3/30/2017 - Notes from CinemaCon

3/30/2017 - Notes from CinemaCon

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About a month ago, I was graciously invited by the owner of Bluelight Cinemas to attend CinemaCon at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Never having attended before, I jumped at the opportunity.

CinemaCon is a large gathering of Movie Theater vendors, Movie Theater Owners, Hollywood Studio bigwigs and movie stars. Each party has their own agenda for being there but from my perspective it breaks down something like this:

The Movie Theater Vendors are there to impress the movie theater owners and chains with specific products designed to enhance the movie-going experience. This is a wide range of stuff from cleaning products (like a vacuum cleaner specifically designed to get popcorn kernels off a carpet) to new kinds of food products (I ate way too many samples of popcorn and cheddar-filled pretzels) all the way to a "4D Experience" where you can watch a regular movie like John Wick in chairs that move and sway with each car crash. You also get misted with water when that car hits a puddle and wind machines when it goes off a bridge. Personally, I found it a bit distracting from the movie and forget about having a soda or bag of popcorn - it'll be all over the floor (maybe they have a partnership deal with that vacuum company).

The Movie Theater Owners can be clearly divided into two factions - the "Big Chains" like AMC, Landmark, etc. and the "Indie Owner" like Bluelight Cinemas and your local art house movie theater. They both seem to have totally different agendas where the Big Guys are hobnobbing with the studios to continue their exclusive deals and the Indie Owners want to chip away at that to have a fairer shot at getting to show big-budget studio movies when they first come out.

The Major Studios want to get theater owners excited about their upcoming slate of big-budget/high-profile movies, i.e. Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Dunkirk, Snatched et al. so you'll see posters, big stand-ups and big flat screens looping their trailers everywhere. They also want to keep theater owners informed on who their regional representatives are and to answer any licensing questions.

The Movie Stars like Colin Farrell and director Christopher Nolan are there to...uhhhh...enjoy comped rooms? Actually I take that back, they mostly seem to be treating it all as a huge press junket on the studio's dime.

Most informative for me was the very rare opportunity to sit in on an exclusive panel discussion sponsored by NATO (National Association of Theater Owners).

As you can see, those are some pretty heavy hitters from the studios. To have those four people on the stage at the same time is a very rare occurrence for a number of reasons, not the least of which would be a boatload of potential anti-trust violations. But the best part of this panel discussion was that the audience was made up of "Indie" theater owners. In fact this was the first time ever that the major studio bigwigs have taken the time to address NATO and their indie theater owners.

Naturally, they couldn't get into too much detail or proprietary information regarding domestic distribution making this mostly a symbolic - though still powerful - gesture. However, it was encouraging to hear Lisa Bunnell of Focus Features say that there is a lot of overblown doom and gloom headlines about the state of moviegoing in America. Headlines like Variety's March 27th article The Recoking: Why the movie business is in big trouble is pure clickbait according to Bunnell. She went out of her way to assure theater owners that the theatrical movie business is alive and well - don't believe the overblown headlines designed for views and magazine sales. The other three studio honchos also said they were all "fully committed" to continuing and nurturing the theater-going experience with no plans on cutting back and just putting everything online. More than once, it was said that "there is room for everybody".

They were more coy when it came to theater owners' concerns about "narrowing the window" between the theatrical and VOD release - the quicker movies hit Netflix/Amazon/Hulu the more it hurts the indie theater owner - but I'd like to think they wouldn't have made this unprecedented appearance here if they were intending to fold up the movie-going tent for all intents and purposes.

Overall, I say they talked a good game for those of us who still cherish seeing movies on a large screen in a darkened room with strangers. They said the right things. Time will tell though if they were just putting the "Con" in CinemaCon.