The 4.7% increase in Q1 admissions and 7.2% uptick in box office shows that it pays to have family friendly films in the early months, NATO‘s John Fithian told exhibition execs at the opening session for the CinemaCon confab. But it’s not enough. “We have a need for more family friendly, quality movies,” he says noting that four hit the top 10 last year vs two the year before leading to a spurt in attendance by kids 11 and under. Fithian adds that “we could sell even more [tickets] if they were spread out…We could still use more calendar diversity.” He also cheered the growth of films featuring diversity in their leading actors, and in the audiences that they target. That’s becoming especially important now that major studios are “shooting for the globe but releasing fewer titles.” But Fithian says he’s encouraged to see Lionsgate rise “to major studio status” while new productions come from the exhibition-backed Open Road, and a new venture led by Bob Simonds. “We will have the titles we need to continue our box office growth,” the NATO chief says.
Fandango and Vista’s Veezi are teaming up to provide online and mobile ticketing options for independent movie theaters nationwide. Veezi is a cloud-based cinema management software system that enables cinema owners to run their business from a browser, allowing the cinema owner to sell concessions and tickets all from one system. Exhibitors also can manage and monitor their business from any place that is connected to the Internet. According to the companies, it works like this: Veezi will know instantly when a customer buys a ticket for one of its independent theaters on Fandango. When customers arrive at the theater they provide their Fandango confirmation numbers and their tickets will be issued.
CinemaCon: Paramount Kicks Things Off With ‘Transformers’, ‘Turtles’ And Brief Footage Of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’
Six major studios, and what many have been referring to as a seventh major (Lionsgate/Summit who have the week’s number one film Divergent and what appears to be Hollywood’s latest franchise player), will be presenting, in one form or another, their goods to exhibitors this week at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. This major convention, coming only three weeks on the heels of the Oscars, is promising to show off the most commercial flicks the studios have in store, not necessarily the most awards worthy. You get the drift? Paramount opened the studio portion of the convention tonight with a brief reel highlighting its 2014 slate, but then really focusing on just three of those movies: Hoped-for summer blockbusters Hercules (with MGM), starring Dwayne Johnson; a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cinematic reboot from producer Michael Bay; and Bay’s fourth go-round with Hasbro’s Transformers franchise, Age Of Extinction. Each got the full-court press from Par’s Vice Chairman Rob Moore who said he stopped by the convention in between trips to “Vatican City and New York City” on behalf on the studio’s terrific, but sure-to-be-controversial, Friday release, Noah. The latter shown in some brief footage represents the kind of ambitious and daring fare studios tried more often before the Hollywood corporate takeover started dictating more obviously commercial and exhibitor-friendly kinds of movies like Paramount’s big summer slate promises.
Screenvision today announced a redesign of its pre-feature entertainment programming, which recently launched in theatres nationwide. The preshow has been rebranded as ‘Front & Center’ and features an updated design and format that enables Screenvision to better showcase entertainment programming and brand advertising. The Front & Center preshow runs three entertainment blocks per show and this past month featured FOX’s Rio 2, NBC’s Crisis, Believe and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, FX’s Americans, ENTV (monthly highlight of upcoming movies), and an original production featuring the best of CES 2014 for moviegoers with technology expert Shelly Palmer.
In this week’s podcast, Deadline Executive Editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom preview CinemaCon, the big annual gathering of theater operators in Las Vegas that puts the popcorn in popcorn movies. They also examine the NAB’s claims to the FCC of a faltering local TV business; update the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger with news from the states; whistle through the highlights of the relatively quiescent Disney annual meeting; examine the implications of the recent settlement of the long-running Viacom-YouTube copyright lawsuit; and ponder what’s next for Yahoo, given the imminent stock IPO by Alibaba, which it partly owns.
It sure looks that way as exhibition and studio execs prepare to head to Las Vegas next week for the annual confab. There are no obvious, explosive controversies to address this time out — which is unusual. Since 2011, when the meeting formerly known as ShoWest became CinemaCon, “some big issue has blown up,” Cinemark CEO Tim Warner tells us. “I hope that doesn’t happen [this year] because the business is going so good.” Says National Association of Theatre Owners CEO John Fithian: “Sometimes we go into these conventions we go into this with one or two issues, but that’s not the case this year. We’ll be talking about product supply and movies, and how it relates to product returns. We’ll also be talking about technology.”
This all comes as the exhibition business is poised for dramatic, and possibly painful, changes as owners deal with consumers who say that ticket prices are too high, a creative community that wants better projection and sound quality, studios that want a bigger share of the box office pie, and investors who demand higher dividends.
