BBC Film on Royal Birth Traditions Gets Sizable Theatrical Release

The BBC has a suggestion for royal baby watchers looking for intel on the newest member the House of York: head to a movie theater near you.

Across the globe, Baby Watch 2013 hit a new gear Monday afternoon with the confirmation that Prince William’s wife, Kate, had given birth to a baby boy.

On the eve of labor, last Friday, BBC began distributing its documentary Born to Royalty theatrically in two dozen U.S. markets, including L.A., Chicago and New York before it heads to DVD and airs later this year. The feature-length film, narrated by Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey, examines the history and rituals of new generations being raised into the British royal family.

The Beeb’s theatrical approach is unorthodox but perhaps a sign of the industry times. As the lines between the movie and TV worlds continue to blur, TV nets are embracing the big screen as never before, from talent deals and creative currents to marketing to exhibition.

AMC, for example, will screen the start to its new series Low Winter Sun in select theaters this month, and also plans a major swan-song push for Breaking Bad with bulk screenings at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York.

These bookings are far from summer blockbuster scale, and may even be single show times in rather small theaters. And the TV-film divide is routinely bridged in some respects by veteran hands like Discovery and HBO. Even so, there is some novelty in the notion of taking a popular topic and crafting a documentary on it that plays first in theaters. BBC employed such a rollout for its Daniel Craig-narrated nature doc One Life last year.

With TV series commonly receiving red-carpet treatment at film festivals, the notion of theaters one day being a destination for a range of premieres isn’t completely farfetched. On an indie level, theaters have an unsatisfied appetite for content given the disappearance of mid-budget domestic content.

“Theatrical was contemplated when we first started thinking about this,” Soumya Sriraman, BBC Worldwide’s executive VP of home entertainment and licensing, tells B&C. “Theaters play a different role than television in terms of cultivating an audience and engaging them. This is not just a platform for us — it is a way to really galvanize interest in this film at the start of its life in the marketplace.”

The current media frenzy surrounding the birth didn’t make the theatrical cut. But it will be edited into future versions, Sriraman said.