In this week’s podcast, Deadline’s Executive Editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom wrap up all the business news out of CinemaCon, the big theater-owner convention that David Lieberman covered last week. Now that he’s back in Deadline’s Manhattan offices, David L. talks with David B. about the hot topics affecting the movie theater business, including a look at the state of the industry, whether movies and alcohol can mix, why it might be time for a discount ticket night, and why you can’t buy a movie ticket on Amazon.
The two Davids also discuss Charter Communications’ “astonishing” filing objecting to the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal and why Reed Hastings might have some buyer’s remorse over his company’s interconnection pact with Comcast. They also look at whether now is finally the time for a DirecTV/Dish Network merger. Read More »
In this week’s podcast, Deadline Awards Columnist Pete Hammond returns to the mike after a post-Oscar break to talk with host David Bloom about the just-ended CinemaCon gathering in Las Vegas. While all the studios used the confab to tout their hottest upcoming projects to theater operators, the longtime head of the National Association of Theater Owners touched off controversy with head-scratching comments about not watching Best Picture Oscar winner 12 Years A Slave on the big screen. Pete and David also discuss whether, in the wake of Josh Charles’ abrupt departure from The Good Wife, having your character killed off a hit TV show can be a shortcut to the Emmy red carpet. Finally, Pete gives his take on the weekend’s notable movie debuts, led by Darren Aronofsky’s audacious take on the Genesis story Noah.
Deadline Awards Watch podcast 67 (.MP3 version)
Deadline Awards Watch podcast 67 (.M4A version)
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Per usual, Hollywood studios dominated the spotlight this week at the exhibition industry’s annual CinemaCon confab. But AMC Entertainment CEO Gerry Lopez was the star of many private conversations about the future of the theater business. It isn’t just because the former Starbucks exec runs the second largest chain, with about 5,000 screens in 33 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, Hong Kong and the UK. Execs are closely monitoring Lopez’ two-year-old initiative to reduce the number of seats in many AMC theaters to make room for luxurious recliners — which come with a higher ticket price. It’s an adventurous departure in a business that typically tries to pack as many people as possible into venues.
Lopez also seems to enjoy speaking his mind, a rarity in exhibition where leaders tend to be private and circumspect. He has a good story to tell: AMC’s owner, China’s Wanda Group, offered a 22% stake to the public in December, and the shares since then have appreciated 26.4% — well ahead of other major theater chains and the overall market. I caught up to him at this week’s CinemaCon. Here are his thoughts, edited for length and clarity, on a few of the industry’s front burner issues.
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If CinemaCon delegates were waiting for a busload of movie stars to show up at the convention, Warner Bros granted their wish this afternoon delivering, by far, more star power to the stage of the Caesars Palace Colosseum Theatre than the other studios combined. Clint Eastwood, Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Melissa McCarthy , Morgan Freeman, Johnny Depp, Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis were among the names who were trotted out by the studio to the delight of theater owners in the audience. But sometimes it gets awkward up there. Tatum and Kunis just read their lines off a teleprompter, and Depp couldn’t seem to figure out if he had any. Usually at these things he just walks across the stage and waves. Sandler actually was quite funny, bantering with a very pregnant Barrymore, who was still in tears she said over the preceding clip from Godzilla. Eastwood managed a standing ovation and, in talking about the very high-decibel sound levels of the film clips, charmed his way through a brief introduction to footage from his forthcoming musical Jersey Boys.
The heavy star presence distinguished Warners’ turn in the spotlight, the last of the major studios to come to bat, in a presentation that was otherwise very corporate in its approach. Warners had much to crow about and clearly knew it after coming off a record $5.03 billion year, 10 Oscars and a personal-best 21 nominations. It also had a 2013 summer that produced another record: All seven releases earned more than $100 million each. And Warners touted early results in 2014 as being just as promising, with The Lego Movie earning $400 million worldwide so far and the sequel 300: Rise Of An Empire already up to a symmetrically perfect $300 million. Whether the studio can continue on this kind of roll is anyone’s guess as it has a year ahead that’s almost totally lacking in bread-and-butter sequels. Read More »
With a chorus line of 40 Samba-dancing Vegas showgirls parading through the audience to the stage for a performance of a song from the upcoming Rio 2 (4/11), 20th Century Fox got its CinemaCon presentation off in style. And the studio earned high marks for attempting to put a little showmanship that has been missing from some other presentations this week. Hey this is Vegas. Let’s liven it up, folks. And Fox did.
