Iconic Events Envisions A Future For Theaters That’s More Than Just Movies
Despite my misgivings with Without Remorse, I would love to have seen the film theatrically instead of on a screener. There are screenings taking place tomorrow night, but none of the theaters are terribly close to me, so I opted to watch it at home and write up the review accordingly. Point being, I imagine there are folks who have missed the theatrical experience enough to find any reason to go to a movie theater, even if it’s not to see a movie. On that note, Iconic Events announced today that they have enlisted theatrical circuits representing over 1,000 locations to its expanding network playing its programming. As announced by Executive Chairman Michael Lambert, theatrical distribution and exhibition expert Steve Bunnell is joining the company as its chief financial officer.
Iconic Events was formed last year by Lambert, a longtime movie theater owner, along with former Cinemark CEO Tim Warner (among others). The goal is for Iconic Events to be a major player in terms of exhibiting “not just the big new movies” event programming in a theatrical auditorium. Think, offhand, sporting events, concerts, live Q&As for movie premieres, cast reunions and more. This isn’t a new idea, as most of us have probably gone to a theater to see something comparatively unconventional at least once or twice in our lives. I saw the 1999 Oscars (where Shakespeare In Love beat Saving Private Ryan) in a movie theater, and I was among many who attended the theatrical showing of Sherlock: The Abominable Bride in January of 2016.
I will never, ever forget the screening of A Nightmare On Elm Street in September of 2006 that temporarily featured the wrong audio track. The shocking thing is that the audio for Bryan Barber’s Idlewild damn-near matched the onscreen events for Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street, but I digress. Anyway, Fathom Events has made their fortune in this capacity, and we’ve certainly seen a rise of “for one night only” theatrical screenings in the VOD era. Iconic is hoping to increase the footprint of so-called “event cinema,” as it’s now five times smaller in North America than in Europe. For those who want to see UFC fights, awards shows, television events and related “not a blockbuster movie” content in theaters, well, this is only good news.
The current conundrum is that Hollywood still needs movie theaters, especially when it comes to big-budget franchise films. If Hollywood didn’t need theaters, then we wouldn’t still be waiting on the release of No Time to Die, F9 and Top Gun: Maverick. The money from VOD, DVD and streaming isn’t anywhere near the raw revenue from a global theatrical release. If theaters were an unnecessary middle-man they would have been cut out of the equation 15 years ago. While overall box office (pre-Covid) was up and ticket sales were only somewhat down from the peak of the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, more moviegoers were spending more of their annual theatrical dollars on a smaller portion of big-scale “event movies.” Moreover, theatrically-bound movies are still the most valuable enticement for streaming platforms.
The notion of less movies making up more of the overall box office is more of a problem for studios than theaters, since a large popcorn for Tenet costs the same as one for The Broken Hearts Gallery. And while it would be easy for theaters to start shifting more and more of their films to streaming or VOD, theatrical movies still dominate in terms of viewership on the various streaming platforms. We’ll see how that hashes itself out over the next few years (maybe more movies existing in nationwide release for a week or three before debuting on VOD or streaming), but the notion of more “event cinema” will give theaters have something of value to program on a Wednesday night or a Thursday afternoon.
It’s no secret that theatrical moviegoing is a peak-hours business, as you can usually stroll into the opening Friday morning or first Tuesday night of any mega-blockbuster and buy a ticket. If we start seeing more operas, sporting events, UFC fights, Broadway shows or lectures taking up space in auditoriums, well, once again, a large popcorn purchased during Downton Abbey: The Movie costs the same as one purchased for Rob Zombie’s 3 From Hell. We’ll see how this plays out over the next few years, but it would be nice to have a reason to go to a theater even if you’ve seen all of the big movies currently playing.
