It’s CinéShow Time! Theatre Owners of Mid-America convene in Dallas, Texas

Cinemas Features

At Theatre Owners of Mid-America, or TOMA for short, “we promote and protect the interests of exhibitors through state and local advocacy in a six-state region,” explains Todd Halstead, executive director of the NATO-affiliated trade association that reaches Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. “Even though the overall legislature represented in our areas is very much pro-business, we are seeing more and more challenging proposals popping up more frequently around the country—and this region is no different. These legislative and regulatory issues include minimum wage and tax policies,” Halstead says, providing examples of “a growing list of local issues.”

The overall good news is, Halstead can say with pride, “that TOMA has its most successful legislative cycle to date. This year, we worked with a coalition of trade associations and businesses to significantly reduce the syrup tax in Arkansas,” he notes. Taxes on sugary soda “have been on the books in Arkansas since the early 1990s, and have been challenged by the business community ever since. This was a decades-long battle that finally came to fruition this year. It will be a positive development for movie theatres operating in Arkansas. We were also able to beat back some well-intentioned but misguided local efforts to drastically raise the minimum wage rate,” Halstead reports.

“Also, without question, the most significant victory we had was in Oklahoma, where owners and operators of all sizes banded together to facilitate passing of a bill to allow the sale of alcohol in movie theatres. While alcohol service accounts for just a small percentage of cinema revenues, it helps increase attendance,” he elaborates. “For Oklahoma theatres to finally begin serving alcohol represents a terrific opportunity for new exhibition companies to open in Oklahoma, as well as for those existing exhibitors to upgrade their cinema experiences.” Calling the House bill “common-sense legislation” and a “positive element,” Halstead looks forward to this “bringing new economic development to local communities.”

Most importantly, passage of this bill “would not have been possible without the partnership of national circuits, regional circuits, independent movie theatre owners, developers and other stakeholders all working together.” This joint effort will, in fact, be recognized at CinéShow, TOMA’s annual convention in Dallas, TX. August 28-30. “Our ‘TOMA Action Award’ recipient this year understands the need for a strong regional association and the important power that a local constituent has when it comes to lobbying.” Halstead acknowledges how Steve Schoaps of Strothers Cinema in Seminole, Oklahoma was both instrumental in the founding of TOMA and has been a volunteer leader of the Oklahoma exhibition community for many years. “While passage of the bill allowing alcohol sales at cinemas in Oklahoma was a team effort in the truest sense of the word, the contributions of the state’s independent operators—like Ronny Jones of Jones Theatres, Blake Smith of the Village 8 in Tulsa and Steve—gave us the home-field advantage. The bill was the last issue considered by the State Senate before adjournment. And a big reason the bill received a vote was because the lawmakers representing the districts where Ronny, Blake and Steve operate reached out to Senate leadership directly on their behalf. That’s the power of the independent operator.”

Usually, the power to license or at least recommend/approve alcohol sales resides with regional or even local authorities. “Yes, movie theatres still receive permits to serve alcohol at the local level,” Halstead confirms. “But, up to that point, Oklahoma was the only state that statutorily prohibited the sale of alcohol in movie theatres. Since the State prohibited it, no city or township or community could allow it. Now, the old law did allow to serve alcohol if movie theatres had a 21-and-older section and was operated like a restaurant. But, frankly, that was just too onerous on independent operators in existing locations to set up a whole auditorium for a 21-plus clientele. It is not a practical, operational concept.”

Practical solutions on what to best serve and how can be expected from two timely seminar topics on the CinéShow agenda. SurveyMe will present the results of its 2017 annual concession-spend survey conducted with U.S. moviegoers. Greg Johnson, who is the director for sales and marketing for “America’s only first-run Cinema Brewery,” “will be talking about how exhibitors can navigate running bar promotions and leveraging social media while balancing a family-friendly moviegoing environment.”

“Alcohol service is no longer a niche competent of the industry,” Halstead continues. “It is becoming a viable business model in cinemas. Not only across the region, but throughout the country…movie theatres in general have been innovative in the alcohol market and bringing it as a full-fledged trend into the industry. I think that during his presentation, we will get a lively discussion about the challenges and opportunities that come with serving alcohol. The goal of this program is to really implement effective alcohol marketing strategies that can attract and engage moviegoers and keep them returning.”