This is not to say the rest of their “show” was not all about showing off footage from their 2014 slate. It was, but clearly they put a lot of work into impressing these theatre owners who responded strongly to what Fox was offering. Distribution President Chris Aronson appeared with a feather headdress on (he looked pretty hot) but quickly took it off for a more corporate look as he welcomed the crowd and got things rolling including those previously reported remarks regarding NATO ‘s John Fithian and 12 Years A Slave. He pointed out that the studio’s total worldwide boxoffice was $3.39 billion, the fifth consecutive year they have exceeded the $3 billion mark. He then introduced 20th’s Chairman Jim Gianopulos who expertly hosted the event as he does each year, actually managing to sound like he’s not reading stuff off a prompter – an art both he and Disney’s M.C. Alan Horn have mastered. He launched right into it by announcing “we are starting summer in April this year” and bringing on Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann to introduce clips of their comedy The Other Woman. Then it was time for the “tentpoles” as he intro’d a clip package featuring the opening scene and trailer from X Men: Days Of Future Past (5/23), extended footage from How To Train Your Dragon 2 (6/13) from their partnership with DreamWorks Animation and a harrowing scene from Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (7/11) , the latter really whetting the exhibitors appetite. Let’s just say it involves a couple of drunk guys, a playful-seeming ape and an Uzi. Wow. Even Shailene Woodley, star of 20th’s June 6th romantic drama The Fault In Our Stars, said she was still shaking from the Apes footage when Gianopulos brought her on. Read More »
On Tuesday during his annual address to delegates at CinemaCon, National Association Of Theatre Owners president John Fithian caused a stir with a real head-scratcher that has kept resonating among theater owners and some studio executives when he stated he waited to watch this year’s Oscar-winning Best Picture 12 Years A Slave at home, rather than at a cinema, because it was too “unequivocally intense.” For the head of an organization that is meant to promote movie-watching in theaters, singling out the Academy’s choice for Best Picture (with that Oscar distinction traditionally a real magnet to bring customers into theaters) was an eye-opener, and execs at 20th Century Fox to whom I have spoken were furious with the NATO chief for even suggesting, however personal, that the preferred way to see the widely acclaimed Fox Searchlight release was to wait and see it at home. This morning, near the beginning of their studio presentation at Caesars Palace’s Colisseum theatre, Fox shot back. ”All of (our) films are meant to be seen in the best possible venue, the cinema, your cinemas and that includes movies that win the Oscar for Best Picture like 12 Years A Slave,” said 20th Century Fox distribution president Chris Aronson in his opening remarks this morning that contained that not-so-veiled reference and response to Fithian’s comments.
Related: CinemaCon: ‘X Men’, Other Women, Lots Of Girls And An Ape Steal Show
Of course it is no secret that many Academy members were, like Fithian, reluctant to watch the intense film, either in a theater or at home on their screener. That’s one of the reasons Fox Searchlight launched their second-phase “It’s Time” campaign in order to encourage them to view the film that would eventually take the top prize for the studio. But coming from the head of NATO, these remarks really stung, especially since he so publicly supports strict windows between the theatrical release of a movie and when it can be consumed at home. One Fox exec to whom I spoke was, in a word, livid when he heard Fithian’s remarks. Another major theatre chain head who played several runs of 12 Years A Slave and still has it in some theaters (even though it first opened in October) was equally outraged by the suggestion that the film is too intense for their screens. Another said, “It’s like if you were the head of Macy’s department store and urged people to shop in their store, but to buy your underwear online.” Read More »
They can, but managers have to be careful, a panel at the industry’s CinemaCon confab in Las Vegas told exhibition execs this morning. Companies are intrigued as they experiment with restaurant and fast-food offerings. “Everyone’s doing a dining concept,” says Carmike Cinemas VP Rob Lehman. As a result, “we’re in the beer and wine business.” But he warned colleagues to be careful when they go for liquor licenses. “It’s a long process but we work very closely with the police. Everyone has this perception that kids are going to get drunk at the back of the auditorium. We don’t want that.” Emagine Entertainment’s Gary Butske urged managers to train staff so they can deal with problem customers. His venues try to avoid trouble by strictly carding and giving wristbands to those old enough to buy. He has a two-drink maximum (strong drinks such as a Long Island Iced Tea are classified as doubles), uses clear plastic cups for booze, and has video cameras that monitor the audience so managers can see whether a buyer passes a drink along to an underaged friend. “We reserve the right to refuse service to anybody.” But he says theaters could see a payoff, especially if they become creative about their bar offerings. He’s had success with craft beers, as well as drink specials for PG-13- and R-rated films including the Hangover trilogy, Sex And The City, and Magic Mike. His theaters also had a vodka drink for The Avengers and Looper. Read More »
The 73rd Pioneer Of The Year Dinner in honor of the late Tom Sherak just may have been the most emotional and moving event the philanthropic organization has ever thrown, certainly of those I have attended in the four years they have been held during CinemaCon. As 20th Century Fox President of Distribution and President of the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation Chris Aronson said, it was also “historic” as it represented the first time the Pioneer Of The Year award was presented posthumously. That was not the plan when they selected Sherak, who passed away in January, for the honor several months ago. The dinner raised over $1M for the Pioneer Assistance Fund. Sherak’s widow Madeleine told me Wednesday evening that he was thrilled to be getting the award and was well aware of it before his passing. Still, she noted it was very bittersweet. ”When Tom died he didn’t leave anyone in charge. There isn’t a vice-president of All Things Tom. But what he did leave was a piece of him in everyone he touched. He didn’t have a number two, he had a number hundreds. We all have watched him through the years, we were mentored by him, he taught us to ‘do’,” Aronson said in opening remarks.
