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    Thursday, March 30, 2023

    ‘The Chosen’ made millions in theaters. Should more TV shows get the big-screen treatment?

    Are older audiences back? For crowd-pleasing movies, it sure appears so. The solid $12.5 million debut for “80 for Brady” didn’t just come because theater operators agreed to lower ticket prices, though that surely didn’t hurt attendance. (Over 80 for Brady? How about over 50 and thrifty?)

    This comes as Sony Pictures’ “A Man Called Otto” has quietly collected $53 million in the U.S. and Canada and after Universal Pictures’ “Ticket to Paradise” pulled in $68.3 million domestically as part of its $168-million global haul. Seems as if it was a mistake to write off the 55-plus crowd, particularly women, especially at a time when studios were putting out barely anything that appealed to older audiences.

    Speaking of the cost of going to the movies, AMC Theaters unveiled its new pricing program that charges more for middle-seat tickets and less for front-row seats (if you’re in the Stubs loyalty program). Exact pricing details were not disclosed. Film Twitter people are predictably annoyed about this change, to which you might say, ever been to a concert or football game?

    Anyway, here’s another way theaters might think about boosting attendance and profits.

    Should studios put more TV shows in theaters?

    Theaters were hard-hit last year by a movie shortage that put a damper on the box office recovery. The solution seems clear: Give theaters more material to play.

    But part of the fix might not be so obvious, especially if cinema chains want to bring back patrons who haven’t been in years. What if putting TV shows in theaters could help make up the difference? Recent data suggests there’s an actual audience appetite for this so-called alternative programming.

    In a survey by analytics firm the Quorum, released late last year, 77% of respondents indicated interest in seeing TV shows in movie theaters, beating out other categories including live music, video games and sporting events. Nineteen percent said they would pay more than the average movie ticket price to do so.

    Even 28% of people who no longer go to movies said they’d be interested in seeing a TV show as a big-screen experience if it cost the same or more than a normal film ticket, suggesting this could be an opportunity to grow business.

    The study, commissioned by the nonprofit Cinema Foundation, surveyed 5,940 people nationally between July 20 and Aug. 5, 2022, when things were about to get very dark for the box office because of the dearth of movies.

    Survey results should always be taken with a grain of salt; actual consumer behavior does not always match survey responses. But there might be enough here to merit some experimentation, especially if there’s a chance that it could get non-moviegoers back in the habit.

    “We want those people who are sitting on the sidelines to come back to the theater,” said David Herrin, founder of the Quorum, in an interview. “And the hope is that once they come back to the theater for not-film experiences, they will begin to remember what they love and miss about the theater, and then they will feel even more comfortable about coming back for movies as well.”

    It’s not too surprising, nor is it a new idea.

    Theater chains have been increasingly willing to show TV episodes, operas and NFL games. They offer to host esports tournaments and — in a true sign of impending Armageddon — corporate Zoom meetings. Fathom Events has built an entire business based on the audience demand for content other than new blockbusters.

    In the latest example, one of the top 10 movies in U.S. theaters over the weekend was the season finale of “The Chosen,” a TV show about the life of Jesus.

    “The Chosen” isn’t on many people’s radar in Hollywood. The series airs on the free, faith-based, family-friendly service Angel Studios, the successor to VidAngel, a Utah-based company that was successfully sued by Disney and others for illegally ripping and streaming DVDs in order to let users filter out sex, violence and swear words. It was a whole thing. (VidAngel’s filtering business lives on as a separate entity.)

    Nonetheless, Fathom Events’ presentation of “The Chosen’s” two-episode Season 3 finale cracked the domestic charts at No. 9, with $3.6 million in ticket sales from nearly 2,000 screens Friday through Sunday. This comes after the season’s first two episodes, released in November, grossed $8.2 million in three days, nearly matching Searchlight Pictures’ “The Menu” during its opening. Combining its two separate releases, “The Chosen” has taken in $20 million in ticket sales.

    If “The Chosen” can compete with wide-release films at the box office, should nonreligious hits, like the popular postapocalyptic video game adaptation “The Last of Us,” try to do the same?


    Travis Clark of Insider made the case last month for more TV shows in auditoriums after seeing “The Last of Us” premiere at the Angelika Film Center in New York. “The Last of Us” is a huge hit for HBO on the small screen, with millions of people tuning in each week. With the show’s clear appeal for coveted appointment viewing, it’s worth asking if it should get the big-screen treatment as well.

    Networks and TV studios understand the value of a theatrical presence of some kind.

    My colleague Mary McNamara recently wrote about the star-packed premiere for “Poker Face,” a show that airs on Peacock, at the Hollywood Post 43 American Legion on Highland. HBO has put “Game of Thrones” in theaters. Paramount held theatrical screenings for “Yellowstone.” Amazon gave the first two episodes of “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” a brief cinematic push.

    No box office numbers are available for “Yellowstone” or the “LOTR” prequel.

    I’m still sort of skeptical.

    For one thing, the success of “The Chosen” is probably a better indicator of the power of mobilizing the faith-based audience than the viability of TV shows in theaters. Plus, there’s a quality problem. People like to talk about their shows as eight-hour movies. They’re usually not, though. How many series boast the kind of production values that are well-served by a 50-foot screen?

    Imax promoted and co-financed a Marvel show, “Inhumans,” as part of an experiment to fill its giant screens in the off-season for blockbusters. It flopped. The cinema technology provider has since had success with special events including livestreamed concerts.

    The desire to have non-movies in movie theaters might smack of a little desperation. But exhibitors do need to adapt and think differently.

    “I don’t see it as a retreat at all,” Herrin said. “I see it as an expansion.”

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