Sony Pictures Entertainment has launched a non-movie programming service for cinemas in Japan, called Livespire. Service will focus on sport and live music in the first instance, beginning with a musical, Riding the Metro, in three cinemas in Tokyu Recreation circuit expanding into four more in June. Events are shot in HD, using Sony CineAlta HDC-950 cameras, and posted by a Sony subsidiary. Service is also aimed at pushing Sony's 4K digital cinema system into cinemas, given the current lack of 4K movie content. Five events are to be filmed this year and service beamed into ten cinemas although take-up will be hampered by low d-cinema screen count in Japan at present (86 at end 2007).
Film distributors are ideally placed to provide non-movie programming into cinemas, with their close links to distributors and understanding of aggregating content and expertise at marketing to cinemagoers. A key difference is that films are predominantly still distributed physically and alternative content needs to be electronically networked into cinemas but this element can be provided by a specialist company if necessary. An obstacle to the development of alternative programming in cinemas is that it takes up screen space which is already hard fought over, and distributors are reluctant to countenance losing valuable peak-timne slots. If a distributor also provided non-movie content, they could end up a winner both ways, with either their film or their non-movie progamming on screen thus diminishing the impact of a growing alternative content market. Events like opera have shown that a cinema can charge high prices and have high occupancy, if only for one screening, and this will be of interest to exhibitors.