An established home-entertainment destination for movie lovers, TCM has expanded its reach beyond cable television in recent years, increasing the access of Hollywood cinema to movie lovers through new initiatives like FilmStruck, their SVOD venture in partnership with the Criterion Collection, and event-cinema screenings organized in partnership with Fathom Events. Boxoffice spoke with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, who will be accepting the Excellence in Event Cinema Award at CinemaCon 2017, and Genevieve McGillicuddy, VP of brand activations and partnerships at TCM, about the history and success of the company’s crossover to theatrical exhibition.
When did TCM recognize the potential of event cinema to expand its brand?
Genevieve McGillicuddy: The Fathom Events partnership dates back to 2009, a time when we started to think more about our fan community and how to expand our brand beyond the borders of television. The Fathom relationship was one of the earliest partnerships we put together in this effort. We’ve enjoyed very robust relationships with studios in regard to home video promotion, and an opportunity arose to promote new restorations to be released on DVD by putting them back into theaters with the help of Fathom. It therefore became a priority project for the three parties involved: TCM, Fathom, and the studios. For the first few years it was very much about big tentpole titles and major anniversaries—Singin’ in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz. It was wonderful to put these movies back on the big screen, showing them the way the directors wanted them to be seen. As TCM, as a network, our role was to introduce these films and the context around them. In 2015 we made a point of building on this success and put together a continuous calendar—appointment viewing, if you will—where we would be putting a great classical film back into theaters monthly. Last year we did 13 titles, and this year we have 14 scheduled. Fathom Events have been fantastic to work with, and our studio partners have been incredible as well. Finally, I can’t think of a brand extension that serves TCM in such a perfect way. We’ve heard from our fans about how much they really love this series.
Ben Mankiewicz: Without having sat in on the early meetings, we knew we had discovered that there was something magical here. We want people interested in watching these important films on their TV sets and mobile devices, but there is obviously something special about sharing the experience of watching these movies on the big screen. This is about to be our eighth annual TCM Festival, and I think as great as our programming and invited guests are, a big part of what people take away is the fact that they saw these movies on the big screen. We started in around 2009 with intermittent events throughout the year and it was a great idea—we had no shortage of movies. We found a great partner with Fathom, who knows how to do this right, who had access to the theaters and knew how to bring people in. Our partnership with Fathom has worked so incredibly well that by 2015 we decided to make it a monthly series. Sometimes we sneak in an extra movie a month. It has been a great success, showing a wide range of classic American movies.
What sets a TCM event apart from a repertory screening?
McGillicuddy: We want to make it an experience. When you enter the theater you start by seeing a slideshow about the film you’re about to watch. Bookending the film we have a customized intro and outro by a TCM host, just like our network channel. Sometimes we can customize that and bring in talent from the film, and we’ve gotten a bit creative with that. We’ve had Debbie Reynolds on to talk about Singin’ in the Rain, but this past year we showed The Planet of the Apes, and there’s a comedian we’ve worked with, Dana Gould, who has created his own act dressed as one of the film’s characters—Dr. Zaius—and we interviewed him in costume as part of the introduction of the film. We really try to have fun with it.
Is there a crossover audience in marketing these events, or do your TV and cinema audiences represent different segments?
Mankiewicz: I think they’re all movie lovers, so there’s a great deal of crossover. You do unquestionably run into people who come just to enjoy the experience of seeing the movie in a theater, but most of our audience also watches our channel. We know someone like Martin Scorsese will prefer to watch movies on the big screen, but we also know that he’ll watch TCM at home. Someone like Quentin Tarantino, who knows so much about movies, he will not watch certain movies on a television set—but he watches the channel as long as the movie and the ratio are right for his TV screen.
McGillicuddy: That’s a great question, and I think it highlights one of the values of our partnership with Fathom. We currently promote these screenings through our channel’s audience, but Fathom is able to promote the same spot and series in movie theaters. Last year I went to see the new Star Wars movie at the theater, and the spot for our January series played before the movie. It’s a terrific opportunity for us to get across to an audience of movie lovers who might not be aware of TCM.
Do you have a favorite screening from your series, or is there an upcoming event that you’re especially looking forward to?
McGillicuddy: Seeing Singin’ in the Rain this past January was great. That’s a movie that deserves to be seen on the big screen, and I think most people today haven’t had an opportunity to see it in a theater.
Mankiewicz: I was not a Star Wars kid—I mean, I liked it, I saw it three times—but the movie I saw more than three times in 1977 was Smokey and the Bandit. We’re doing that this year.