While the likes of Marvel and “Star Wars” have dominated the summer movie conversation, Fathom Events has quietly pushed forward with their plans to bring more event cinema to theaters this season, and that is leading to an interesting alliance in the movie theater industry.
Co-owned by the top three American theater chains — AMC, Cinemark, and Regal — Fathom Events hosted 26 different live events that grossed over $1 million each last year, among them being the boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor and a showing of “Disney’s Newsies: The Broadway Musical,” which led all events with $4.7 million.
It’s been slow-going for alternative content to become a factor in movie theater revenue, but Fathom Events is hoping that 2017 will be seen as the year that momentum for the medium started to ramp up. At CinemaCon in April, the company announced that they would be expanding their live events to 200 more theaters, growing its reach to 1,100 locations and over 1,700 screens.
What’s noteworthy about this continued expansion is that despite being owned by three major chains, Fathom wants to transcend the competition between those national chains and regional and independent outlets. Along with theaters owned by Fathom’s co-owners, the expansion will add companies like Megaplex and Harkins Theatres to the list of smaller chains the company already has as partners, such as Los Angeles indie outlet, Laemmle.
At a time when theater chains have been competing to get first-run releases in theaters — sometimes with lawyers — former Regal exec and current Fathom CEO Ray Nutt thinks that event cinema is a field in which theater owners of all levels can benefit.
“When it comes to events, this shouldn’t be competitive,” says Nutt. “We should be working together to show people that there’s more they can see at theaters than the next big blockbuster or Oscar nominee.”
And Fathom is trying to help those independent owners spread the event cinema gospel by expanding its repertoire. This month, they renewed their deal with indie animation label GKIDS to bring anime movies like “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” to theaters for limited engagements. Last weekend, they reached out to hardcore Anglophiles by screening a live simulcast of the Royal Wedding in theaters.
For many of Fathom’s non-movie screenings, Nutt says they’ve found success in taking live events like theater, concerts and sports, and providing a smaller recreation of that crowd-fueled setting in a local movie theater. And since many of these events would cost $100 or more to view in-person or other mediums, audiences have shown they’re willing to pay a premium for these events, too.
Such was the case last year when Fathom screened Mayweather vs. McGregor in theaters at a ticket price of $40, compared to the $100 pay-per-view price. It was the most expensive event Fathom has hosted to date, but it made $2.6 million from 534 theaters, with an average of just over $4,800 made from each location.
What’s interesting is that when it comes to sporting events, Nutt doesn’t consider sports bars to be competition.
“Ultimately, we’re providing something somewhat different than bars. We’re giving boxing fans a chance to see the fight at ringside on the biggest screen possible.”
“The data we’ve gathered from sporting events is that bars aren’t competition, but rather complement what we provide as alternatives to seeing the film at home on pay-per-view.”
Studio distribution heads and theater execs – including Fathom’s CEO Ray Nutt — give an impassioned defense of the movie theater experience and insist that rumors of its impending death are exaggerated. Nutt pins the company’s fast growth not just on what movie theaters provide, but also the excitement of fans of what they bring to the big screen.
Nutt hopes that as Fathom hosts more screenings of hit musical and can’t-miss sports events, more independent theaters will see the value of these one-night only offerings that can pay dividends if they swap out one screen in their theaters to draw in fans who don’t want to miss out.
“We’ve seen over and over that people want to enjoy things they’re passionate about with others, and movie theaters provide that.”