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Although Disney devoted a good chunk of its CinemaCon presentation today to talk of Star Wars and The Avengers and clips of upcoming movies including first looks at the live-action re-telling of Cinderella and Pixar’s Inside Out, theater owners left the near three-hour session really singing the praises of one of the lesser-known films on the slate: the May 16 release Million Dollar Arm. It stars Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, who received the convention’s Excellence In Acting award from studio Chairman Alan Horn just before a full screening of the movie, which Horn told the crowd has scored higher than any movie he has ever tested at Disney, or Warner Bros before that. “And that includes the first Harry Potter, which was so highly anticipated,” he said. Judging from the reaction in the Caesars Palace Colosseum theater and comments afterward, those test scores would seem to be justified. This is the kind of increasingly rare non-animated family film that should play across the board. “It’s comical, it’s emotional, it has great music” was what one exhibitor was heard saying as he walked out. That music, by the way, is from two-time Oscar winner A.R. Rahman, who scored Slumdog Millionaire.
Related: Hot Trailer: Jon Hamm In ‘Million Dollar Arm’
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No word yet on how much the exhibition- and studio-backed satellite distribution group is paying for Deluxe/EchoStar. But the letter of intent announced today will add about 1,000 theaters to DCDC‘s footprint, including many owned by Marcus Theaters and Harkins Theaters. “This important agreement creates clarity in the marketplace,” DCDC CEO Randy Blotky says. “It clarifies the roles of DCDC and Deluxe/EchoStar for their respective customers and potential future customers, and it shines a spotlight on DCDC’s future expansion pathway.” Deluxe’s Joe Hart adds that the combination “opens the door to the distribution of not only features but trailers and alternative content as well.” Exhibition execs like the low cost and flexibility of satellite delivery, but many have been frustrated by the competition between companies that use different technologies — forcing some to install multiple dishes. DCDC began its transmissions in October. It was founded by AMC Theatres, Cinemark, and Regal — and Warner Bros and Universal Pictures. Disney, Sony, Fox, Paramount, Lionsgate and Open Road also provide content via DCDC, and Southern Theatres and National Amusements are customers.
UPDATED, 8:50 AM: Following its exclusive multi-year renewal with Cinemark (original story below), NBCUniversal-owned Fandango announced today it has added five new exhibitors, Malco Theatres, Frank Theatres, Goodrich Quality Theaters, NCG Cinemas and Paragon Theaters. That brings its online and mobile ticketing to more than 1,000 screens in over a dozen states, Fandango says.
