Concert sold out? Go to the movies

Theater owners show concerts to boost ticket sales on slow nights.

When the band Green Day kicked off a promotional blitz for a new live DVD late last year, the punk posers didn't head to the record store. They went to the movies.

Using digital-satellite technology, Green Day debuted its concert video on 66 movie screens across the country, joining a slew of top-shelf acts appearing at the cineplex near you. Keith Urban, Bruce Springsteen, and Bon Jovi have also created screenings to push new album releases. And a two-hour highlight film of the Coachella Valley Music Festival, featuring acts such as Radiohead, Oasis, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, is currently screening around the country, including Friday night in Boulder, Colo., and Lafayette, La.

As much as musicians are looking for more exposure, it's theater owners who are hoping to fill their increasingly empty seats.

"If you can't get audiences in there for movies, maybe this will help," says Paul Dergarabedian, president at Exhibitor Relations, a box-office analysis firm. "It's great for using downtime if people like the concept."

And there is ample downtime. Industry figures show a decline of more than 8 percent in tickets sold in 2005, coming on the heels of a 1 percent drop the year before.

Sports, too

Companies such as National CineMedia, a joint venture among three national theater chains, emphasize developing new content for the big screen. National CineMedia, along with AEG Live and Network Live, helped Bon Jovi with its theater production and has worked on similar projects with Brooks & Dunn, Prince, and others. In most cases, tickets sell for around $15, less than a third as much as the average concert tour.

Industry experts say that big-screen concerts, as well as other theater spinoffs - such as hosting national conferences and airing sporting events - won't save the moribund movie business, but they do see some potential to shore up slow nights. Many of the concerts, for example, are shown on Monday evenings.

For now, it remains unclear what numbers must be attained to make these ventures financially viable. National CineMedia is privately held and wouldn't comment on figures, but independent box-office analysts say alternative movie screenings currently account for a microscopic slice of theater business.

Attendance for these shows varies widely. A pair of Phish performances in 2004, one at Coney Island and another in Vermont, drew more than 30,000 fans each for national simulcasts. A Prince tour attracted 25,000 fans at multiplexes across the country.

Similar theater experiments include an international drum corps competition, the Tour de France, a Discovery Channel documentary on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and NASCAR's Daytona 500, which aired in New York and Los Angeles last February. Though the NASCAR experiment suffered technical glitches, organizers were heartened by the response. At the same time, the obstacles are readily apparent: Screenings of NASCAR races are limited because of concerns that theater audiences would chip away at the TV ratings vital for maintaining broadcast revenues, the sport's lifeblood.

Should I stand and clap?

At National CineMedia, company executives say the concert series serves as an example of using theaters for community centers rather than just places to watch movies. "We think it can work because the response from consumers has been strong," says Dan Diamond, the company's vice president of digital programming.

Not everywhere. At a Brooks & Dunn screening attended by the Monitor, a handful of people sat among hundreds of empty seats. The simulcast delivered dazzling picture quality and superior sound, but felt oddly disjointed on a movie screen.

"I've never been to one of these," one attendee noted, "so I don't know whether I am supposed to sit and watch or stand and clap."

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