Engaging and accommodating Americans with Disabilities is covered by another presentation. “To make sure that movie theatre owners are up-to-date on the best practices for bringing captioning and audio descriptions to their theatres so they can best serve their moviegoing audience,” Halstead has invited Esther Baruh, director of government relations at the National Association of Theatre Owners. “She will be moderating a panel on how to implement staff training and guest interaction, marketing requirements for captioning and descriptive audio devices.” NATO and the Department of Justice’s creation of “what has been described as a historic agreement with the advocacy groups” is proof-positive how “movie theatres have been very proactive and have made great strides in providing captioning and audio description access.”

“While we are very big supporters of the ADA, it has a fantastic mission,” Halstead and others have observed some problems arising. “Sometimes the integrity of the ADA can be compromised by a small group of plaintiffs’ attorneys that target movie theatre owners and other businesses with litigation that alleges violations. Under the ADA, individuals can sue a business for violations even though it does not require that a person be actually harmed by the alleged ADA violations,” he explains. “In Texas, a coalition of business and theatre owners worked with lawmakers to pass legislation that requires any claimant to give sixty days’ notice before filing a claim…so the business has the opportunity to clear and fix the violations.” This new Texas law that the Governor recently signed is intended to eliminate such “drive-by lawsuits.”

How to drive attendance of Millennial moviegoers—and work ethics of Millennial employees—will be covered by NATO’s data and research manager, Phil Contrino. This year to boot, the NATO chief himself, John Fithian, will be joining CinéShow delegates for the opening-night event at Studio Movie Grill. “I know that a lot of folks are looking forward to John’s state-of-the-industry address. He is a great leader for the industry. Brian Schultz and his Studio Movie Grill team are fantastic hosts and always do an equally fantastic job creating one of the highlights of the convention.”

Another undisputed highlight will be a fundraiser dinner hosted in partnership with Variety-The Children’s Charity of Texas. “We are excited that the 70th Annual ‘Texan of the Year’ Gala will be honoring Gena and Chuck Norris for all the great charity work they do.” Halstead says, “This event is always a great and inspirational way to end the convention.”

In line with inspirational festivities and speakers, CinéShow also offers a tradeshow to its more than 300 registered guests. Highlighting “the innovative products, services and technologies that help our members improve the moviegoing experience,” one of the loyal supporters from the beginning was Bruce Proctor of Proctor Companies, who will receive the Award as “Vendor of the Year.”

Over the past 19 years, CinéShow has grown from a small tabletop setup with probably half a dozen exhibitors to welcoming a record number of exhibitors and accommodating the largest tradeshow yet. For that. Halstead gives credit to founding organizers Rein Rabakukk and national NATO board member Byron Berkley of Foothills Entertainment. “We now have this huge event that required a larger ballroom to accommodate everybody. I think that is very positive for CinéShow.”

With all the expansion, all that’s good about CinéShow has remained in place. “It is a great environment that fosters innovative thinking, new alliances, great networking opportunity,” Halstead has observed. “Each year, we get feedback from cinema owners that they really, really like the family environment that was fostered over the years.”

And that family just keeps on growing. Events like CinéShow underline the importance of regional work in addition to what is happening on a national level, and on a global level now as well. “With the growth of the worldwide box office, there’s no question that globalization plays an important role in the future of the movie theatre industry,” Halstead concurs. “NATO, UNIC and the founding members of the Global Cinema Federation recognized the need for exhibition to think globally. Whether it is addressing local issues in state capitals or reaching out to trade bodies around the world, exhibitors are strongest when they project a collective voice.” For TOMA and other NATO state and regional associations, he says, all politics remain local. “State and local bodies are acting on bills at a record pace, ranging from perennial issues to emerging challenges. In our region alone, more than 20,000 bills were introduced by state lawmakers in 2017. That’s why it is so important for exhibitors to contribute to their local associations.”

Welcome to CinéShow 2017.