Event Cinema and Ireland’s Culture Industry

Is there an opportunity for Ireland’s arts and culture industry to carve out a niche in the Event Cinema Market? After all, this is a market that has grown from nothing to almost $1 billion dollars in just under a decade; it’s a market that allows the Metropolitan Opera (the Art form with the smallest audience in the world) to post profits in the millions of dollars on its cinema seasons; it allows the National Theatre of Great Britain to reach audiences it would not otherwise reach, (sometimes in excess of 100,000 per performance) and it allows for occasional hits to break cinema box office records as in the case of Billy Elliot, The RSC’s Richard II, and of course the irrepressible Andre Rieu (who recently pushed himself to the top of the Box Office again). It also allows for exhibitions by Museums and Galleries to share both the objects and – more importantly – the stories behind them with hundreds of thousands of people around the world who would never otherwise experience them. It’s given cinema owners access to a whole new audience,  its generated a host of new distribution businesses and its opened arts and culture providers to new business models and investment sources. (Digital Theatre has built an impressive business model around an ever-increasing catalogue of live events for private consumption through an impressive subscription strategy and significant venture fund investment). Julie Taymor’s recent production of A Midsummernight’s Dream carried the art form a step further by being – to my knowledge – the first Event Cinema production to take an award at a Film Festival. Without a doubt Event Cinema is one of the more effective bridges between the cultural and creative industries.

After two years of research and networking, analyzing the business models, the marketing strategies,  the audience distribution and behavour within this industry the answer to the opening question is a resounding yes. With the following caveats:

Market Size matters

One of the reasons that both the Royal National Theatre and The Metropolitan Opera seemed to score an early mover advantage is because of the size of their domestic markets. It is possible for both of these institutions to book a profit broadcasting into cinemas in their own domestic territories.

Ireland has a population the size of greater Birmingham. (It’s one of the prime reasons why our culture industry struggles). If we are to enter the Event Cinema  space then we need to plan internationally from the get go. We need to embrace the potential of the diaspora and face into the challenge and uncertainty of the great American market (not just New York) and engage with audiences in small towns across that vast continent. We need to acknowledge the market demands and potential of Hong Kong and Argentina, Sydney and Moscow. Few industries in Ireland can survive and thrive within Ireland’s geographical borders. Arts and Culture is no different.

Event Cinema is an Art Form, not a technology.

Event Cinema at its best is a new art form. It is not a recording of a live performance with a couple of cameras for the benefit of those who couldn’t make it. It’s about capturing the emotional experience of a live performance. It’s not about “getting your cameras in” and just doing it. It doesn’t matter who owns the cameras or who owns the satellite or the web platform. These are just things that can be outsourced or acquired. It’s easy to forget this and be blindsided or overwhelmed by the technology.

The technology is neutral – the content is king and the audience is everything.

Event Cinema is about understanding that performance is a communal event, an opportunity for communities to get together and celebrate their shared identity. It takes the right show and the right creative team. It takes trust and respect and understanding between the different creatives, and its about embracing the opportunity to build a mass audience from thousands of small audiences. It’s about taking the time to plan and develop the best experience for that audience.

Don’t try to cheat the audience.

You can’t do this on the cheap. The Met spend about $1 million per broadcast (a lot of this is accounted for by pre-payments to artists) and its unlikely that anything of quality can be captured for under €100K. This is before the marketing costs kick in. In Ireland we think that this is expensive (we always think of what it will cost, never what it will make). In Ireland no single organization or institution has the capacity – organizational, financial or human – to commit this kind of investment, or to create an annual programme of events of appropriate quality (there’s no point in producing one event and expecting a payback: Event Cinema depends on seasons of work and it takes time to build market share). Our work over the last two years has demonstrated that – collectively – Ireland’s cultural industry is capable of producing an annual season of events for broadcast of extraordinary quality; collectively it has to ability to develop new financial and marketing models; and collectively it has an international brand recognition that can rival the current market leaders.

Event Cinema is a Paradigm Innovation, not a Tech Innovation

Event Cinema is the printing press of the culture industry. It opens up culture to a mass audience, and resets the balance between ticket price and production costs. If Ireland’s cultural  industry can find a way to work in unision then the opportunity is there. The working together is a major challenge.

Access and Affordability

When I made my first presentation on this topic two years ago to a bunch of potential investors there were a lot of questions that still needed answering. But there was one person who said: “I see, the democatisation of culture. Wow. You need to focus on that because that’s the why, everything else is just the running around stuff, the how and the what. But the why…that’s impressive”.

So, for countries like Ireland, whose domestic market is too small to support indigenous Event Cinema production, the greatest challenges – and the biggest requirements – are vision, confidence and collaboration. The vision to understand that Event Cinema is a new way to share the live experience with communities around the world, to facilitate access to a shared culture; the willingness on the part of all the players to work together for success;  and the confidence that, sometimes, what we actually produce and are capable of producing is quality work of world class standard.




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