Theaters Look Beyond Movies To Fill Seats

Correction Sept. 9, 2008

The audio version of the story refers to a film of "the annual top competition for marching bands." It actually showed a competition among drum and bugle corps.

Movie theaters are looking beyond Hollywood to attract audiences. The Metropolitan Opera has simulcast shows over the past couple of years. Broadway shows, musical competitions and political debates have followed suit. Sporting events are next.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Here's one way that your local movie theater may be trying to get you off the couch and back into the multiplex by showing something that you wouldn't normally think of as a movie. For example, a Broadway show. Tickets can cost north of 100 bucks per person to see a big stage show in New York. But here is the multiplex alternative. Watch the same cast perform the same show on the screen at a movie theater for a fraction of the cost. Cyrus Farivar reports.

CYRUS FARIVAR: "Rent" has closed on Broadway, but it's coming to a movie theater near you. It's a film version of the Broadway finale.

(Soundbite of song "Life Support" from the musical "Rent")

CAST OF "RENT" (Singing): Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.

FARIVAR: If Broadway musicals aren't your thing, how about some Cirque du Soleil?

(Soundbite of Cirque du Soleil show)

Unidentified Singer: (Singing) The light is fading fast, you hear the voices calling...

FARIVAR: Cirque du Soleil showed "Delirium" on movie screens around the country for a few days last month. Mike Hannegar(ph) of Berkeley, California, saw the show. He says it's not the same as when he went to the performance of one of Cirque du Soleil's live shows, "Ka."

Mr. MIKE HANNEGAR (Cirque du Solei Fan): It's not quite as good, but for the money - you know, "Ka" was 160 bucks each. This was 20. I would do it again.

FARIVAR: While "Rent" and "Delirium" are both recorded performances, this past summer, Drum Corps International showed its five-hour, quarterfinals competition live in theaters around the country.

(Soundbite of Drum Corps International marching band competition)

FARIVAR: It's the top competition for marching bands. This year was the fifth time that the organization has shown its quarterfinal round on movie screens, says John DeNovi of Drum Corps International.

Mr. JOHN DENOVI (Director of Business Development, Drum Corps International): You get the sense of the sound and the image and the picture on the big screen. I also think what's exciting for our fans is that they get to enjoy it with other fans. If something happens on the screen, you'd normally cheer for it in the stadium live. Our fans will cheer at the screen just like they were sitting right there in the stadium with us.

FARIVAR: Movie theaters are branching out because they need the money. They've now got to compete with home theaters, iTunes, pirated movies, Netflix and other new rivals. Professor Tyler Cowen of George Mason University.

Professor TYLER COWEN (Economics, George Mason University): If they show a Hollywood movie and charge you $10 for the ticket, maybe the movie theater keeps a little more than a dollar of that figure. But if they charge you $18 for going to see the Metropolitan Opera, they keep much more of the money.

FARIVAR: Cowen also points out that New York's Metropolitan Opera will have a whole new season of simulcast of its performances, just like it did last year.

Professor COWEN: The number of viewers who saw the Met Opera's simulcasts was 920,000. And that's far more people than saw those same operas live. So this is now, all of a sudden, the main way that American people are experiencing opera.

FARIVAR: The Parkway Theater in Oakland, California, has been screening TV shows like the Oscars and the Super Bowl for the past decade. The Parkway's Catherine Fischer says it's really popular.

Ms. CATHERINE FISCHER (Founder, Parkway Theater): Come, be together, have food, have drink, relax, get to know your neighbor. Talk about what's pertinent. So - but we're irreverent, so what's pertinent to us is the Oscars, the Super Bowl.

FARIVAR: The Parkway will also be showing all of the presidential debates. And sports may also be moving on to the silver screen. Last year, the NBA experimented with showing the all-star game in 3D at a private event at a Las Vegas movie theater. For NPR News, I'm Cyrus Farivar.

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