Saturday Night Proves ‘Perfect Storm’ for 3D Presentation

When Cinedigm announced that it would showcase CBS’s 3D production of the NCAA Final Four in movie theaters, the company planned to have basketball on 100 screens across the country. This past weekend, however, just 23 were available because of what Cinedigm CEO Jonathan Dern describes as a “perfect storm.”

“When we started discussions on this, there were only two 3D movies out, the tail end of Alice in Wonderland and How To Train Your Dragon,” he explains. “So there was plenty of room to play in the 100 locations that we expected to be in. And then, six weeks ago, Warner Brothers decided to turn Clash of the Titans into a 3D movie and move the date to this week. So we caught what I would call the perfect storm in the exhibition world.”

The Cinedigm theaters were immediately put in a tough position by the studios, because theaters have a limited capacity to show 3D films and every studio wants its product played. To complicate things further, Saturday night’s Final Four presentation was a doubleheader, so the theaters had to devote upwards of five hours of screen time to basketball, which would pull two or three movie plays off the screen.

“On a Saturday night, that’s prime time in the theaters,” Dern says. “Frankly, I’m thankful to the 23. It could have been worse.”

In those 23 theaters, about 40% of the tickets were sold ahead of time, which he says is excellent. “We did a lot of local marketing and worked with a lot of alumni groups. We had a huge Facebook and Twitter presence, and we got the Duke alums to move some of their parties to theaters.”

Close to 60 theaters are on board for Monday night’s 3D presentation of the Championship game, and Dern expects word of mouth after Saturday’s presentation to fill the houses on Monday.

“If we would have had maybe one more big school in, I’d feel a little more comfortable, but we got Duke,” Dern says. “We hope and expect that people are going to come out of Saturday night saying, that was the greatest thing I have ever seen in my life.”

Most Cinedigm theaters have obtained liquor licenses and special catering for the presentations, to make the atmosphere less a hushed theater and more a game-watching experience.

“Let’s look at the marketplace at this point,” Dern adds. “This is still a whole new idea. You can say live 3D, and people still aren’t sure what you mean. At this point, we’re marketing to the fan. I’m hopeful that, one day, we’ll be marketing to the general public.”

CBS is working with PACE CEO Vince Pace on this 3D production, but Dern says he would be happy to work with anyone in the 3D world: “It’s a pleasure to work with pretty much everybody in 3D at this point because it’s such a small community. There may be some competition, but there’s enough production now to go around. The more that gets done, the more we’ll be able to take into the theaters.”

Dern expects to have between two and 10 additional live 3D events in his theaters between now and October.

“And they will not be on Saturday night,” he smiles.

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