There was a time in my life when I spent more of my weekends going to concerts than going to the movies. And many of those concerts were fittingly at a venue that had previously been a movie theater. Back then, though, I never thought about the significance of seeing The Mighty Mighty Bosstones in the same place I once watched A Nightmare on Elm Street 4. There was a fine distinction between live music and cinema.
Unlike now, when there's an ever growing feeling that for the exhibition industry cinema is dead, while live music is, umm, live. The signs have been visible for the past year: Garth Brooks selling out multiplexes; a Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus concert coming in at #1 at the box office. But nothing made the future seem as clear as last month's news that National Amusements is going into the live entertainment business.
The theater chain, which also technically owns most of Viacom, has apparently seen enough interest in live entertainment through "experiments" at its fancy Cinema De Lux locations that it will begin operating venues strictly for live entertainment, which will be called Showcase Live! (a name similar to the company's Showcase Cinemas brand of multiplexes). The first is set to open this August, and while it's the only one apparently planned out so far, the company expects to open three to five more within the next few years.
National Amusements isn't venturing into this business alone, though. Its partner in the project is The Kraft Group, which owns the New England Patriots. So, of course, the first Showcase Live! venue will be located next to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Oh, and there's a Cinema De Lux there, too. But according to my pessimistic, prophetic visions, the movie theater will be torn down soon enough.
Also coming in August: Sony Pictures' new development, the Hot Ticket. The movie studio will be delivering live entertainment, including music concerts, to 400-500 movie screens in theaters across the U.S., with tickets expected to cost $20. The first planned events include the final performance of Cirque du Soleil and the final performance of the worldwide tour of Rent (interestingly enough, though Sony doesn't own either of these properties, it has been a distributor of filmed Cirque du Soleil performances and it did produce the film adaptation of Rent). My guess is that they'll be featuring a number of Sony recording artists in live music events, as well.
It's only a matter of time before the other major studios follow Sony's lead and venture into alternative theatrical entertainment with special non-movie divisions, too. It seems to be a profitable business, as has been shown by NCM Fathom. That company has been delivering events such as pre-recorded concerts for years, though it really proved to be a success last November when it sold out movie theater auditoriums for its live-via-satellite broadcast of a Garth Brooks concert. In fact, the event was so popular that Fathom ran an encore presentation of the concert the next night.
In addition to live (as in happening at that moment, but not in-person) concerts showing to sold out crowds in movie theaters, another big deal lately is certainly the concert documentary, which presents live (as in live once, and now pre-recorded, but neither at that moment nor in-person) concerts, sometimes strictly as nothing more than captured performances (that is, without interviews or additional narrative). Both U2 3D and Martin Scorsese's Shine a Light (featuring the Rolling Stones performing in a former movie palace!) have so far crossed the $10 million mark at the box office (including international b.o.), a feat celebrated recently as part of the recognition that so far four documentaries have domestically grossed more than $1 million (the other two are Expelled: No Intelligence and Young @ Heart, which you could also say is a live music doc). And that's not even counting the blockbuster success of Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour (technically a doc, right?), which opened at #1 at the box office the first weekend in February and has gone on to take in almost $70 million worldwide.
To think, 70 years ago, most live entertainment venues probably felt threatened by the movie business. I even recently heard that after sound pictures were introduced, Broadway theaters sought to keep alcohol out of cinemas because it felt that was the only thing keeping audiences attending its live shows. Now, of course, we have hugely popular Broadway musicals that are based on unsuccessful movies. So, which industry really had the longer legs? That's right, the one with live (as in at that time and in-person) performances.
And I doubt it's because of the booze, though serving alcohol is one of the other big trends going on in the exhibition industry, which is desperately trying out new ways of attracting customers (yes, customers, as opposed to simply moviegoers). It's more likely because live music, live theater and other live entertainments (sports, opera, you name it, it's coming to your multiplex) are more unique experiences. Whether merely broadcast via satellite or actually in-person.
Certainly we don't have to worry that big blockbusters like this fall's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince won't have room at the multiplex because the screens are being taken up by a live performance by Harry and the Potters (or even a band actually big enough to warrant a theatrical concert event), and obviously it's relative that live entertainment, which has been around for tens of thousands of years, is viewed as a more dependable business than movies, which have only been around for a century. Still, it's a bit disappointing as a cinema lover to see the two businesses no longer just existing side by side in the world but now co-existing in the same theater.