Related: CinemaCon: Fandango & Veezi Ink Online Ticketing Deal
PREVIOUS, MARCH 24 AM: We’ll probably see a lot of announcements like this one pegged to the exhibition industry gathering this week in Las Vegas. Fandango says that it has a new multi-year deal to be the exclusive third-party provider of online and mobile ticketing services for Cinemark‘s 4,400 U.S. screens. “We have worked closely with Fandango for many years and they’ve been a great partner, helping us deliver many conveniences to our guests,” says Cinemark CEO Tim Warner. NBCUniversal-owned Fandango continues to say that it’s “coming off a record-breaking year in 2013, with record-high ticket sales, web and mobile traffic, and app downloads” as well as “a dramatic 57% increase in mobile ticket sales.” But, as we’ve noted before, it’s hard to say what these statements mean: Fandango doesn’t disclose how many tickets it sold. The impressive growth in mobile sales still is a slowdown from the 171% growth in 2012, and the 73% increase in 2011. Smart phone and tablet users accounted for more than … Read More »
This is the highest sales total that the Cinema Advertising Council has reported since it began keeping tabs in 2002 — and no doubt comes as a relief for the industry following a 1.2% downturn in 2012 and a 2.1% drop the year before. “This growth is a result of more new brands moving into cinema, the unique power of the movie theatre as a venue for creative, engaging advertising, and a movement by agencies to a more video-neutral approach that places cinema alongside TV and online platforms,” CAC President Katy Loria says. “We are optimistic about this revenue momentum, and the direction the marketplace is headed with a strong start to 2014 as we enter upfront season.” The organization says that 93 brands began advertising in theaters for the first time in 2013. It saw the most growth from automotive, consumer electronics, consumer products, retail/apparel, television and travel & leisure. National and regional sales accounted for 78.3% of sales, and rose 5.7% vs 2012. But the other category, local sales, was even stronger, rising 9.7%. The bulk of the sales are for on-screen ads. But offscreen promotions accounted for $53.8M of the total, up 10%. The CAC hopes to keep the momentum going in the upfront ad sales season with a campaign built around the tag line: “Movies Never Get Old.” The organization and its members, NCM Media and … Read More »
Overseas markets, and especially Asia, provided most of the good news for Hollywood in 2013 — a year when global box office sales increased 4% to $35.9B — according to the MPAA‘s annual Theatrical Market Statistics report released today at the CinemaCon confab in Las Vegas. But domestic theater owners have less to cheer as attendance in the U.S. and Canada slid a hair vs 2012, but rising ticket prices contributed to a 1% uptick in sales to $10.9B. Here’s how some of the results look – click on thumbnails below to launch the slideshow: Read More »
Exhibition execs face several controversial matters, but “there’s peace in the homeland” in their relationships with studios, NATO‘s John Fithian said in his annual joint press meeting with MPAA‘s Chris Dodd at the CinemaCon confab. The lobby group heads always emphasize the positive, but this time Fithian sounds like he means it. He acknowledged that there’s been a friction in previous years — especially 2011 when there was what he calls a “very public food fight” over how quickly studios can release their films on home video. But now “we’re working together instead of fighting. …Since then it’s been dialogue and cooperation.” Dodd says his MPAA members agree that “the best experience for their product is in the theater.”
On one hot-button issue, texting in theaters, Fithian says that his members “have conversations every week” about whether to allow it under certain circumstances. But it’s unlikely that anything will change soon. When some execs said here two years ago that they’re looking at the matter, “They got barraged from moviegoers saying, ‘that is my last refuge of peace.’…Then the 17 year olds respond and say, ‘we have to be connected.’ ” The sense, for now, is that “the vast majority of our consumers go to the cinema to escape” with many looking at moviegoing as “a quasi-religious experience.” But Fithian says “it’ll be an evolving space. Let’s leave it there.”
Related: CinemaCon: MPAA’s 2014 Report Good News For Overseas: Slideshow
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This “has worked for years in Latin America and Canada,” NATO chief John Fithian says — and could begin as an experiment in one U.S. state by the end of this year. “There are meetings this week about doing a test with a discount.” Although NATO has a state in mind, Fithian declined to say which one is being considered. He adds that studios have to endorse the concept. It makes sense, he says, because “our capacity is so unused,” which is why “we are looking aggressively at it.” Fithian says he can’t disclose much because so many decisions have yet to be made, and to avoid the possibility of violating antitrust laws by appearing to set prices. NATO “could never set what the discount could be … [it] would have to be a concept that this is the day in which theaters discount.”
These are old themes for the MPAA chief, but he had some fresh data to support his case in his presentation at CinemaCon this morning. He says that box office in China soared to $3.6B in 2013, a year when sales in the U.S. and Canada hit $10.9B (+1%) and overseas hit $25B (+4.6%). Chris Dodd says that 13 new screens are opening each day in China and cited rapid growth of modern theaters in countries such as Cambodia and Pakistan. He also said that he has lost none of his zeal to fight piracy globally. It “is today, and shall remain as long as I have this job, a top priority.” He thanked theater owners for helping to crack down on the illegal use of camcorders. “The good news is we are making some progress.” He adds, though, that the industry has to see technology as “our friend and not our foe. … The most frequent moviegoers tend to own more technological devices than the population at large.” Read More »