Cheerleading is to be expected at a trade show, and there’s sure to be a lot as execs look ahead to a tsunami of sequels that could make 2015 a blowout year for box offices. Paramount, Universal, Sony, Fox and Warner Bros will show their product reels. Disney will feature its Jon Hamm-starring sports-themed Million Dollar Arm. Not to be outdone, Lionsgate will feature its sports-themed comedy-drama Draft Day from director Ivan Reitman and starring Kevin Costner, while Universal swings back around with a screening of the comedy Neighbors about newlyweds with a baby who must live next to a fraternity house. And filmmaker Chris Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) will take part in a discussion about his career. The late Tom Sherak will also be honored on Wednesday night at The Pioneers Dinner.
On broad-stroke matters, exhibitors can pretty much cross off their top concern from last year: the dearth of family-oriented titles in Q1 followed by a summer onslaught. Exhibitors wanted family films spaced out better. “We had encouraged the studios to think about that more, and they did,” Fithian says. Family fare from this year’s early months included The Nut Job, The Lego Movie, Mr. Peabody And Sherman, and — this weekend — Muppets Most Wanted.
There’s also been progress on exhibition’s call for more small- and medium-budget movies. As the six big studios cut their output by 40%,
Listen to (and share) episode 22 of our audio podcast Deadline Awards Watch With Pete Hammond. Our awards columnist and host David Bloom talk about the notable films showcased by all the major studios at this week’s CinemaCon; Pete’s take on the just-announced lineup for next month’s Cannes Film Festival; and his take on the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences’ rehiring this week of Craig Zadan and Neil Meron as producers of the 86th Annual Academy Awards.
Exhibitors I polled this week at CinemaCon had more faith in franchises than star-driven blockbusters on the 2013 slate. Like Tom Cruise in Oblivion, Will Smith is still a big deal to theater owners. He’s just not a sure thing in a slow-moving sci-fi vehicle like Sony’s After Earth, which now opens May 31. Johnny Depp scored biggest with a surprise appearance in front of elated NATO members and the promise of another eccentric blockbuster role, but the specters of Universal’s Cowboys & Aliens and Disney’s own John Carter loom over the Western. Paramount even trotted out an uncomfortable-looking Brad Pitt to boost World War Z, but exhibitors worry the zombie pic won’t be a must-see for moviegoers. Jennifer Lawrence and Lionsgate’s Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire, on the other hand, had CinemaCon attendees seeing dollar signs. Meanwhile the problem with Aubrey Plaza winning CinemaCon’s Breakthrough Performer Of The Year award (on the heels of her MTV Movie Awards stunt) is that exhibitors still have no idea who she is. The Parks And Recreation star is better known to younger TV viewers than the corporate-leaning CinemaCon crowd. And many theater owners still see television as the enemy, including Regal CEO Amy Miles, who said as much at a CinemaCon luncheon Thursday.
But mid-sized theater owners are realizing they have to cater to their audiences, and those may not always be blockbuster crowds. “My biggest movie of last year was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel“, a 40-year owner of a Michigan resort-town cinema said. “At my theater, the biggest star is Kevin James”, another operator of a California second-run multiplex told me. One thing that was not bankable at CinemaCon 2013: High-frame-rate technology. The Hobbit stumbled at last year’s confab by pushing its 48 FPS HFR 3D to exhibitors. Despite the first pic’s $1 billion global box office, nobody this year was pinning hopes on HFR specifically in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug this Christmas — even Peter Jackson, who conspicuously made no mention of it in his taped message to the CinemaCon audience.
Listen to (and share) episode 31 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media With David Lieberman as our executive editor and host David Bloom talk about this week’s CinemaCon gathering where exhibitors and major studios talked about creating more movies that more kinds of audiences might want to watch, and whether the theater business can coexist alongside Premium VOD services. David also discusses what Charlie Ergen may be trying to do with DishTV’s big $25.5 billion bid to buy the mobile phone company Sprint.
The premium seating business has boomed in the last few years by as much as 60-70%, vendors tell me. That’s thanks to the new industry emphasis on high end moviegoing and the fact that the costly conversion from 35mm to digital projection is nearly complete across the industry. Per unit prices offered by a half-dozen companies at CinemaCon this year range from $500 to $5,000. Upgrade costs range depending on theater sizing and seating choices but one firm told me their clients’ average spend on seating alone is $200K per theater. Exhibitors of all sizes and regions are taking out standard 18- to 19-inch seats in favor of upgrades as wide as 25 inches or more, even if that means fewer seats in theaters. The polite reason is that “people are getting bigger” and will pay for comfort. (Could candy, food, and supersized soda sales have something to do with that?)
