Shelly Maxwell understands those who think people won’t want to spend their hard-earned cash watching ballet or opera at their local cineplex.
“Will people schlep to a movie theater to see the Metropolitan Opera? That was a question we had internally six years ago,” says Maxwell, , executive vice president for NCM Fathom Events. Maxwell long ago stopped asking those questions.
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Fathom’s entertainment lineup, including the Bolshoi Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, draws a sizable audience when beamed into theaters nationwide.
“People dress up … it’s a date night for them,” Maxwell says of how patrons treat the company’s programming lineup.
Fathom doesn’t just offer the finer arts. The Colo-based company beams rock concerts, classic movies and sporting events into more than 600 theaters nationwide. The cultural slate dispels the notion that consumers only care about the Kardashian, movie sequels and Lady Gaga.
The folks at Fathom are proving there’s an appetite for more than just popular culture.
One reason why is that Fathom packages the events in ways even front-row ticket holders cannot enjoy. Cameras go beyond the stage to capture how each program comes to pass.
“Things happen with these arts programs you don’t get to see if you’re in the auditorium when it’s happening,” says Maxwell, whose company beams content is seen in roughly 140 markets large and small.
Tomorrow, Fathom will bring the New York City Ballet’s live performance of George Balanchine’s “The Nutracker” into theaters. The Dec. 13 event, hosted by Kelly Ripa, will be broadcast live to more than 550 theaters nationally at 6 p.m. EST, 5 p.m. CT and 7:30 p.m. MT (the latter will be seen via tape delay).
Ripa will take audiences backstage for a behind-the-scenes look at the production including interviews with the company’s principal dancers.
Last month, Fathom and Emerging Pictures presented “The Sleeping Beauty” and “Esmeralda” from Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet. Other Fathom cultural programs have included “The Phantom of the Opera’s” 25th anniversary event from London’s Royal Albert Hall and “Giselle in 3D,” the first 3D ballet presentation.
The 3-D part of the equation remains a question mark as far as consumer interest, and not all Fathom Events can match the success of The Met: Live in HD series. But Fathom executives say some cultural programs need time to build an audience, and the company tries to be patient with new shows.
“They all follow similar trajectory,” says Dan Diamond, senior vice president of Fathom. “No matter what the event is, the next type in a similar character we see the numbers grow.”
“Some programs have slower starts than others,” adds Maxwell. “Awareness is key. Research tells us those who know about us and go, the response is off the charts.”
Yes, symphonies and ballets across the country are struggling to survive, but there’s clearly an audience for Fathom’s brand of the arts. And Fathom executives insist their cultural events actually boost interest in local arts.
“One of the questions early on from the Metropolitan Opera Company was, ‘will this dilute our efforts to bring people to our opera and other opera houses across the country?” Maxwell says. What Fathom found is that it did the opposite – and the company tries to help that even further by reaching out to local community symphonies to work with them and help build a cultural awareness.
“Like a great movie or a great experience at a restaurant, you tell your friends about it. That’s what’s happening here,” Diamond says.
And at a time when arts programming is being sliced from school budgets, the Fathom Events lineup is trying to emphasize the “culture” in “pop culture.”
“These are the kinds of programs that re-engage the community with the arts in general,” Diamond says.