2016 was the best year ever at the global box office. Records were also set domestically. But everyone in the industry knows that the movie business is undergoing dramatic changes and to keep up with this reality, the theatrical model also needs to change.
Films open wider than ever today, play day-and-date with international releases and play off quicker than ever. Added to this, the younger generation wants to get their fix of entertainment wherever and whenever they want it. Video sales are down. All of this can be seen as motivation to investigate and alter traditional release patterns.
What truly perturbs this editor is that executives in other businesses seem to want to be the ones to effectuate that change. Just recently at the Milken Global Conference in Los Angeles, Les Moonves, chairman of CBS, and Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix, took center stage to discuss the status of theatrical releases. Okay, studio executives want to get their films out quickly and consumers are accustomed to instant gratification and don’t want to wait 90 days or more to catch a new release. But the content providers and those who exhibit films for public viewing are the people that ultimately will be affected, so let them work out a solution.
The studios and cinema owners, the ones that have everything to gain and lose, will work out the release windows so everyone wins. The studios are doing this now and are coming up with different scenarios to get their films to John Q. Public quicker. Some of the major exhibition circuits are in favor of this approach and some are skeptical. But we all believe and know that change is inevitable. Yet studios and distributors need to keep in mind the tremendous costs that exhibitors are taking on through new builds, refurbishing, upgrades to laser projection, installing reclining seats, putting in new kitchens and total upgrades to make the entire experience of going to the movies a great one.
Technology is changing the world. Social media dictates quick release patterns. As long as the theatre owner is protected and continues to have first rights to show films, it could be a win-win for everyone. The message here is clear: Let the parties who are directly involved control their destiny; outsiders should stay out of the mix. Supply and demand will ultimately dictate the outcome.
During the Milken Conference, Sarandos declared that he would like his streaming service’s original movies to debut in theatres the same date they appear on Netflix. United Talent Agency CEO Jeremy Zimmer said, “If Ted wanted to have it his way, he could. He could use petty cash and buy Regal Cinemas.” But we doubt Regal is ready to sell!
New York Renaissance
Many longtime New Yorkers who are also movie lovers have long been nostalgic for the days of the great art houses of the 1960s and ’70s: the New Yorker, the Thalia and the Regency on the Upper West Side, the Carnegie Hall Cinema in midtown, and the Bleecker Street Cinema and Theatre 80 St. Marks in Greenwich Village. All of them are gone now, victims of the ’80s VCR revolution that sharply reduced the audiences for the repertory programming they chiefly specialized in.
Well, New York cineastes have reason to be cheerful again. They’ve survived on the programming at 47-year-old nonprofit Film Forum, the Angelika and Sunshine Cinemas on Houston Street, and the cinemas at Lincoln Center and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. But suddenly, the upscale and art-house cinema business in New York City is exploding. The June issue of Film Journal International includes a report on the redesign and reopening of the Village’s Quad Cinema, in its day a pioneering four-plex. Real estate mogul and film distributor Charles S. Cohen has overseen an elaborate redesign of the space, with sleek auditoriums in different color schemes, a large lobby with a video wall and vintage Italian film posters, and even an adjoining wine bar. Programming will be first-run art films and retrospectives (Lina Wertmuller, Goldie Hawn, and movies about immigrants are among the first).
The re-born Quad joins some new entrants to the high-end New York cinema scene: the hip Metrograph near Chinatown, which includes two bars, a “Commissary” restaurant and a small bookstore; the luxe iPic at the South Street Seaport, which offers upscale food items delivered to your seat (including recliners and two-person chaise seats) and a full-service bar; and New York City’s first (not counting Yonkers) Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Brooklyn, which boasts quirky programming and a “House of Wax” bar with anatomical models and has become the chain’s highest-grossing location in just six months.
And coming soon are more upscale venues: Mark Cuban and partner Todd Wagner of Landmark Theatres are preparing a lavish eight-screen theatre as part of Via 57 West, a new “superblock” development on West 57th Street near the Hudson River; Mexican circuit Cinemex’s American subsidiary CMX promises a premium in-theatre dining experience (complete with martinis and sushi) at its new East 62nd Street location; and Nitehawk Cinema, already a dine-in success in Williamsburg, is renovating the Pavilion in Brooklyn’s Park Slope.
For anyone who thinks the theatrical movie business is dying, come to New York City! You’ll get a glimpse of a robust and very resourceful present and future.
ShowCanada Comes to Banff
The Canadian motion picture industry is celebrating its annual event, ShowCanada, in Banff, Alberta, after crossing the border into Southern California last year for their annual get-together. But regardless of the location, the convention will provide the same value that attendees have come to expect over the past decades. Programming will include“Managing in the Generational Workplace,” “How to Market an Independent Theatre with Not a Lot of Money,” and “Creating a Brand Strategy.”
Our ShowCanada coverage in our June issue also highlights the many Canadian companies who make an invaluable contribution to the theatrical exhibition business. We salute the following innovators: Imax Corp., Christie, D-BOX, Strong MDI, Omniterm, TimePlay, Palliser, Decoustics, eomac and Mesbur + Smith.
Mind Your Ps and Qs
Also in the June issue of FJI, our concessions editor Larry Etter has written a column that is clever, meaningful and very appropriate to what is happening in the theatrical industry regarding new dine-in cinemas and broader food offerings. Larry reminds us that a catchphrase everyone knows is to “Mind your Ps and Qs.” Most people equate this with minding your manners. Some interpret it as “Don’t forget your Please and Thank Qs.” His favorite comes from the pubs, when a bartender tells a patron who is obviously drinking too much to “mind their pints and quarts.”
Larry believes that theatre owners adjusting to more mature and discriminating audiences should mind their own set of Ps: Product, Pricing, Promotions and Placement. “As the landscape of theatre foodservice offerings evolve,” he urges, “these four Ps will define the experience in cinemas.”
We hope you enjoy Larry’s creative take on today’s concessions environment. We certainly do.