Leader of the Federation: NATO Puts Alejandro Ramírez Magaña on the Marquee

Cinemas Features

On International Day during CinemaCon 2013, Alejandro Ramírez Magaña, chief executive officer of Cinépolis, received the “Global Achievement in Exhibition” Award on behalf of more than 20,000 employees worldwide. Flash forward to the opening ceremony of CinemaCon 2018, and Ramírez Magaña will find his global exhibition powerhouse and more than 40,000 team members, including himself, once again in the spotlight.

For the first time, the National Association of Theatre Owners will bestow the NATO Marquee Award on someone who is not American. “As our industry becomes increasingly global, it is appropriate that our most significant award goes to a truly global exhibitor,” explained John Fithian, the trade organization’s president and chief executive officer. “With operations across four different continents, Cinépolis brings moviegoing magic to millions of guests. On a personal level, with his commitment as chairman of the Global Cinema Federation, Alejandro has become the leader of a united global industry. On behalf of theatre owners everywhere, congratulations.”

Ramírez Magaña graciously thanks “my friends at NATO, particularly John Fithian, for having considered me for this important award. It is a great honor to receive this recognition from my peers in the global industry in such an important moment for global exhibition.” Equal gratitude goes to “my extraordinary team at Cinépolis, from my senior executives to all the cinema managers and personnel. Without the outstanding Cinépolis team, we could have never grown as much as we have in the past decade. Finally, I would like to thank the Cinépolis board of directors, especially my father Enrique, who is our chairman, for his inspiration, example and guidance all these years.” Asked about his proudest achievements in business, he names “having been able to expand Cinépolis beyond the Mexican borders to 14 countries in four continents and to have been able to bring the magic of the movies to over 300 million people last year.”

Taking a global perspective is certainly in order at Cinépolis and in the larger industry as well, Ramírez Magaña agrees, and not just in his position at the Global Cinema Federation. (For more information, please refer to our sidebar conversation.) “In our industry you always heard the distinction between domestic and international markets. It has been several years now since the international box office surpassed the domestic box office, and thinking of the whole world as one has never been more important. In 2017, 72 percent of global box office originated in countries outside the United States and Canada. This is a substantial change from what it represented in 2006, when I became chief executive officer of Cinépolis—back then it was 62 percent.”

Another substantial development is consolidation, Ramírez Magaña continues. “We are witnessing a new wave of mergers and acquisitions in the exhibition industry. Size is an important factor for exhibition companies in obtaining economies of scale, so it is a natural step forward when there is limited growth in the territories where one operates. We are also seeing consolidation among distributors, so the landscape in the cinema industry points towards fewer players in both sectors.”

As little as three years ago, he reminds our readers, Regal, AMC and Carmike “were very large exhibitors with interests only in the United States. Today those three circuits are part of a group with theatres in several countries.” The pending acquisition of Regal by Cineworld is indeed indicative that “borders are not so significant anymore in our industry.”

At Cinépolis as well, the “capitals of cinema” have long expanded their borders. When Ramírez Magaña was honored for global excellence, Cinépolis operated 340 theatres and over 3,000 screens in 128 cities and 11 countries. Today, the company operates some 650 theatres and 5,334 screens in 236 cities across 14 countries.In 2012, Cinépolis had welcomed 161.8 million guests; last year, the company reached a total of 338.4 million guests. How did it all happen? What did it take to get there? “Our growth in the past five years has been mostly a matter of focus,” he reflects. “We established a very specific goal of reaching 400 million guests by 2020. We are halfway there, and the number does not look that distant anymore. To get to this goal, Cinépolis had to venture into mergers and acquisitions, something we had not done before. This way we were able to go into markets such as Spain, Chile and Argentina.”

Has his perception changed as Cinépolis added different countries to its footprint? “We are definitely learning every day about the nuances and particularities of every market and culture,” Ramírez Magaña contends. “These nuances may go from theatre design and the color we use in our lobbies to the tastes in movie genres, selection of showtimes and offering dubbed or original versions.”

Cinépolis VIP is one of those learnings that the company applied across other markets. “This model is a luxurious experience with reclining leather seats and at-your-seat service. In Mexico we were able to improve this model through several iterations, and in other markets where we have opened VIP theatres we have had great success. We assume that in certain markets there will always be a need for a more sophisticated experience.”

