Peter Gelb's experience in shepherding the world-renowned Metropolitan Opera House into movie theaters around the world counts among the highest-profile success stories in the nascent history of alternative content. Since its launch in December of 2006, The Met: Live in HD has broadened the reach and accessibility of opera through live transmissions of its performances. The Met has become a global leader in alternative content thanks to a project that could only have been realized through the spread of digital cinema. A program that began with under 80 theaters in North America is now an international enterprise that reaches 70 countries. BoxOffice spoke with Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, to discover how one of the world's premier arts institutions built a new revenue stream for cinemas through its niche audience.
How did the idea for cinema broadcasts of Met Opera performances come about?
It came about when I was appointed to my position as general manager in 2005. In that year, transitioning into the role, I spent a lot of time thinking of how to bring the Met to a broader public. The great challenge for the Metropolitan Opera and the art form of opera in general is figuring out a way of making it more accessible, how to reach more people, and how to find new audiences. From our start, we've utilized technology to broaden our audience base by integrating broadcasts; we've been a regular feature on national radio for more than 80 years. The Met was a pioneer in using media in the late '70s with public television broadcasts. In fact, in the late '80s I was producing those television shows. When I was appointed, I was eager to make use of my background in producing television and performing arts. Looking at the Met's historical success with the media, I really thought it was time to think of new ways of taking advantage of what was possible in this digital era. It seemed logical to bring the opera to movie theaters. I felt we had a built-in audience of millions of people across North America from our radio and public TV broadcasts. If even a small percentage of them would be willing to go to their local movie theater for a Saturday matinee performance, they could experience the event visually. That was the calculation behind our business plan: that we would have enough of an audience that would help cover the incremental cost of producing these programs for the movie theaters. It was an immediate success. We grew from our first transmission, where we had around 78 theaters for a production of The Magic Flute in December of 2006, to the point where now we're in 70 countries, more than 2,000 theaters. We are seen live on the West Coast of the United States; as far east as Jerusalem and Moscow; as far north as inside the arctic circle in Norway; and as far south as the southern tip of Argentina. Those are just live transmissions; on a delayed basis these programs are in time zones where we can't be live, like Japan, China, and Australia.
The idea behind it was to take advantage of modern technology. Whereas going to movie theaters isn't a new idea, the idea of transmitting live opera performances digitally via satellite is a new idea. Because of the improved quality of the cinema experience in recent years, the quality of the projectors and audio, those influences made this possible. It was also necessary to gain the support and agreement of all the various unions and artists at the Met. Our performers' lives have changed dramatically now that not only are they performing at the Met, but their faces can be seen on close-up in movie theaters all over the world.
The movie business is so heavily tied to the marketing business, with studios pouring millions of dollars into promoting their films. How did the Met approach the challenge of marketing alternative content?
It has grown in different places at different speeds. Sixty-seven percent of our movie theater audience is outside of the United States. Our biggest market outside the U.S. is Germany and Austria, where we're seen live on Saturday night. You can imagine how hard it is to get that time slot from theaters. In America it's relatively simple because [theaters] allocate a Saturday matinee. In Europe it's on Saturday night: prime movie theater real estate.
Our main commercial partner in the U.S. is Fathom Events. We also have direct distribution to about 90 independent performing arts centers who we distribute to directly. Then we have about 100 other partners outside of the U.S.; in Canada we have Cineplex; in the U.K. we have about 15 or 16 different competing movie theater chains; in France we have Pathé-Gaumont; we have a wide range of partners. We create marketing materials and, unlike movie releases, we don't spend a huge amount of money on average because we're basically appealing to people who like opera. We have a huge e-mail database and we notify them directly. We have hundreds of thousands of social media followers, a huge radio audience, and we also have a 24-hour digital channel on SiriusXM. With the help of Fathom, we get trailers into movie theaters. The amount of actual paid advertising is relatively little. It's a very small portion of our marketing effort.
You're very involved with how you package and produce these programs for movie theaters. To say it's just a camera taping a live performance is far from the product that your global audience enjoys.
