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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

CinemaCon 2018, Day 2: The State of the Industry

Film Flam Flummox


The first full day of CinemaCon 2018 programming at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace kicked off with another impressive sizzle reel produced by Cinema Concepts assembled from footage from both big hits of 2017 and upcoming 2018. This was but the first of two rousing reels to begin the morning program, the second being the annual reel celebrating the top worldwide box office performers of 2017, presented by DLP Cinema and introduced by Cinemark International's Valmir Fernandes, chairman of the National Association of Theatre Owners' International Committee. In a trend begun last year that I was glad to see continue this year, the reel not included familiar Hollywood product such as Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Wonder Woman, but international blockbusters such as China's Wolf Warrior 2. Reinforcing again how the global box office take is of increasing importance to the industry, stateside underachievers but overseas successes such as The Mummy, Transformers: The Last Knight, Justice League, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and Kingsman: The Golden Circle were also featured. Among the other titles featured in the reel, in alphabetical order: Beauty and the Beast, The Boss Baby, Cars 3, Coco, Despicable Me 3, Dunkirk, The Fate of the Furious, Fifty Shades Darker, The Greatest Showman, It, Kong: Skull Island, Logan, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Star Wars: Episode VIII--The Last Jedi, Thor: Ragnarok, and War for the Planet of the Apes.

Dave Hollis, the ever-poised and -popular, soon-to-be-former President of Theatrical Distribution of Walt Disney Studios (last month, he announced his imminent departure from the studio executive suite to head his wife's company beginning in May), then had the honor of presenting the first award to be presented on the Colosseum stage for the week, the NATO Marquee Award. Given to a figure for his or her dedication, commitment and service to the motion picture theatre industry, this year's awardee is Alejandro Ramírez Magaña, CEO of Cinépolis. A previous recipient of CinemaCon's Global Achievement in Exhbition Award in 2013, his Marquee Award is a historic one, being the first given to a non-U.S. exhibitor--which again underscores the increasing importance of overseas box office to the health of the exhibition industry. That point, exemplified by the stat of last year's record $40 billion box office haul, was addressed in Magaña's acceptance speech, in which he stressed the importance of producing a diverse slate of content aside from blockbuster tentpoles to maximize moviegoers and, perhaps more critically, the protection of theatrical windows before any sort of home media release.

NATO President and CEO John Fithian, as he has always done every year dating back to the ShoWest era, exhibited (no pun intended) his skill at making somewhat dry statistics both easy to follow and interesting, this year bolstered by having the figures all lead to a handful of important points. First, while 2017 marked the third $11 billion year at the domestic box office, the summer season slumped in comparison to strong first and fourth quarters, with the latter especially generating a number of hits of diverse genres, reinforcing the need for variety in the types of films. Furthermore, in the wake of Black Panther's historic haul since its February release, studios offering strong product in all segments of the year is also important. Speaking of Black Panther, its success beyond box office and in the greater social sphere, such as those of Get Out and Wonder Woman, shows the unique appeal of cinema exhibition to provide a communal experience beyond merely what plays on the screen.

Then it came time for Fithian to address the two elephants in the room coming into the convention, a pair of potentially "disruptive" forces for the exhibition industry, one of which he covered thoughtfully and the other so anticlimactically and dismissively as to be almost comical. Streaming continues to grow in popularity, but a study NATO conducted with Ernst & Young showed that there's no direct correlation between its rise and any perceived decline in moviegoing; in fact, that both show consistent health if not growth leads to the conclusion that, in Fithian's words, "The movie industry is not a zero-sum game." A significant portion of frequent moviegoers consume contact on multiple platforms, including mobile, home, and theatrical, and any type of traditional cinema run only helps a title stand out once it's available on streaming services. While he commissioned studies and went into detail on streaming, Fithian only made a backhanded comment on the advent of cinema subscription services. Never mentioning any service by name, let alone that of MoviePass, he only generally mentioned subscription services in the context of other forces once touted as "disrupting" and endangering the theatrical business such as aforementioned streaming, as well as premium video on demand, shortened windows, and before that DVD and VHS. The industry not only survived all of them and weathered various, inevitable cycles of decline and growth, Fithian concludes, and it will continue to do endure for the years to come.

At the time of last year's CinemaCon, the Chairman and CEO post at the Motion Picture Association of America was vacant, so there was no traditional keynote following Fithian's annual address; information usually given during the keynote was instead delivered in "welcoming remarks" by the ever-adaptable and -professional Hollis. This year, however, the new Chairman and CEO since this past September, Charles Rivkin, made his first convention appearance, and his remarks on stage mostly served as extended introduction to the audience of exhibitors. While he did touch upon the expected talking points of box office revenue growth and the perceived success of the ratings system, engaging and relevant anecdotes were the driving force of his speech, which not only helped give a sense of his background and personality but also nicely dovetailed to a greater point about the importance of entertainment and, by extension, that of the cinema exhibitor. He reminisced about a (still-standing) drive-in he used to visit during summers; he brought up his work history in the entertainment sector, primarily a long stint as President and CEO of the Jim Henson Company); he recounted his shift into the political arena, first as U.S. Ambassador to France and, most recently, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs. It was in the political space, ironically, that the power of entertainment, and most notably the movies, became especially apparent, as films and the talent behind them became a bit of a universally understood language in all of his diplomatic travels. Eventually Hollywood celebrity appearances as something of an "ambassadorship" on behalf of the American entertainment industry became something he regularly arranged, and the implication was clear--said "language" would not be so widely, globally "learned" were it not for the existence and efforts of film exhibitors around the world.

Stay tuned here and on my Twitter and Instagram all week for ongoing coverage of all the goings-on at CinemaCon 2018!

(Very special thanks to Heather Lewandoski, Corey Barger, and the entire team at Rogers & Cowan for all their helpful and generous assistance at the convention, as well as Mitch Neuhauser and the CinemaCon crew)

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