With narrowing theatrical windows and the increasing prevalence of streaming platforms, exhibitors are pushing ever deeper into the event cinema space, and distributors like Fathom Events, CineLife Entertainment and Trafalgar Releasing have been offering a steady pipeline of alternative content to meet the need. Now, one relatively untapped genre in the space—the educational film—is getting a wider distribution platform in the North American market through a newly-announced partnership between cloud-based distribution network MetaMedia and giant-screen distributor MacGillivray Freeman Films.
Announced last month, the deal will enable MacGillivray Freeman titles including Into America’s Wild, America’s Musical Journey, and Great Bear Rainforest—which typically only screen at specialty exhibitors like museums and science centers—to play at traditional commercial theaters, drive-ins, and other theatrical venues. MetaMedia CEO Jason Brenek tells Boxoffice Pro that the partnership was inspired by Cinemark, a pre-existing MetaMedia partner that began expressing an interest in acquiring access to educational content for school and summer camp tour groups. Or, in Brenek’s words, “something that’s a little richer than just bringing people in to watch an animated film or something like that from a studio.”
Having previously worked at Imax, Brenek was intimately familiar with MacGillivray Freeman, which has produced and distributed dozens of films in the giant-screen format over the decades, including such critical and box office successes as the smash-hit Everest ($128M worldwide) and the Academy Award-nominated (for Best Documentary Short Subject) Dolphins and The Living Sea. As it so happened, MacGillivray Freeman—which had connections to MetaMedia via that company’s president, Chuck Goldwater—was at the same time looking for ways to expand the reach of its films.
MetaMedia’s cloud-based distribution works “almost like a video on demand platform,” says Brenek, giving its exhibitor partners access to films in its library quickly and without the added cost of replicating a hard drive. All MacGillivray Freeman titles additionally come with downloadable marketing materials and specially developed lesson plans that can be distributed to theaters and educators.
MacGillivary Freeman president Shaun MacGillivary tells Boxoffice Pro he’s “excited” about MetaMedia’s cloud-based model for its capacity to deliver the company’s educational titles nearly instantaneously to traditional theaters, which are becoming increasingly reliant on content produced outside the major studios. “I think we’ve seen a bigger appetite [for alternative content] than before over the last 10 to 15 years,” he says.
With 5,000 screens under contract in the U.S. and Canada, MetaMedia is uniquely suited to distribute MacGillivray Freeman’s films more widely than ever before. As a result, underserved audiences who don’t have access to the museums, science centers, and IMAX screens where the company’s films have customarily screened will now be able to watch its content at their neighborhood multiplex—while theaters looking to supplement studio fare in the post-pandemic age will have another pipeline for alternative content.