At the Multiplex, More Than Movies

At a conference this weekend, film industry executives discussed the possibility of using local movie theaters to show sporting events and opera. Tim Richards, the CEO of Vue Entertainment, explains why there might be a bright future in hosting non-traditional events.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

Oh, I heard about that Tiger putt for twenty minutes last night.

LAURA CONAWAY: I bet you did.

STEWART: It's like watching Babe Ruth! You'll tell your kids where you were when you saw Tiger win - that's my husband. An imitation of my husband on the couch.

CONAWAY: An amazing thing.

STEWART: All right, Laura. Thank you.

CONAWAY: Thank you.

STEWART: Hey, when is a movie theater not a just a movie theater? When it becomes an outlet for alternative entertainment, for example. Imagine a room full of race fans watching and listening to a Formula 1 challenge on an 80-foot screen.

(Soundbite of a Formula 1 Race)

STEWART: All right, maybe that's not your thing. But how about opera? Or World Cup at your local Cineplex? It was a hot topic at the movie industry conference known as Showfest, and someone who has seen this model in action is Tim Richards, the CEO of Vue Entertainment. It's a popular English movie theater chain. Hi, Tim.

Mr. TIM RICHARDS (CEO, Vue Entertainment): Hi. Good morning.

STEWART: Good morning. So what kind of non-traditional movie events have been successful for you at your theaters?

Mr. RICHARDS: We have been testing all kinds of different forms of alternative programming. We started with live music, but we have since moved on to live comedy, where we had actually interactive heckling across the country. And sporting events and opera, as you mentioned, has been very, very popular. And we're branching on to video games now as well.

STEWART: Question. Do the tickets cost more if you decide that you want to have one of these alternative forms of entertainment in your theaters?

Mr. RICHARDS: Well, we're pricing ourselves underneath a live event. So when you actually have a recorded event as opposed to a live one, we are charging approximately about a 50 percent premium on a normal ticket price, which is a fraction of seeing it live.

STEWART: So do people seem willing to pay more?

Mr. RICHARDS: Yeah, I mean, this is - we actually - we hosted Genesis last summer. It was their first comeback tour in 20 years, and we charged approximately a 40 percent premium to see it. They had one showing - two concerts in the entire country, in the U.K., and it opened up an opportunity to see the band live, and it was hugely popular.

STEWART: I'm interested in sort of the personal dynamic of this. You mentioned people heckling a comedy show on a big movie theater. And obviously, sort of, camaraderie is part of the experience, but is crowd control an issue? I mean, are people encouraged to get up out of their seat and sort of experience it like a real concert, or a real comedy club?

Mr. RICHARDS: Absolutely. And the big difference, as well, is that you're getting a computer-generated perfect sightline from every seat, and the acoustics in the cinema are absolutely phenomenal, and certainly, in every live concert that we've held, from rock concerts to pop concerts to opera, the common theme from our guests when they come out is how spectacular the sight and sounds were. And in terms of the actual sound, it is absolutely better than the live event.

STEWART: What about in terms of the sight? It's 2D versus 3D. Do you need 3D to make this worth it?

Mr. RICHARDS: The 2D experience on its own is phenomenal. If you can see a 3D version, you can get a little bit of a taste of the future. You mentioned the Grand Prix in your opening remarks. If you could imagine an F1 car coming at you at 200 miles an hour on a 60-, 70-foot screen, and then imagine that same car coming off the screen in 3D, it's a really exciting event. And that's technology that exists today.

STEWART: Well, I have to imagine that the theaters would have to be prepared for this. I mean, I have been to some theaters in some smaller towns, and you're kind of happy your seat isn't falling over because it is not really bolted down too well. What kind of infrastructure needs to be in place to hear and experience "La Traviata" at a Cineplex?

Mr. RICHARDS: Well, I mean, the technology, this has all been done on the back of digital projection technology, and the digital projector is being rolled out internationally and domestically in the U.S. as we speak, and the actual venue itself - ideally, you would have stadium seating, and very comfortable seats, and lots of leg room. Not every cinema is like that, but certainly the ones that we are doing over here - we have 99 percent of our cinemas have stadium seating, so they're - and that is an absolutely perfect computer-generated sight line.

STEWART: All right. So here's the other thing you get at stadiums. You get beer. If you're watching the World Cup at a movie theater, are you able to sort of recreate the atmosphere of watching it in, say, a pub?

Mr. RICHARDS: It's a very different experience, because it's a social experience. I mean, it gets people out of their homes, and instead of watching a sporting event on a 20-, or 30-, or 40-, or even a 50-inch TV at home, you can now enjoy something socially with your friends, and family, and even strangers, collectively. And a sporting event, like a movie, is more fun - it's more exciting when you're enjoying it socially.

STEWART: Some people say it is more fun when you can have a beer.

Mr. RICHARDS: Well, no. Well, I'm there on that one. Absolutely. And we're licensing all of our cinemas, and we've got about half of our sites licensed right now, and that's a really big thing. And in terms of the actual crowd reaction, we had for Genesis, for Kylie Minogue, for Take That, all the concerts we've done, people are standing up. They're dancing. They pull out their cell phones as lights, in the way we used to do with lighters or with matches. And in fact, we even have a few people take pictures of the screen and when you see that, you can actually feel like you are actually in a concert. And that's 2D. Three-D, again, will change your experience completely.

STEWART: We're talking with Tim Richards. He's CEO of the London-based theater chain Vue Entertainment, talking about these alternative forms of entertainment in your local movie theater. Before I let you go, why is this a good model for theater owners?

Mr. RICHARDS: Well, what people don't realize is that theaters are not used between 70 and 75 percent of the time, and this is something that's not only for theater owners, it's for everybody. It's for our guests as well. It's an absolutely fantastic asset in a convenient location, and a cinema is an absolutely perfect soundstage.

STEWART: Yeah.

Mr. RICHARDS: So this gives an opportunity where everybody benefits.

STEWART: Tim Richards is the CEO of Vue Entertainment. Hey, Tim. Thanks for walking us through that.

Mr. RICHARDS: Yeah, thanks very much.

STEWART: Hey, coming up, remember that classic Seinfeld where Kramer invented the bra for men, called the "bro"? Well, get ready for the next generation of men's support undergarments. The mirdle, a man-girdle. We'll tell you about it in The Most. That's coming up next. You're listening to The Bryant Park Project.

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