Driving TV Viewers to the Cinema

Driving TV Viewers to the Cinema

Syfy’s campy teleflick Sharknado invaded some 200 Regal Cinema theaters around the country this past Friday night, the latest in an example of cable networks turning to the big screen to build awareness for original content.

Theaters may have been considered a competitor in cable’s early days, but executives said they now represent a cool marketing tool to introduce new, popular programming to the masses. Last week, AMC aired the first episode of drama series Low Winter Sun in more than 20 select art-house theaters. The goal: Enticing theater-going consumers to turn on the boob tube to watch the series when it debuts Aug. 11.

While cable shows won’t come close to matching the theater distribution levels of The Wolverine, executives said a limited run in select movie houses provides enough exposure to build up interest without cannibalizing ratings. This spring, Sundance Channel showed the first two episodes of its inaugural scripted series, Rectify, at art-house theaters in New York and Los Angeles ahead of its April 22 premiere. The binge-viewing events helped Sundance get the word out about the series, which performed well with both viewers and critics on the basic-cable network.

“By the time the series premiered in April, we had built significant awareness and buzz with both press and consumers as a result of this somewhat unconventional approach,” Sarah Barnett, Sundance’s president and general manager, said.

Syfy executive vice president of programming and original movies Thomas Vitale expected a Rocky Horror Picture Show-like atmosphere for the Sharknado screenings, further enhancing its pop-culture status. The movie, in which killer sharks swept up in a tornado eventually fall from the sky to terrorize the citizens of Los Angeles, became a social-media sensation during its July 11 premiere, averaging a network-record 387,000 social mentions overall.

“The buzz and fervor of Sharknado really drove the movie exhibitions,” Vitale said. “What we’ve done in the past on a one-off basis from time to time with our movies is now being done nationwide, which is really cool.” With A-list producers, writers and actors now moving into the cable space, it’s likely that more cable shows will look to debut first on the big screen before settling into traditional runs on the TV set.