What are some of other elements that assure moviegoing is a wonderful experience at Cinépolis? “The number-one element is making sure that all our decisions revolve around our customers.” Ramírez Magaña and his teams “continually ask ourselves, ‘How are we making sure that our guests are having a seamless and enjoyable experience?’ From the moment they make the decision to purchase a ticket to the moment they walk out of the theatre, we want to ensure that their experience is as gratifying as possible. All the other elements play into this equation,” he believes, also naming innovation, quality of service and technological improvements.

This commitment is reflected in the company motto, he adds. “Our philosophy is best conveyed in our mission: Be the best choice in entertainment. And strengthening our leadership in the worldwide film industry by offering a fun, innovative and remarkable service.”

On the way towards 400 million guests by 2020, Cinépolis is expanding into additional countries. “This year we will be opening our first theatres in the Middle East,” Ramírez Magaña says, confirming locations in Oman and Bahrain. “In addition to that, we will be opening somewhere between 400 and 500 screens worldwide.”

So, in another five years from now, are we still going to the movies? “Of course, we will,” he enthuses. “And hopefully 50 years from now too. For more than 100 years since cinema was born, the theatrical experience has continued to endure despite the advent of endless technologies. It is likely that the experience will be enhanced in many ways, and we are working tirelessly to be there at the forefront of that innovation. But, honestly, my bet is that the experience will continue to be the same: a group of strangers gathered in a dark auditorium immersed in a different world, enjoying the best projection and sound technology, the best food and drink, and the best stories.”


Chairing the Global Cinema Federation

You were instrumental in the formation of the Global Cinema Federation [GCF]. How would you describe the goals of the organization?

The Global Cinema Federation is an association established to represent the global cinema exhibition community and to make representations to global stakeholders on their behalf. The Federation seeks to increase industry effectiveness in providing input to international regulatory bodies and to contribute more effectively to the international dialogue on issues of common interest.

How do you define your role as chair? Was it an “easy” decision to take on the post and related challenges?

I was honored to be selected as chair in the Federation’s first gathering in 2017. My role is mainly to preside over meetings, send communications, call meetings, etc. It was certainly an “easy” decision to take on the responsibility to serve as chair, given the importance of the body and the challenges we face as exhibitors around the world. 

What are some the reasons that led to the GCF’s formation?

Given expanding consolidation in the industry, and more importantly the shared challenges and opportunities that confront exhibitors across national and regional borders—such as release windows, global supply of film content, technology developments, trade barriers, standards and movie theft—it seems logical that leading exhibitors should work closer together on a global basis.

Along with NATO in the United States and UNIC in Europe, other regions of the world have established trade associations at the national or regional level, and many of those trade associations also seek a role in greater global coordination. Some other regions of the world including Africa, and most of Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, do not have established trade associations, and could use support from a global group.

Which are the issues that members hope to address?

There are seven key initiatives the GCF is working on. Namely, (1) movie theft, (2) theatrical exclusivity, (3) music rights, (4) accessibility and related regulations, (5) work with studios and the creative community, (6) technology and standards and (7) international trade and foreign investment.

What can the Federation do for the theatrical exhibition industry?

Within the key initiatives that we decided to work on, the Federation’s activities include:

* advocating on behalf of exhibitors globally to global regulatory groups, standard-setters, studios and related bodies, among others, in order to increase the industry’s effectiveness;

* assisting individual members in establishing dialogue with national regulators, when and where invited, and if agreed to by all members;

* contributing to a global dialogue on issues of common interest by formalizing contact, cooperation and dialogue among global exhibitors, associations and stakeholders, consistent with all applicable laws;

* educating exhibitors globally with greater information collection and sharing;

* sharing non-commercially sensitive information and research; and

* providing information on positions taken by the Federation.

How do you envision the Federation growing?

The Federation started as a truly global group and I envision its membership to rapidly grow to represent exhibitors of all sizes in every region of the world. It is our intention that all exhibitors around the world are informed of what is happening in our industry and what we are doing about it.


Personal Favorite Things

My favorite movie snack is nachos and a Diet Coke. Some of my favorite films are The Shawshank Redemption and The Lives of Others.

I usually sit in the middle central part of the auditorium. My favorite movie theatre is Cinépolis Samara in Mexico City. I saw my first film in Cinema Morelia, the first movie theatre built by my grandfather in 1957, where every fall we hold the Morelia International Film Festival.

My favorite movie theatre memory is celebrating my birthdays as a child in the movie theatre that my grandfather and my father built just behind our house. I would invite all my friends from school and we would have a great time.