Fathom Events' CEO John Rubey discusses the future of interactive cinema and new business models

But the more digital our lives become, the more people crave analog experiences. And that's what we're offering: an experience where you're standing or sitting with [people] as passionate as you are, and in that shared passion, your energy level rises.

How did Fathom Events come about?
Fathom Events is the leading provider of events cinema to cultureplexes, or theaters. It scaled within National CineMedia, a company that sells ads on the screen, as its event division. Then in 2014, movie theater chains Regal, AMC, and Cinemark purchased Fathom as a pure standalone content play.

How do you strike partnerships such as The Met: Live in HD and the TCM Presents film series?
We offer marketing assets. We not only have an ability to communicate to an audience, but the audience also comes back to us. Our web traffic is constantly growing. And we have a proprietary satellite network with more than 1,100 screens that are digitally connected, which we’re in the process of upgrading. I expect our company to surpass 1,500 in the next 24 months and break four million attendees next year.

What role will PR play in helping you achieve that goal?
PR is one of the primary ways for us to communicate with fans. Our primary marketing tools are our trailers in the cinemas, then [engaging people] online. We also have a database of Fathom fans with whom we communicate quickly and directly through email newsletters, mobile blasts, social media — "activating the troops," as we call it.

TV shows like Game of Thrones are regularly live-screened in public spaces. Have you thought about tapping into those fan bases?
We’re all about that. But we’re a new business, and some of the distribution rules and content designations don’t recognize the difference between theatrical distribution and event cinema. One thing that distinguishes the two is that theatrical distribution runs seven days a week, 10-20 screenings, while our events run one, two, or three nights at most. Our screen time is very limited.

We’re in dialogue with producers, networks, unions, and guilds to work out a structure everyone can be happy with in terms of rates and other things that go with it. It’s like a Rubik’s Cube.

We’ve done it with the BBC, which has given us a great template as to how it can work. This resulted in a formula where British content can get special rate consideration from the UK unions and guilds. The BBC is using its cinema revenue to make up for the loss of DVD sales and is experiencing the highest tune-ins for content promoted in Fathom theaters. We’re in this business for the long haul and want to work out arrangements that are transparent to all, but also scalable.

What role do new entertainment technologies play in ensuring cinema’s relevance?
Cinema is highly relevant. VR, for example, is a very personal, individual experience. There’s no upside in going to a large room surrounded by 100 people wearing VR headgear. As those numbers [for streaming subscriptions and VR sales] climb, it’s indicative that people are consuming more and more media. Ten to 20 years ago, the amount of music being consumed was rising at a meteoric rate. Now, it’s not only music, but also audio and visual content. People today have three or four screens going simultaneously.

But the more digital our lives become, the more people crave analog experiences. And that’s what we’re offering: an experience where you’re standing or sitting with [people] as passionate as you are, and in that shared passion, your energy level rises.

Today’s digital cinema is transformative in that it takes on the personality and culture of the audience. This happens for film and on a whole different level with events cinema, [when we screen different programs.]

Doctor Who fans come out dressed as Whovians and Sherlock fans dress up in their best Burberry raincoats. We spend a lot of time not just figuring out what’s great content but also the event aspect of the offering, because that’s what distinguishes it from going to see another film. Our goal is to take that digital content to the next level and offer an event experience that includes live Q&A, behind-the-scenes footage, things you normally couldn’t see otherwise.

What does your communications team look like? Do you work with agencies?
BHI is our AOR, [but] we work with PR agencies and communications teams for all our content partners. That gives us a deep network of contacts. It forms a great team, because BHI knows our process, assets, and [our partners’] communications teams know their brands and content – and, to a large extent, the fans of that content.

It enables us to have a dynamic two-way communication. Whether you’re experiencing classic film or watching a documentary, it’s all about people coming together and communicating with each other.

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