music and sporting events.

Event Cinema screenings are often live, transmitted directly as HD digital content via satellite, or they are pre-recorded presentations of recent performances. The screenings are often limited to a few show times, but tickets are sold well ahead of the dates.

The special screenings already account for up to five percent of total cinema sales in Europe, and that number is expected to rise to ten percent in the coming years.

“In Finland, an estimated 2-4 percent of tickets sales stem from our Event Cinema screenings,” says Kai Itämäki, director of the Finnish distributor StoryHill.

World-class opera and theatre

Opera performances in particular are attracting a larger audience each year.

Kuusaan Kino, a company originating in the south-eastern city of Kouvola, distributes opera and ballet films to Finnish cinemas. This autumn, it says it will be serving 40 different movie theatres throughout the country, a 25 percent growth on last year.

"Sales are rising at a shocking rate the entire time. But from a financial standpoint, the screenings are more profitable than the distribution. Distributors get peanuts,” says Elise Brandt, Kuusaan Kino’s Event Cinema importer.

StoryHill out of Järvenpää has been distributing Event Cinema since 2013. During the 2015-2016 season, the company is making arrangements for screenings from the Royal Opera House in London to up to 20 movie houses in Finland.

Another big draw are performances from the world's top theatre companies. In October, for example, several theatres will be showing a performance of London's hot ticket item this autumn: 'Hamlet' from the National Theatre starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

Expanded audience

Companies importing content to Finland says the special screenings are bringing a whole new demographic to the country’s cinemas. People who come to see the opera or ballet haven’t necessarily been to see a film in a long time.

“This is a joint learning experience for everyone involved, informing consumers about the different content and experiences that the cinema now has to offer,” says StoryHill’s Itämäki.

Opera and ballet screenings are often scheduled when the movie houses aren’t full, thereby giving the smaller cinemas in particular an extra income source.

“The ticket price is higher for Event Cinema screenings, but once people who are interested find out about them, they become avid ticket buyers. This is a big thing for a small cinema,” says Brandt.

Monty Python leads the way

The Finnkino cinema chain also features Event Cinema screenings. The company was the first to start offering screenings of other events besides films in the spring of 2008, when it presented live coverage of Formula 1 races. That same autumn, Finnkino began to screen the award-winning HD opera series produced by the world-famous Metropolitan Opera in New York.

In 2014 Finnkino presented 68 different Event Cinema events for a total of 111 screenings. This 70 percent growth in content brought in 50 percent more ticket buyers.

The clear audience favourite in 2014 was a screening of the final tour of the British comedy team, Monty Python Live (mostly), transmitted live from the O2 Arena in London. This was followed by the MET Opera series, which has been a popular draw from the beginning, and stadium concerts from Finnish rap artist Cheek and boy band One Direction.

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