I have a background in production, and my job running an opera house like the Met is very much a hands-on operation. Like managing a baseball team, you have to be involved in every aspect of it. I function as the executive producer of the Met content that reaches movie theaters. The reason why our programs are so well received is because they are produced by the Met itself; we don't bring in an outside production company. The stage crew that's working for the opera productions is also working for the HD productions. The artists who are performing are being engaged to perform for the audience in the opera house but also for audiences around the world. Opera is a bigger-than-life art form; it has more moving parts than any other performing art in the sense that a bigger orchestra on Broadway is maybe 10 or 12 players-we have 80 to 100 players in our pit. We have a chorus of 80-plus singers, we have dancers, huge casts, huge scenery. It's a mammoth kind of operation; it's a nonprofit art form that relies upon donors' generosity. The HD programs, however, actually make money for us. The idea behind them was to reproduce the experience on the big screen, and because opera is larger than life, it fits comfortably on that giant screen.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is up and running overseas. The super-hero sequel grossed $9.5 million from its first 11 markets, placing #1 in each of them as it begins a global roll out throughout the weekend.
France leads the pack after a $2.7 million opening day, the biggest of the year. It is 13% above Marvel's Avengers debut and 5% ahead of Iron Man 3. The Philippines posted the biggest industry opening of all time with $1.6 million, as did Indonesia with a $900k haul. Other leading markets from Wednesday's debut include Taiwan ($1.5M) and Italy ($1.1M).
Age of Ultron expands to South Korea, UK, Brazil, Australia, Russia, Germany, and Argentina on Thursday.
By Shawn Robbins, BoxOffice Staff
Sony wrapped up Wednesday's round of studio presentations with an impressive look at their 2015 slate, as some teases for 2016 and beyond.
Their next release on the calendar is Cameron Crowe's Aloha, set to release on May 29. Featuring an all-star ensemble that includes Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Alec Baldwin, Jon Krasinski, and more, our previously conservative expectations for its box office potential are definitely moving upward. In a summer crowded with big blockbusters and action flicks, this dramedy is looking like just like the kind of fare adults will be looking for -- something Crowe has made a career of specializing in.
The studio's confidence in Pixels couldn't be higher right now. In fact, the presentation setup was largely themed after the film with old school arcade machines lined up outside the auditorium. Director Chris Columbus came out to present the newest trailer for the film, highlighting the scale of a summer blockbuster coupled with family-accessible comedy that Adam Sandler, Kevin James, and co. are known for. If the pic's momentum keeps heading in this kind of northward direction, Pixels will undoubtedly pan out to be one of the summer's biggest hits.
Next up, the first look at Ricki and the Flash premiered for the crowd. Meryl Streep takes the lead as a rock star mom who wasn't around for her daughter's childhood. Her fan base will be pleased to see the venerable actress taking on yet another role that only Meryl could bring to the screen in such a way. With an August 7 release, the film will hope to pull adult crowds as summer begins winding down.
Also debuting first trailers tonight were The Perfect Guy and Hotel Transylvania 2. The former takes a page from the book of recent films like No Good Deed and The Boy Next Door, so a box office performance somewhere between them seems reasonable. As for the animated sequel, Hotel Transylvania 2 looks to offer up more of the family-driven hijinks of the first film.
Moving into the final quarter of 2015, Robert Zemeckis was on hand to present the newest trailer for The Walk, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The true story, World Trade Center high-wire act looks like yet another winner in the director's long and successful career, and could even be an awards contender. With a mix of dramatic flair and lighter character-driven moments, the flick is a sure fire box office success in wait.
Also scheduled for this fall, October 16's Goosebumps adaptation showed off first footage this evening. Jack Black will be a draw among family crowds, as will the nostalgia factor (noting a theme?), but the early preview featured unfinished footage and doesn't give a clear indication of how well it will compete in a fairly tough autumn market.
The Seth Rogen/Joseph Gordon-Levitt Christmas comedy now has a title: Xmas. Fans of the two leads have a lot to be excited about as the first trailer falls right in line with the tone of This Is the End, Neighbors, and other comedy hits audiences have embraced recently. The first title card of the trailer summed that up all its own: "from the guys who almost brought you The Interview". Timed perfectly for the season with its November 25 release, Rogen may have another $100 million+ hit on his hands.
