Larger Than Live

Published in The Music Network


Andre Rieu is coming to a movie theatre near you. When the classical crossover superstar takes to the stage this week for his latest Australian tour, his performance will be beamed live to cinema screens up and down the country. Lars Brandle reports on the live experience that is cinecasting, the next best thing to actually being there.

The Dutch showman on Oct. 16 will earn full-membership to a small but growing group of artists finding a new stage for their talents — in the plush confines of Australia’s movie houses. Sydney-based CinemaLive will deliver Rieu’s show in crystal-clear quality via satellite to more than 70 cinemas, from Byron Bay to Bunbury.

With the revolution of digital cinema technology, frontline Australian artists are looking carefully at the opportunities for simulcasting live events, and creating special cinematic events with previously- recorded concerts and special footage.

For the full “live” cinecast treatment, a cinema must be equipped with high quality projection systems, a satellite receiver and, naturally, 5.1 surround sound.  “This is all about ‘live’,” says CinemaLive co-director Janelle Mason, whose company supplies the infrastructure and has partnerships with cinemas chains including Greater Union, Birch Carroll & Coyle and Dendy.

Artists, cinemas and the service-provider are all connected in the cinecasting food chain, with the splits varying from deal to deal. Tickets to see the cinematic performance of Rieu with his Johann Strauss Orchestra cost $40, less than half the $89 starting price for his arena shows. CinemaLive anticipates pulling 13,000 to 16,000 cinema-goers for the event, which would generate box-office revenue alone in the region of $600,000. Ancillary revenue from the sale of merchandise and popcorn will tip the figure further north.

“This technology allows punters to see gigs which have sold out,” notes Peter Skillman, co-director of CinemaLive. “And in regional areas you can give something back to those communities, where the cinema is the lifeblood of a lot of those towns.”  Skillman predicts his business’ network of screens around Australia and New Zealand will reach triple figures by Christmas.

Rieu tested the waters on May 10 with a Mother’s Day cinematic treat. Sydney’s Hoyts cinema in Moore Park, Sydney hosted a red carpet and broadcast premiere of “Live In Australia,” will was beamed in high-definition into cinemas in the Sydney Hoyts Entertainment Quarter and in various major cities.

“It’s something we’re progressively pursuing with other labels,” says Hoyts digital content manager Caroline Karsten. “We’re talking with people about doing more of these events.”

The Dutch showman wasn’t the first big name to make the simultaneous transition from the stage to Australia’s big screens. CinemaLive launched its turnkey service last December with a cinecast of The Wiggles, which went out via satellite from the Sydney Entertainment Centre and into 32 local movie houses. The feed was subsequently sold on to 44 cinemas in the U.K. The kids’ favourites will return for an encore performance later this December for a Christmas concert. CinemaLive, which recently opened a U.K. affiliate, will exploit the international rights.

Skillman admits there are a number of big-name acts on his company’s radar. One of those is AC/DC, whose national stadium tour next year has sold more than 600,000 tickets. Although the band has yet to sign on the dotted line, the tour’s co-promoter Garry Van Egmond says cinecasting opens up a tempting route to reach fans in regional towns. “The idea of getting into areas we weren’t visiting on the tour – places like Darwin and Cairns — was very appealing to the band,” says Van Egmond. The sticking point, he notes, is the band’s reservations about whether their raw sound can be reproduced for the popcorn-audience.

Although cinecasting is still at its infancy in Australia, the business has percolated in recent years across Europe and the United States, where artists such as David Bowie, Genesis, David Gilmour, Kylie Minogue and Take That have appeared on-screen for special 5.1 digital cinecast events.

Robbie Williams will earn the Silver Screen treatment in the coming days. The British pop star’s October 20 performance in London for the BBC Electric Proms festival will be beamed live into 200 cinemas in Europe, and will be transmitted on a delay into theatres in Australia and South Africa. For an artist with a well-documented aversion to full-scale touring, Williams will bypass the road and go global with a single performance.

“As more and more people become aware of it, there will be many great opportunities for artists to get their fanbase absolutely connected through this technology,” says Skillman. “It makes an enormous amount of sense.”