Film News

Sony Pictures to launch digital cinema unit

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sony Pictures studio unveiled plans on Wednesday for a new digital cinema unit to bring filmed presentations of Broadway shows, rock concerts and sports events to specially equipped movie theaters nationwide.

The new venture, dubbed the Hot Ticket, will launch in August with a presentation of the final staging of the music and dance extravaganza “Delirium” from Cirque du Soleil, which closed its worldwide tour in London in April.

In September, the final performance in the 12-year Broadway run of the hit musical “Rent” will be presented.

“Our mandate will be to identify the one-of-a-kind, and sold-out events that people around the country most want to see ... and present them to audiences everywhere,” Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said in a statement.

Hot Ticket presentations will be shown in high-definition format for limited engagements, starting out on roughly 400 to 500 screens in theaters across the country, with audiences paying roughly $20 a seat, Bruer said.

The new Sony business is capitalizing on a sweeping upgrade of movie houses being undertaken by major theater chains and studios to bring state-of-the-art digital projection technology to thousands more screens in the United States and Canada.

Besides lowering distribution costs for studios, digital technology is seen as paving the way for the introduction of more “alternative content” to theaters, helping exhibitors bolster sagging movie admissions, especially on weekdays.

Sony Corp is hardly alone in bringing such non-movie entertainment to a theater near you, but it is believed to be the first major studio to create a separate unit devoted to such content.

“We’re excited to be on the ground of floor of what is going to be a new business for movie theaters,” Bruer told Reuters.

About 5,000 of nearly 39,000 U.S. cinema screens are already digitally equipped, and that number is expected to climb steadily, said John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners.

He called Sony’s move a “confirmation that everyone in the movie industry envisions the cinema as a growing entertainment destination for a variety of products.”

“It’s significant that Sony recognizes the potential for alternative content in cinemas by creating a separate unit,” he said.

The Sony initiative builds on a trend that has been evolving in the movie industry for some time.

Concert films have long been popular offerings at the multiplex, and the Walt Disney Co. scored a box-office bonanza with its recent 3-D release “Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert.”

Landmark Theatres screened opera star Placido Domingo’s 40th anniversary concert in 22 playhouses last month, and several theater chains have teamed up to show auto racing, soccer matches and even Tour de France competition.

National Amusements, the controlling shareholder in Viacom Inc., has been screening high-def broadcasts of select Boston Red Sox baseball games in its Showcase Cinemas in New England since 2003.