Spotlight Cinema Networks, the cinema advertising network specializing in art house theaters, is the latest company entering the event cinema distribution business. The company will begin operations under the formation of a new division, CineLife Entertainment. Programming will be available to Spotlight’s nationwide network of more than 1,000 screens and accessible to non-partner cinemas around the world.
Heading this new division is event cinema veteran Mark Rupp, who will be acting as managing director of CineLife Entertainment. Rupp previously acted as the president of SpectiCast, the Philadelphia-based cinema marketing and event cinema distribution company. Boxoffice spoke with Rupp and Ronnie Ycong, Spotlight Cinema Networks SVP of exhibitor relations and operations, about the new venture.
When did you first start thinking of going into event cinema distribution?
Ycong: When Spotlight Cinema Networks first started out seven years ago, our business was providing a specialized pre-show advertising- revenue-generating program specifically curated for art houses. The art house is our bloodline, so from the inception of Spotlight, we were always committed to creating new opportunities in the future that would benefit the art house community. Event cinema was one of those opportunities. We knew long term it made sense to develop an event cinema business and add it to our portfolio, because of the theaters and demographic that we cater to. It just took some time to get to this point. We had to create a support system for it … from developing and launching the CineLife app, which is an art house–centric movie app and recently acquiring Storming Images as part of our content delivery strategy. Now that we have the infrastructure to support event cinema, we had to find the right person to attain content and help launch this. We were able to find Mark [Rupp], and I think he’s the right partner to come on board.
How did Mark get involved in leading the new division?
Ycong: I’ve known Mark over the years, when he was at SpectiCast, where he was always able to build good programs. He’s always been in the back of my head. Fortunately, we were able to talk a little bit over at this most recent ShowEast and figure things out together.
Rupp: I’ve known Ronnie and [Spotlight CEO] Jerry Rakfeldt for many years. We’ve always talked about what they were doing, what I was doing. Ronnie mentioned ShowEast, that’s where he invited me to come out and meet Jerry in L.A. He wanted my thoughts about the event cinema space. It made sense for me to come on board and head up the CineLife Entertainment division.
What is the potential of event cinema?
Rupp: The U.S. is currently behind Europe and some other parts of the world, in terms of event cinema. So I think the ground is still pretty fertile to expand that part in the U.S. Programming options are growing every week, every month. There’s more opportunity to bring programming into theaters in the U.S., it’s very fertile ground—in my opinion, a couple of years behind the rest of the world, particularly the United Kingdom and Europe. So there’s tremendous opportunity for growth right now. At CineLife Entertainment, however, our plans are to distribute content globally, not just in the U.S. Our strategic plan is to offer content where we can, across the globe.
What sorts of synergies can we expect from Spotlight’s existing relationships with art house exhibitors across the United States?
Rupp: From my perspective, one of the most attractive things for me in starting this role—besides the management over at Spotlight—is the relationship they have with art house theaters. Most people, when you say “event cinema,” they only think of the cultural-arts type of programming: ballet, musical theater, and so on. The Spotlight network is connected with all the theaters that are perfect for these programs. It’s the highest quality network in the world, I would argue, for event cinema programming of cultural arts.
And while, yes, that is a big part of event cinema programming, there’s a lot more out there. It’s not just opera. It’s a sector that is growing into genres like anime, cult films, and repertory films. There’s some value-added content, like interviews with a director or cast member. There are anniversary films that are being rolled out to the cinemas for one- or two-night events. From that perspective, the art houses are still going to be the core distribution in the United States.
It varies from territory to territory, who the most successful exhibitors are in this sector. In Latin America, for example, Cinépolis is probably the most successful exhibitor of cultural arts programming. So it’s very different from territory to territory. But here in the U.S., clearly the Spotlight network is the cream of the crop for this type of programming.
Ycong: That being said, the event cinema content that we’re going to acquire is going to be distributed across multiple theaters within our network and outside of our network as well.
How does this event cinema division fit into the strategy of Spotlight as a whole—including the acquisition of Storming Images, the Spotlight Media Distribution System, and the CineLife app?
Ycong: With Storming Images, part of that acquisition and thought process long term was to have a dedicated delivery system that’s already integrated into our network. Storming Images is a technology company that provides content delivery services and has a pre-show programming platform, which Spotlight uses. We have worked with Storming Images for several years to deliver the Spotlight pre-show program and advertising content across all theaters in the Spotlight network. We’re thinking long term that acquiring them would be beneficial as we continue to expand and also build the event cinema business. Right now, we have a content delivery system that’s installed across our theaters, called the Spotlight Media Distribution System, which is powered by Storming Images. As we continue to bring on more exhibitors to the Spotlight network, the same system will be installed to deliver our advertising and pre-show content, and will now also deliver our future event cinema content. In terms of CineLife, that’s also something we thought about long term to help generate interest in art films and art houses across the country. We found, after speaking to many of our exhibitor partners, that CineLife was needed because there wasn’t a dedicated platform to be able to get audiences to art houses via a movie app. CineLife was the first movie app that was built to connect indie film lovers and art houses. It also has an event cinema section that lists upcoming events. It’s an important marketing tool that can promote future event cinema programming we will be distributing.
It takes a while to go out there and launch your first event. Do you have a date in mind for it?
Rupp: We’re targeting the first quarter of 2018, toward the end. It obviously takes time to market to the exhibitor network and then to the consumer network. So we’re targeting sometime in March for our first event.