One of the core elements of event cinema is its ability to take advantage of the underutilized. With some creative programming, seats that would have been empty during off-peak screening times—afternoons, weekday nights—can go to moviegoers enthusiastic about opera, say, or stand-up comedy. It’s a principle that event cinema leader Fathom Events knows well, and one that ’it’s now applying not just to seats but to entire venues. Starting in 2019, Fathom is taking its programming outside the cinema and into the church.
Specifically, this year sees Fathom team with the Faith Content Network, a joint venture between Collide Media Group and in:ciite Events, to launch the Fathom Affinity Network, bringing faith-based and inspirational titles to approximately 800 churches across the U.S.
The idea, explains Fathom CEO Ray Nutt, is to get faith-based content to underserved areas—often rural markets—that don’t have a Fathom-serviced cinema nearby. Fathom already has access to this content, and the churches already have the infrastructure needed to screen it. The Fathom Affinity Network bridges that gap.
The connection between event cinema and faith-based film is already strong. Both groups rely on nontraditional marketing to raise awareness, with sponsor companies, local organizations, and church groups doing the job that otherwise goes to expensive advertising campaigns. Both event cinema and faith-based film cater to niche audiences rather than the general public. And both are only gaining in popularity. Says Bob Elder, chief impact officer at the Collide Media Group, “Each wildly successful faith-based film release in the last 15 years (The Passion of the Christ, God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is for Real, War Room, I Can Only Imagine) has spurred better quality filmmaking, while marketers and distributors are getting better at finding and activating the audiences that consume this content.”
Faith-based and inspirational titles may not often crack Fathom’s yearly top 10, but the genre is a consistent performer—so much so that Nutt predicts 100 percent growth “year over year.” Fathom currently “combine[s] inspiration and faith together in a vertical, but it’s growing so large at this point that … I think you’ll see these sub-verticals separate into” their own separate categories, he says. The Fathom Affinity Network, he predicts, will only help that growth. “Once the faith-based community who’s producing this content is aware of what we’re doing—and most of them are at this point—I think it will help our acquisition process.”
“We’ll acquire the content that we’re going to screen on the faith-based vertical,” Nutt explains. “We’ll amend our licensing agreement to include the [interested] churches.” The films are then marketed locally to individual congregations, and tickets are purchased through a system that the churches already have in place. “Obviously, it’s a revenue-share model, so [the churches] will get some and we’ll get some. They do the bulk of the heavy lifting in terms of the marketing,” with Fathom providing a marketing tool kit and overseeing content delivery via streaming.
As the network grows in size, notes Elder, “managing the fast growth, keeping a quality consumer experience, and making sure we have a good flow of content are all very important.”
Currently, Fathom Events has 24 titles lined up for its faith-based and inspirational vertical this year. A half-dozen of those—including Pattern of Evidence: Moses Controversy (pictured), Sight and Sound® Presents: NOAH, and family-friendly animated film The Pilgrim’s Progress—are currently slated to screen in churches through the Fathom Affinity Network. “But I think once [the churches] see what this is going to do in terms of producing attendance, that number is going to go north of six,” Nutt predicts.