Last Saturday night Doctor Who fans packed 30 cinemas nationally to watch two episodes of their favourite TV series, Asylum of the Daleks and The Angels Take Manhattan.

In the next few months cinemagoers will have the chance to watch an array of non-film programming including a West End play starring Helen Mirren, a Bruce Springsteen documentary, an André Rieu concert and a British Museum exhibition on Pompeii.

Cinemas are devoting increasing screen time to operas, pop concerts, theatre, sports and other events, known in the trade as alternate content. Such fare often attracts people who rarely patronise cinemas and fills sessions which would otherwise be thinly attended.

Box-office takings for event programming are up 100 per cent year-on-year at Event Cinemas and Birch, Carroll & Coyle, according to Ian Sutherland, general manager, alternate content, at parent company Amalgamated Holdings Ltd. In 2012 nearly 60 events screened at those circuits and Sutherland expects to nearly double that number this year. He said it’s a small but rapidly growing segment of the exhibition business, capitalising on the proliferation of digital screens.

Sharmill Films founder Natalie Miller, who co-owns Melbourne’s classy Cinema Nova, pioneered non-theatrical fare five years ago with the Metropolitan Opera, followed by London’s National Theatre Live and the State Academic Bolshoi Theatre of Russia.

“There is big growth in the market,” Natalie told IF. “The Met Opera and National Theatre Live are growing each year although the Bolshoi Ballets are a bit soft. Overall it’s a healthy business and it’s a boon to cinemas, often getting good crowds to daytime sessions which would otherwise attract few people.”

Her slate includes The Audience, the West End play that stars Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II, directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours), which opens July 6. The play imagines conversations between the monarch and a procession of Prime Ministers, from Sir Winston Churchill to David Cameron; Miller says there are “huge pre-sales.”

Also opening in July is the exhibition Munch 150, which celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.

Premiering in August are Pompeii Live from the British Museum, which looks at the homes and lives of the residents of Pompeii and Herculaneum nearly 2,000 years ago; and Reaching for the Stars, which features English/Irish pop phenomenon One Direction.

The doco Springsteen & I, which examines the relationship Springsteen's fans have with their hero and his music, opens in August.

Sutherland is in discussions with Australian concert promoters to screen gigs, either live or on delay, and sees this as another potential opportunity to not only fill cinemas but reach audiences who may not get the chance to see their favourite acts in person.

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