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Putting theaters to work post-Labor Day

Rico Gagliano Aug 29, 2008

Putting theaters to work post-Labor Day

Rico Gagliano Aug 29, 2008


Stacey Vanek-Smith: Labor Day Weekend is upon us and that means the official end of the blockbuster summer movie season. It was a whopper. Between caped crusaders and crystal skulls, the film biz took in an estimated $4 million this summer. Now comes the lull before Oscar season, but don’t expect the theaters to stay empty. Rico Gagliano explains.

Rico Gagliano: It’s Sunday morning at Rolling Hills Estates Mall in Southern California. Several hundred people are piling into a theater at the Regal Cinema 13. A matinee screening of “Space Chimps,” maybe? Not quite.

Preacher: Well, welcome to the Los Angeles International Church of Christ! [cheering]

This branch of the Church of Christ holds services in this movie theater every weekend. On screen, they project snapshots from youth-group campouts.

Preacher: Here’s a coupla pictures of the bus driving in — actually that’s me, right there in the corner. [laughter]

And later, a band plays rock-and-roll spirituals.

Brian Craig: Amen, let’s let our worship shine here, we’re gonna sing “Open the Eyes of My Heart.”

That’s guitarist-slash-vocalist-slash-Minister Brian Craig. His congregation is one of 170 nationwide who go to church at cinemas. They rent the space through National Cinemedia. The company was founded three years back by the nation’s top three movie chains, mainly to sell advertising time in theaters. But CEO Kurt Hall says 5 percent of their revenue now comes from quote “cinemeetings” — renting to everyone from churches to corporations.

Kurt Hall: There’s thousands and thousands of meetings each year, and that number has been increasing over the last two or three years. Microsoft has used the network, for instance, for years.

The tech giant takes advantage of the theaters’ networked digital projectors to hold what are basically giant video conferences. Church of Christ Minister Marco Pelizzeri says for religious groups, the appeal is simpler.

Marco Pelizzeri: What really resonated with me was how accessible this place is, the parking, and 99 out of 100 people that I tell where we meet, they know where it’s at already.

There’s also the fact that buying or building a church in Southern California would be ungodly expensive. Cinemedia rents theaters for $560 a week and up. I asked Ministers Marco and Brian if rent includes one all-important essential.

Gagliano: Do you guys get to use the popcorn machine?

Pelizzeri: No, we do not, and I’m not a big fan of popcorn in the morning, so even if we did I don’t think it would be a big hit.

Craig: I love popcorn any time of day, so we should renegotiate that. ‘Cause that would be awesome.

In Los Angeles, I’m Rico Gagliano for Marketplace.

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