Art House Cinemas Come Together for New Virtual Cinema Solution

Eleven art house exhibitors are coming together to form the initial cohort behind @homeArts, a technology designed to create a clear and defined distinction between VOD and Theatrical VOD (THVOD, also known as Virtual Theatrical) releases, in effect giving brick-and-mortar a digital lifeline during Covid-19 closures.

@homeArts is meant to mimic the operations of a cinema through at-home viewing as a means of creating business continuity for exhibitors and distributors alike during the Covid-19 pandemic. Its mission is to reinforce moviegoing among consumers, support donations to cinemas, and facilitate THVOD models for exhibitors. Its objectives include increasing distributor box-office yield and exhibitor cashflow during Covid-19, along with providing a platform for moviegoers to support theaters through donations.

The project was founded by the Salt Lake Film Society, which operates the Broadway and Tower cinemas in Salt Lake City, UT. It counts on ten additional art houses as part of its initial cohort:

  • Amherst Cinema. Amherst, MA
  • Austin Film Society. Austin, TX
  • The Avalon. Washington D.C.
  • The Chelsea Theater. Chapel Hill, NC
  • The Coolidge Corner Cinema. Brookline, MA
  • The Film Forum. New York City, NY
  • Film Streams. Omaha, NE
  • The Grail Moviehouse. Asheville, NC
  • The Loft Cinema. Tucson, AZ
  • The Roxie Theater. San Francisco, CA

“The entire industry went topsy-turvy,” said Tori A. Baker, CEO/President of Salt Lake Film Society and a founder of @homeArts, in a press release. “It literally did a 180 on the roles exhibitors and distributors played. By flipping roles, it slowed down bricks-and-mortar cinema cashflow in a critical survival time and created new competition, since anyone from a bookstore to a non-theatrical arts organization could release these otherwise theater-only titles.”

“Theaters have always been the gold standard for connecting movies with enthusiastic, appreciative audiences,” said Connie White, owner of Balcony Booking, who negotiates for the films on @homeArts as part of the all-inclusive package. “Typically, films that are initially released only in theaters are more profitable when they are later offered on VOD platforms. In this new streaming world with a multitude of films being offered, art-house cinemas’ programming skills are as important as ever. Movie-goers trust their theaters to be curators, and distributors trust these theaters to be active PR and marketing partners. During this time when theaters are closed, @homeArts provides a path for both distributors and art-house exhibitors to define this lane of THVOD, generating best revenues for both sides.”

@homeArts has the capability to expand its services to more cinemas as the effects of the pandemic prolong movie theater closures nationwide. The technology mimics traditional exhibition business practices––from box-office reporting to patron gateways––helping establish a clear Virtual Theatrical lane for cinemas. It includes DRM security to protect distributors’ content; an administrative back-office to serve the configuration and management needs of each art-house; box office live-reporting; curated programming that opens titles on Fridays and drops or holds titles weekly; a showtimes reinforcement; geo-mapping capability for the distributor; bolt-on URL website integration for a direct box office entry point at each specific theater (as opposed to sending all theater patrons to various and disparate “off-site” locations); customer service integration; coding systems to handle varying prices for members, seniors, and other discounted groups; a YouTube file-link capability for local, unpaid films. Apple and Roku apps are currently in development for launch in the winter.  

“The value of the virtual screen is evolving, but the program we’ve built works to increase a theater’s viability during the closure period, and then scale to augment the bricks-and-mortar after theaters reopen—especially while they work towards full capacity,” said Miles Romney, another founder of @homeArts and the tech architect behind the service. “This technology team has built and deployed comparable systems for ESPN, DirecTV, Blizzard Entertainment, and others over the years, and is now doing it on a non-profit basis for indie art houses. The platform has been tested with Salt Lake Film Society and Coolidge Corner since April 3. Along the way we’ve identified more of the specific needs of exhibitors and distributors, and we have built a system that addressed them. With hundreds of theaters struggling under current market conditions, we hope to be a major source of support to art house cinemas everywhere.”

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