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CinemaLive CEO Peter Skillman on How Artists and Labels Can Win Big With Live Cinema Concerts

CinemaLive CEO and co-founder Peter Skillman discusses artist's and label's capacity to earn at the box office and boost music sales via ticket bundling. "It's the best promotion that you can do for…

Founded in Australia in 2008 and with offices in London and Sydney, CinemaLive specializes in the shooting and broadcasting of live entertainment and music events, which it can potentially beam to movie theatres in over 70 countries worldwide. Previous music tie-ins have included concert broadcasts from Joe Satriani (filmed in 2D and 3D from Montreal), Fatboy Slim‘s “Live: From The Big Beach Bootique,” Elton John‘s “Million Dollar Piano” concert at Caesars Palace, and a never-before-seen concert recording of Nirvana live at Sydney’s Paramount theatre, which was screened to mark the 20th anniversary of Nevermind.

Meanwhile, last year’s screening of classical superstar Andre Rieu‘s 10th anniversary Maastricht concert was the highest grossing ‘one night only’ music event in U.K. cinema history, with box office receipts totaling close to £1 million, according to CinemaLive. This summer will see the company once again partner with Rieu to screen his 2015 Maastricht concert to over 500 U.K. cinemas on July 18.

With discussions currently taking place about further “A-list music projects,” Billboard spoke to CinemaLive CEO and co-founder Peter Skillman to discuss artist’s and label’s capacity to earn at the box office and boost music sales via ticket bundling. “It’s the best promotion that you can do for the mass audience,” he says. 

Billboard: What are the roots of CinemaLive and why did you decide to focus on the music and entertainment sector?

Peter Skillman: It started in Australia around seven years ago with the advent of digital technology going into cinemas. We instantly thought that would be a great vehicle for broadcasting music and theatre events into cinema, so it becomes more of a big screen scenario with the 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound, rather than just sitting it at home watching something on TV. Australia was a great proof of concept territory, for want of a better term, so our main office is now in London and we deal with record labels from a U.K. base. 

What are some of your biggest successes to date in the music space?

An important early event for us was the Nirvana 20th anniversary concert for Nevermind. Universal Music came to us and said: ‘We have footage of this concert at the Paramount and it has never been seen. Can we make a live cinema event out of it?’ Based on the fact that the band are no longer together we decided to create an event around that 20th anniversary scenario. We built a live component, which was a talk by DJ Richard Kingsmill, who helped launch the band in Australia, and ticket sales went through the roof. We also did a bundle where ticket holders received a commemorative copy of Nevermind and ended up selling 10,500 CDs, which was far more than the label sold over the counter in Australia. The success of it took everyone, including Universal, by surprise.

How important is bundling physical product with cinema tickets in opening doors with record companies and artists?

It is without question a certain way to get content sold for the record companies. [Bundle sales] also contribute towards chart sales in select territories as we have OCC [Official Charts Company] clearance in the U.K. and ARIA [Australian Recording Industry Assoc.] clearance in Australia, which is fantastic from the artist perspective. Bands and artists are initially sceptical of doing these lifestyle performances because, what’s in it for them? One of the assets is bundling, with all revenue raised going straight to the record company and artist.

Does CinemaLive take a cut of any bundling revenue raised?

Absolutely not. We use it as enticement to get the artist to believe in what we are doing in the live cinema territory. The best format for that is to do a pre-launch of a new album where the artist performs live as a first see scenario relayed throughout the cinemas. The bundle aspect gives the audience the opportunity to either pre-order or get it prior to release.

What other incentives do you provide to get artists and labels on board?

It’s the best promotion that you can do for the mass audience because we can beam into thousands of cinema screens around the world. The pulling power of seeing your favourite artist on the big screen is really a showcase for the artist, as opposed to do something on a breakfast television in a tiny studio where all you’re really doing is promoting one song. We can promote anything you have got coming up, be it an album or an upcoming tour, as we did with André Rieu. It’s a vehicle that really engages and at the end of it gives the artist a valuable asset in the footage and audio that is recorded. Depending on the deal they can exploit that in any way they see fit.

So you don’t retain the rights to any footage or audio recorded at the live performance?

No. That is a major stumbling block. From our point of view, we are very much into the one-night-only, money-can’t-buy-experience and to get artists and record companies over the line it was something that we choose early in the day to offer as part of the deal. You have to take into account that the cinemas take generally at least 50 percent of the box office.

Does the artist get a cut of the remaining box office receipts?

Absolutely. It’s something that we have had to move around to make it appealing. I’ve had instances where we’ve done a presentation to management and they love the concept. They look at the top line and they’re happy. Then they look at the bottom line and go, ‘Where has it gone?’ You explain that the cinema takes at least 50 percent and the response is: ‘Well, forget that. That is never going to work.’ So it really is to get them on board, combined with the bundling and footage assets that can be added in. But the artist will get a split of box office without question.

What percentage of the box office can an artist typically expect to receive?

It is a sliding scale, but rest assured that we have always paid artists and they have been happy with what we have done.

Who covers the production costs? You or the artist/label?

Once again it varies. Some artists choose to shoot it themselves because they want to do it in a particular fashion or the record company is funding. In the event that we cover the production costs, it will either be recouped off the top and then the artist will own the video and audio masters. Or we might then do a co-venture where we jointly own the assets to go to TV or DVD or the other revenue streams that fall from it. We will do what is needed to assist in getting the event set up from a production perspective.

And what do fans stand to gain from watching a cinema feed of a live or pre-recorded show?

We have all been to see stadium acts and 90 percent of the time, if you’re up in the bleachers, you end up watching on screens anyway. The biggest bonus for the fan is simply being able to be there in the moment if you can’t get to the concert. They interact and engage with it like I have never seen before. We generally try and make sure that the artist refers to the cinema audience and that engages the fans beyond belief because they feel like it’s an extension of the live show, as opposed to watching a DVD on the big screen. When they do, audiences go absolutely crazy. The fans will engage on every level – whether it be youth orientated, a heritage style act doing a one night only style show, or classical crossover like Andre Rieu, we have proved over a dozen times that it works. The key is to pick the right event. We are very selective in what we look at doing.  Something that is not going to be near enough to a sell-out will reflect badly on an artist when people get on to social media, so we have started to say no a lot more than yes.

What are the company’s plans for the year ahead?

We really want to focus on A-list artist projects. We are currently in discussion with all the major record companies about the possibility of those happening. We have now proved ourselves in the music arena. All the record companies know who we are and engage with what we are doing. It’s just getting to that next stage where artists really want to engage and that is now starting to happen based on our track record. The music business is not what it was even ten years ago and I think the market is right to try and introduce new ways that product can be sold.