Without traveling, there aren’t many ways that fans of marching music can see performances by the best drum lines, brass ensembles and color guards in the country.
That’s why they’ll easily shell out twice the price of a regular movie ticket to gather at a local theater and watch the satellite feed from Drum Corps International’s world championships.
"Last year was the biggest year we’ve had," said Dan Acheson, executive director of the Indianapolis-based organization. " "At our live event, we had 34,000. We believe it’s possible to grow that number still."
When Acheson says "live event," he’s talking about the theater broadcasts. The organization is in its sixth year of using movie gatherings to market its real-life events. It was one of the first clients of National CineMedia, the dominant player in movie theater video feeds. Since DCI struck its first deal, the Metropolitan Opera, Public Radio International, and the foreign-aid group CARE have followed suit.
Drum Corps International is a not-for-profit with $10 million in revenue that exists to organize and promote a summer tour for drum corps ensembles. The season culminates each August in a championship competition.
DCI moved its headquarters from suburban Chicago to Indianapolis in March 2008, and the championships are scheduled to be at Lucas Oil Stadium the next 10 years.
Colorado-based National CineMedia’s primary business is providing commercials to movie theaters. Its event unit Fathom bills its services chiefly as a marketing vehicle—a way to prompt sales of DVDs and books.
"We launched Prince’s tour in the movie theater. His tour sold out nationally, and 64 percent more dates were added within 48 hours of the theater event," Fathom Vice President Dan Diamond boasted. "Glenn Beck sold 700,000 books after the theater event."
For-profit enterprises, including Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck and relationship adviser Dr. Laura, also are using the medium.
The Met’s May 20 encore and Beck’s live event in June both are scheduled at multiple theaters in Indianapolis.
For a few clients, including Drum Corps International, the events provide direct aid to the bottom line.
Public radio personality Ira Glass said during a recent interview on "The Colbert Report," a Comedy Central news spoof, that he was doing theater broadcasts to help cover a $120,000 budget shortfall at "This American Life."
Public Radio International spokeswoman Julia Yager said she wasn’t sure whether Glass had indeed raised the money, but she said the events, which included theaters in Indianapolis, do build loyalty. "We know that through the way listeners respond to their public radio stations."
Drum Corps International holds two theater events a year, a pre-recorded broadcast in May to promote the summer tour, and a live feed from the championships. Combined, the events net $150,000, Acheson said. This year’s pre-recorded broadcast was shown May 13 at seven central Indiana theaters.
Fathom has been expanding the number of available theaters each year, and reached 400 locations this year.
Last August, 34,000 fans gathered in some 300 theaters, and paid $18 a ticket to see five hours of footage from the quarterfinal rounds. Meanwhile, attendance at the championship, held in Bloomington, was 17,000.
Acheson thinks last summer’s $4-per-gallon gas helped drive fans to the theaters.
This year, DCI is hoping for a better turnout at the actual event and added footage of downtown and the stadium to its promotional reel, "The Countdown."
Acheson said DCI spends $70,000 producing the promotional broadcast. DCI hires a camera crew to tape the championships. It then edits past performances down to a two-hour show and adds extras.
DCI created a studio audience segment with Lawrence Central High School band students. DCI also let its fans decide, through voting on the Web site, which ensembles should be included in the final tape.
All of Fathom’s clients have to pay for their own production. The company then markets the content to movie theater chains, which are generally eager to fill seats on a weeknight.
Fathom’s agreements are confidential.
"They get more of the ticket sales than we do," Acheson said. "I’ll just leave it at that."
At the very least, Acheson said, the May promotional event helps maintain the summer audience. The money DCI earns on theater broadcasts is a sliver of its $1.7 million in revenue from sales of DVDs, program and souvenirs, but Acheson said, "That’s revenue that five years ago we didn’t have."
The niche, hard-core fan base is what made theater broadcasts an early and somewhat surprising success, both for DCI and its profit-driven partners.
John DeNovi, business development director for DCI, said it’s as simple as sending an e-mail to a high school band director. "You’ve just gotten to 200 people through one. That’s a marketer’s dream."