The first clip from Concussion made its debut, featuring a dramatic monologue by Will Smith as gives a convincing reason why he could be contending for leading man awards later this year. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything more than the standalone scene, but it does set an interesting tone for the narrative centered around controversial true-to-life deaths caused by football head injuries. We'll wait for a more concise trailer before speculating too much about box office prospects.
The first look at The 5th Wave provided a glimpse at the next young adult property aiming for success. Boasting star Chloe Grace Moretz, the film isn't set to release until January 15, 2016, but the end-of-the-world/alien invasion premise could go either way as audiences become introduced to more and more of these young adult adaptations.
In addition to an early trailer for Money Monsters, starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts, the studio announced that Phil Lord and Chris Miller (the Jump Street and LEGO series) will take on a fully animated Spider-Man movie, set for release on July 20, 2018. The film is not expected to tie into the Marvel Cinematic Universe like Sony's 2017 live action Spider-Man flick will.
Last but not least, a special preview for Spectre closed out the evening with a brief intro from director Sam Mendes. Without delving into the minor spoiler revealed in the clip featuring Daniel Craig and Naomie Harris' Moneypenny, the 24th Bond flick certainly carries over Skyfall's atmospheric and dramatic tone. It's becoming more and more clear that Spectre, at least partially, is designed to continue a sense of continuity throughout Craig's tenure in the role so far. That bodes very well for box office prospects, although realistically, it's going to be very difficult to capture the kind of synergy enjoyed by the last film thanks to the 50th anniversary of the franchise in 2012. Still, Spectre is already well-poised to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the franchise and of the holiday season.
Check BoxOffice on Thursday as CinemaCon wraps up with Fox and Universal taking the stage.
By Daniel Garris
Universal's Furious 7 took in $2.29 million on Tuesday to remain in first place at the daily box office for a 19th consecutive day. The seventh installment of the blockbuster franchise featuring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and the late Paul Walker increased 14 percent over Monday and was down 47 percent from last Tuesday. Furious 7 has grossed a massive $298.83 million in 19 days and will surpass the $300 million domestic mark today. The film is running an extremely impressive 44 percent ahead of the $207.03 million 19-day take of 2013's Fast & Furious 6.
Sony's Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 held steady in second place with $1.48 million. The modestly budgeted Kevin James led comedy was up a solid 18 percent over Monday's performance. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 has grossed $26.50 million in five days. The film is performing in line with expectations and is off to a very solid start with its price tag in mind. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is running 4 percent ahead of the $25.53 million five-day take of 2011's Zookeeper.
Unfriended grossed $0.959 million to continue to claim third place. The ultra low-budget horror film from Universal and Blumhouse Productions increased 17 percent from Monday. Unfriended has grossed $17.63 million in five days. While the film has been unable to break out to the degree its pre-release online buzz suggested, it is still performing well given its low cost. Unfriended is running 21 percent behind the $22.25 million five-day start of last year's Ouija.
Fox's The Longest Ride was up one spot and a healthy 41 percent over Monday to move into fourth on Tuesday with $0.748 million. The Nicholas Sparks adaptation starring Britt Robertson and Scott Eastwood was down 38 percent from last Tuesday. The Longest Ride has grossed $24.96 million in twelve days. That places the film 36 percent ahead of the $18.40 million twelve-day take of last year's The Best of Me.
Fellow Fox release Home was down one spot from Monday to round out Tuesday's top five with $0.738 million. The successful 3D computer animated film from DreamWorks Animation was up a slim 8 percent over Monday and down just 29.5 percent from last Tuesday. Home continues to exceed expectations in a big way with a 26-day gross of $144.34 million.
Monkey Kingdom remained in eighth place with $0.498 million. The latest nature documentary from Disney's Disneynature label was up 23 percent over Monday. Monkey Kingdom has grossed $5.48 million in five days. That is on the low end of the film's modest expectations and is 14 percent softer than the $6.36 million five-day start of last year's Bears. With help from Earth Day; Monkey Kingdom is likely to hold up very well today.