After the six major studios wrapped up their turns in front of the CinemaCon convention goers with 20th Century Fox earlier today, it was Lionsgate‘s turn to carry the flag for the indie sector, even though NATO’s John Fithian said last year that in Lionsgate we are seeing the birth of the “seventh major studio”. And although some of the speakers during the company’s relatively brief presentation this afternoon took up that mantle, Lionsgate in its sizzle reel actually touted the fact that they are the only non-major to actually go over $1 billion in a single year — certainly thanks to the dynamic duo of Summit’s Twilight finales and The Hunger Games, which became the third-highest-grossing film of 2012 with more than $400 million domestically. So are they are a major? A mini-major? A true independent? Or just a money-minting film company with a couple of franchises the real majors would kill for (and in the case of Twilight actually passed on — ouch).
But as befits any wannabe major, a spiffier, more corporate logo was in order, and as Deadline reported earlier they debuted it for the theatre owners here in Las Vegas. As distribution head Richie Fay put it during his turn onstage, “Lionsgate is an overnight success that was 12 years in the making”.
As far as the presentation went, Lionsgate certainly took an independent route from the way the majors have behaved all week, offering a musical-chairs lineup of executives taking their turn in front of delegates who crowded into the Colosseum to check out the product. In addition to Fay, we also heard from CEO and co-founder Jon Feltheimer, co-chairman of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group Rob Friedman and AMC theatres exec Elizabeth Frank, who pointed out the company released 20 major films in 2012 and led the field 11 separate weeks. She said her company was looking forward to the 17 movies on tap this year and many of them were showcased for the first time over the course of the 80-minute show emceed by comedian Kevin Hart.
Legislators and theater owners may be worried about the health of the moviegoing public, but vendor trends indicate audiences have other priorities. New sugary desserts joining conventional candy and ice cream offerings include milkshakes and s’mores, with many companies moving toward self-service machines. Those machines come at a high price point, however, but cut down on the costs of manpower behind the counter. That’s become a trend too, with exhibition execs attending CinemaCon this week quietly planning to cut hours for part-time employees to less than 30 hours a week in order to avoid paying for their health care under ObamaCare.
The self-serve milkshake vendor F’real is attempting to break into the movie theater racket after placing their units in 7500 locations in North America, according to the company. What’s paved the way is Coca-Cola’s Freestyle machine, which allows customers to choose from hundreds of flavored soda combinations in a single unit. Theaters have been slow adopters of Freestyle, execs told me, because it alters the traditional behind-the-counter workflow of concessions counters. But with 14K units and counting springing up across the country and increasingly in major chain theaters, the long-developing technology is catching on.
The indie film and TV studio unveiled its new corporate logo today during the presentation of its upcoming film slate to CinemaCon attendees. (The new one is on the left, the old one on the right). It was designed by Devastudios under the direction of Lionsgate Chief Marketing Officer Tim Palen. “Lionsgate has always distinguished itself in the marketplace with bold, original and provocative films and TV shows, and our company’s character is defined by our innovation, ingenuity and willingness to think outside the box,” he said. “We wanted a logo that captured all those traits while still paying tribute to our entrepreneurial and independent roots.” The logo update comes on the heels of similar upgrades at Universal and Paramount for their respective 100th birthdays. Here’s Lionsgate’s new animated logo:
NYC Mayor Bloomberg didn’t have the power to make soda regulations fly, but one movie studio did. Two years ago Disney enacted a sweeping health initiative across its brand and it’s still the only studio to voluntarily limit the use of its branding in concessions marketing to children. You won’t see Disney’s kid-targeted brands on movie theater cups larger than a kids’ size. Anything larger is strictly forbidden from licensing, which one movie-branding vendor discovered the hard way. “We tried to do a [larger] Cars cup for Cinemark, but Disney vetoed it”, RCM’s James McGinness said.