The press release:
ICONIC EVENTS SIGNS UP THEATER CIRCUITS REPRESENTING OVER ONE THOUSAND LOCATIONS AS INDUSTRY VETERAN STEVE BUNNELL JOINS TO BE CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER COMPANY POSITIONED TO CAPITALIZE ON GROWING DEMAND IN THE EXPANDING EVENT CINEMA SECTOR FOR LIVE AND Special Event Programming
April 28, 2021, Los Angeles, CA – The fast-growing event cinema company Iconic Events announced today that the company has enlisted theatrical circuits representing over 1,000 locations to the expanding network of theaters playing its programming, and that Steve Bunnell, the respected theatrical distribution and exhibition veteran, is coming on board to lead Iconic’s growth efforts as chief executive officer. The announcement was made by Iconic Events Executive Chairman Michael Lambert.
Iconic Events was formed last year by Lambert, a longtime owner of movie theaters, along with former Cinemark CEO Tim Warner and several leading media, exhibition, and entertainment industry entrepreneurs with extensive experience in the industry. The event cinema company was quietly launched after Lambert and Warner consulted with key members of the community, who enthusiastically endorsed the need for exhibition to have more programming choices for their theaters and have since signed up to be part of the Iconic network.
Iconic Events has already become a significant distributor of live sports events and other unique and desirable fan favorite programs. Iconic is focused on working with its theater partners and expanding the variety and types of event cinema content presented in their auditoriums. Event cinema programming includes on stage access to rare concerts, live Q and A’s for premieres of new movies, cast reunions of classic movies, anime, premiere episodes of beloved series from networks and streamers, and even regional and local sports.
Event cinema, defined as non-traditional entertainment released in theaters as special limited-engagement event programming, is the fastest growing segment in exhibition in the United States.
Event cinema’s audience is five times larger in Europe and other international markets than in the U.S. The appointment of Bunnell, one of the industry’s most accomplished and recognized veterans, to lead this new venture is a further sign of Iconic’s commitment to capitalizing on the potential growth opportunity and increased demand for specialized content in this sector. Live and special event programming is built on activating content-specific fandoms and followings, who will share the excitement of new content.
“Iconic Events has had an incredible start by securing the rights to UFC fights, live boxing matches, and other highly desirable and marketable content for distribution to our growing network of movie theaters,” said Lambert. “Steve Bunnell understands the business like few others. His special vision for expanding live and other content through his relationships and experience on both sides of the theatrical aisle at Cinemark, Universal, Regal, and most recently Alamo Drafthouse, makes him uniquely qualified and perfectly suited to lead Iconic as we broaden our programming and extend into categories including concerts, music videos, live Q and A’s for premieres of new movies, cast reunions of classic movies, anime, premiere episodes of beloved series from networks and streamers and even regional and local sports.”
“Now, more than ever, theaters need the additional programming choices like those being offered by Iconic. We already have access to over one thousand theaters representing nearly ten thousand screens in the US, with more live-capable theaters being added every day,” said Bunnell. “There’s enormous potential for growth in this sector of the business in the United States by making this content broadly available to any and all exhibitors, and I’m tremendously excited to be leading Iconic’s efforts. Putting optionality into the hands of exhibition and giving them more choices for their customers couldn’t be more important.”
Fueling growth in the Iconic network is a no-strings approach to building long term relationships with partners. “More and more, the multiplex is seen not just as a local theater. It is a community entertainment center and an event destination. We are delighted to have such fantastic response from our community – they understand their customers want more event cinema in their theaters, and more importantly, they understand the upside for their bottom line – especially right now, when every dollar counts,” said Bunnell.
Iconic Events has already seen significant success with live UFC events, starting in January with the Connor McGregor/Dustin Poirer fight. The company has quickly grown from just a dozen test locations to over 150 live-event-capable theaters that brought the most recent UFC live event to audiences this past weekend. Iconic will also bring audiences the super middleweight fight between Canelo Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders on May 8 through a new partnership with DAZN, and will bring the rematch of McGregor/Poirer to theaters in the just-announced UFC event on July 10.
Behind Iconic Events is a world-class team of industry leaders. Founded by Michael Lambert, Mark Rupp, Steven Menkin, and Tim Warner, Iconic is dedicated to bringing live and other special events programming to movie theaters. For information on the company, or updates on future Iconic Events programs coming to theaters near you, visit www.iconicreleasing.com