NATO meets an array of challenges


With the New Year now in full swing and January box office off to a terrific start, we wanted to reflect and focus on the National Association of Theatre Owners and their tremendous success in meeting the many challenges facing exhibition head-on.

The biggest threats facing global exhibition are nothing new to this readership and have been at the forefront of theatrical exhibition’s agenda for quite some time. In no definitive order, these challenges are:

* Movie theft
* Online piracy
* Premium video-on-demand
* Preserving theatrical windows
* New technologies including digital, 3D, lasers and high frame rates

In each of these categories, NATO has taken a firm position and in each instance deserves high marks for how they reacted and succeeded. The NATO Movie Task Force is involved in education on anti-camcording technologies in the cinema, global trends and tracking, and creating an anti-camcording screen message for the pre-show. NATO and its regional units have also started a seminar series focused on movie theft.

Online piracy is as big a threat today as it was a decade ago. NATO continues to lobby for legislation that would modernize civil and criminal statutes to address emerging technologies and foreign threats to America’s intellectual property. Additionally, NATO pressed Congress to pass the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act.

The windows issue is one of the most serious challenges facing exhibition. The launching of a “Premium” video-on-demand service to the home via DirecTV with a 60-day window came closer to reality with the pre-release plans for Universal’s Tower Heist. NATO’s efforts were rewarded when Universal agreed to scuttle its plan.

NATO continues to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to technological issues like digital cinema, lasers and high frame rates. They have again started up an active Technology Committee that addresses such issues as digital sound systems, cyan-dye tracks, automated kiosk ticket-selling, captioning, anti-piracy technologies and many other topics.

NATO is truly working for its members and the industry as a whole. We are confident that they will achieve their objectives under the leadership of John Fithian and their new chairman, S. David Passman, president and CEO of Carmike Cinemas.

Movie Pirates Face Consequences
The arrests and, more importantly, the convictions are mounting up for individuals guilty of showing copyrighted work illegally. Recently, a New Yorker named Gilberto Sanchez was sentenced in Los Angeles federal court to a year in federal prison for illegally uploading and distributing a copy of Fox’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine before the movie’s premiere. The judge also imposed a year of supervised release and numerous computer restrictions.

Prosecutors said he admitted uploading a “workprint” copy of the 2009 film about one month before it was released in theatres, then publicizing its availability on two websites. The prosecution stated that the film spread “like wildfire” throughout the Internet, resulting in millions of infringements.

On a separate front, a founder of NinjaVideo, a website that provided millions of users with the ability to illegally download high-quality copies of copyright-protected movies and TV programs, was sentenced to 22 months in prison. Hana Amal Beshara of New Jersey was ordered to serve two years of supervised release, complete 500 hours of community service, repay $209,826 that she obtained from her work at, and forfeit to the United States several financial accounts and computer equipment involved in the crimes.

And as this issue went to press, the Justice Dept. and the FBI announced one of the largest criminal copyright cases in U.S. history, charging seven operators of and their associated companies with racketeering, money laundering and two substantive counts of criminal copyright infringement. MPAA chairman and CEO Chris Dodd said this case “shows that law enforcement can take strong action to protect American intellectual property stolen through sites housed in the United States” and cited the need for similar tools to fight foreign-based sites.

TV Turns to the Movies

So here’s a new twist: premiering a new television show on the silver screen before it plays on TV. We can anticipate seeing this when the Walt Disney Company’s ABC division screens the opening episode of its new thriller “The River” in movie theatres before its TV debut. This decision is emblematic of TV executives’ desire to focus attention on their shows in an increasingly competitive leisure environment.

The president of the ABC Entertainment Group, Paul Lee, told the Television Critics Association that he “wants to build buzz leading up to the show’s premiere, rather than relying simply on distracted viewers to tune into their first episode,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

This strategy is known as pre-sampling and is being used by other networks. It is not reserved just for movie theatres. NBC’s upcoming musical series “Smash,” for instance, will be available online and on-demand three weeks before its TV debut. Networks are pursuing this course to boost their programs as viewers flock to a growing number of cable and web outlets.

National CineMedia and Screenvision are finding success promoting TV shows and more on the nation’s screens prior to the main movie attraction. It’s only a matter of time before entire TV episodes becomes more commonplace on movie screens.