Cinema goers in the UAE have plenty of options this weekend – including Barbie, Oppenheimer and the filmed on location in Abu Dhabi charms of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One – in what has been a blockbuster summer for movies after the muted years of the pandemic.
And, if you venture to your local multiscreen venue this weekend, you may also bump into some fans of Metallica, one of the world’s most enduring and popular thrash metal music acts.
The event offers a reminder that local cinemas are not just the place to watch the latest Margot Robbie or Tom Cruise film project, but also a venue for “live” events.
Big-screen venues have for years also served as the space to watch Indian Premier League cricket or top-of-the-bill boxing bouts, particularly in the peak period of Manny Pacquiao’s career when crowds used to swarm in the early mornings into UAE cinemas to enthusiastically cheer on their world champion sporting hero. Many people watched the unfolding drama of this year’s Uefa Champions League final in Istanbul at cinemas, in which Manchester City eventually prevailed over Inter Milan.
This weekend’s Metallica concert screenings also hint at something else.
First, they are a great way to reach a wider audience at a cheaper price than a regular concert and to deliver them in the excellent sound environment that cinemas provide, although Metallica fans may wonder why tickets for each “concert” are priced at Dh100 per seat, when a typical movie seat is about half that price in the UAE. Metallica last performed in Abu Dhabi in 2013.
The advertised price does compare favourably, however, to two-day tickets for the AT&T Stadium in Arlington this weekend, which range from about $100 (Dh367) up to $1000, according to US ticket sales websites at the time of writing. So, maybe there is value after all in a Dh200 (circa $55) admission price at your local cinema.
Second, they underscore once again that it is touring that drives band economics in the way that physical album sales used to a generation ago.
Metallica famously went to court with the peer-to-peer site Napster at the beginning of the 21st century after quickly recognising how file sharing and streaming would affect an act’s ability to make money from their own back catalogue.
The band won in court but lost the argument in the long term, as generally, consumers have largely turned away from buying physical music, with devastating consequences for many musicians who may not have scaled the heights that Metallica have.
Many of us are now more likely to buy a cup of coffee than a new album. And even though millions of us globally are signed up to legal music streaming services such as Spotify, Apple or Amazon – effectively renting rather than owning music on a monthly basis – only a very small group of performers make meaningful money out of these services. Some artists have been moved to sell off the rights to their back catalogues to investment trusts as they seek to increase their incomes.
For an alternative take on live shows, retired Swedish superstars Abba – once known as their country’s second-biggest export after Volvo, having sold more than 400 million records worldwide – have been exploring another frontier of this “we’re not really here” territory over the past year or so, with their Abba Voyage shows in London.
The show, staged in a purpose-built venue in Docklands, features holographic avatars of the group performing “live” on stage running through an hour-and-a-half set, backed by a human and in-person 10-piece band. It’s a spectacular event that plays to large crowds.
The computer-generated nature of the star performers means they will never miss a performance and are unlikely to start or finish late, which is ideal for those worried about catching the last train home after the show – but it’s doubtful that this is a viable option for many acts, if any at all.
Before the show was launched, it was suggested that Voyage would need to sell in excess of 1.5 million tickets to recoup its development costs, although the technology does, in theory, allow for multiple versions of Abba to be in residency at the same time around the world and for much greater returns on investment once those vast setup costs have been recouped. Unsurprisingly, the tickets in London typically cost more than £100 (Dh460).
But the level of investment required takes it out of reach for most reuniting groups and reunion tours, which makes the “catch us if you can” spirit of cinemas hosting “live” shows an attractive and relatively cut-price alternative for all concerned.
What both examples highlight is that streaming and the movement of music from collectible to everyday consumable have changed the calculus for fans and for touring acts.