RCM’s display at CinemaCon included collectible 12 oz. kids cups with figurines for Disney’s Monsters University, Fox’s Epic and Turbo, Universal’s Despicable Me 2, and Sony’s Smurfs 2. Marvel’s PG-13 rated Iron Man 3 was the company’s lone new release product on display in larger sizes. Meanwhile, Movie Brand Package, another branding middle-man, put out a 32 oz. model plastered with graphics from Fox’s animated adventure Epic. Studios outside of Disney tend to have “no restrictions” where children’s branding is involved, I’m told. “I’m not aware of any other studios that have followed suit”, Disney’s Exhibitor Relations VP Nancy Klueter said. …
“It is a decades-long trend,” actress Geena Davis, who founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, said at a luncheon panel on the subject. “We want to believe that things are getting better. But the evidence shows that it’s not.” The conventional wisdom is that “women will watch men but men won’t watch women…It’s not true.” Director Paul Feig said that he faced “enormous” pressure to have his film Bridesmaids succeed. Casting women in lead roles “was always shut down so quickly. ‘We can’t have a woman as a lead.’ It was almost a rule…I was terrified.” Hunger Games producer Nina Jacobson says the problem is exacerbated by popular culture. She cited a reader survey by the blog SFGate that deemed Anne Hathaway as the year’s “Most Annoying Celebrity” to illustrate that misogyny is “a sport in the media.” She adds that women have been shortchanged by “franchise fever” which has “squeezed out the variety of movies that are made” and by efforts to reach boys with PG movies. The trends are bad for business says Regal Cinemas CEO …
20th Century Fox (“and it is called 20th Century Fox,” as Distribution President Chris Aronson wryly noted in his welcoming remarks) presented to theater owners at CinemaCon today. The highlight was about 12 minutes of selected scenes from the studio’s holiday release The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty as a “special presentation” at the end of Fox’s 2013 preview. Clearly, Fox is hoping to replicate last year’s success with unveiling 15 minutes of footage of The Life Of Pi. The film directed and produced by and starring Ben Stiller is a reinvention of the 1947 Danny Kaye comedy which was based on the short story by James Thurber about a meek writer who lives vicariously through his rich fantasy life. Now Stiller is an ordinary photo editor imagining himself in numerous epic situations only to become immersed in a real life global adventure of his own. Like Life Of Pi this comedy-drama is hard to describe but the footage seemed to wow the exhibition crowd. One theater chain head told me it looked “phenomenal - the perfect holiday movie. This could be Ben’s Oscar chance.” Others compared it to the Oscar-winning Forrest Gump. Those will be music to the ears of the studio since this project had been in development through several different iterations and scripts and stars for years until Stiller and writer Steve Conrad cracked the code. Indeed, of all the footage on display this week at CinemaCon, at …
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s Tim Reed made the observation this morning at the most refreshingly frank panel about the problems theaters face that I’ve seen so far at the industry event. He says that execs have ”done a horrible job building a fan base for the movie business over the last two decades.” That’s a problem because “we’re in a battle now…We’re brick and mortar. We’ve see a lot of brick and mortar businesses go down. We have to be nimble and find content that will sell to our base” — including young people to “make them movie-going fans.” He and others on the International Cinema Technology Association’s panel agreed that theaters need to become more aggressive about introducing alternative content including live sports and concerts. “This is the year for satellite (distribution) and that whole conversation,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures VP for Strategic Planning Paul Holliman says. But movie distributors have to help by relaxing their terms. For example, Warner Bros International Cinemas President Millard Ochs says studios could just require that a film be shown six nights a week instead of seven after it’s been out three weeks. “We have to change. Everything is changing around us.” Still, Reed warns that alternative content can be expensive and execs don’t know yet what material will pay off. “What we have found is that it’s more market driven on a psychographic level,” he says.
Sparks flew last year at CinemaCon when Regal CEO Amy Miles and IMAX’s Greg Foster floated the idea of allowing texting in theaters. So how fast will audiences reject in-theater gaming? Disney’s Second Screen Live program, introduced this week at CinemaCon, encourages moviegoers to play interactive games on their iPads while watching a film in a theater. A home video version for select Disney Blu-Ray titles launched in 2011. “Of course you hear a lot from exhibition, ‘we don’t allow cell phones’”, Disney Exhibitor Relations VP Nancy Klueter said this morning at a CinemaCon panel on theater showmanship. “This screening would be inviting those people to bring their technology so you wouldn’t be offending them”. Disney and their exhibition partners hope the ploy will bring younger audiences back to theaters. When the program tested with The Nightmare Before Christmas, “50 percent of the audience had an iPad”, Klueter said. The initiative is still young. Theaters will have to install wifi or some way for users to connect to the Second Screen experience. Disney hasn’t announced which of their films will get the live interactive treatment but Disney classics are strong contenders with the company’s older-skewing superhero slate potentially to follow, Klueter told me: “Marvel will probably fit in there at some time”.
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