On the Latin beat: Disney's Martin Iraola earns ShowEast salute


The recipient of ShowEast’s 2012 “International Distributor of the Year” Award is Buenos Aires-based Martin Iraola, who serves as senior VP for The Walt Disney Company Latin America and as country manager for The Walt Disney Company Argentina, including the territories of Uruguay and Paraguay. He is responsible for theatrical distribution as well as the expansion of Radio Disney in Latin America. Under his watch, Disney’s theatrical distribution business in Latin America has done record business as box-office leader among all the major studios.

In his top position since 1999, Martin previously served as VP, business operations, for The Walt Disney Company International, the then-newly integrated organization that combined all Disney businesses, where he continued leading theatrical distribution for Latin America and added business-development responsibilities for the region.

Iraola joined Disney in December 1992 as sales manager and in 1997 was promoted to director in charge of theatrical distribution, allowing him to be instrumental in implementing Disney theatrical distribution operations in Latin America.

Before Disney, Iraola worked for Price Waterhouse. Born in Buenos Aires, he received his Certified Public Accountant and Bachelor of Business Administration degrees at the Universidad Católica Argentina.

Asked in which of his territories audiences have shown the biggest shift in movie tastes and what might have accounted for that, Iraola responds, “Over the past few years we’ve seen a common trend throughout Latin America consisting of a greater taste for family films, especially comedies. Decades ago, the most popular genre was action, particularly in countries like Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia. But today, films are experienced in a more familial environment and it’s something that has a very positive effect on Disney. But I also believe that this shift has to do with the growing proclivity on the part of studio labels to produce these family pictures. I think that one of the main motivations for this change has been that hit movies have become great franchises, films like Cars, The Avengers and Toy Story, for instance. These films embrace the attributes of having both great production values and fantastic storytelling.”

Iraola also cites shifting film-going habits that have had a positive impact on attendance. “Young people are getting more into the habit and custom of going to the movies. The main target of young adults from 15 to 35-year-olds is critical when looking for a strong box-office blockbuster and this group must be taken into account, but it’s still hard to know what a film can ultimately do. The studio industry is a hundred years old and over this long period new technologies have emerged and evolved. And the wonderful thing is that within this dynamic industry and over this long period, the habit of going to the movies has always been a constant, thanks to the steady growth which we expect to continue. The technology improvements capture that 15 to 35-year-old audience, as it’s a segment eager for new kinds of entertainment and big offerings. This whole vibrant entertainment experience is being maximized by the 3D and 4D technologies that are appealing to an even broader number of younger people.”

Regarding the Disney films that have most impressively reached their targets, Iraola cites The Avengers, Toy Story, Pirates of the Caribbean and Alice in Wonderland as “undoubtedly the most successful Disney films of the past 20 years. The enormous success of these four titles has given us a clear idea about two important things: the wide variety of our audience and the great capacity we have to meet their entertainment needs. Once again, I believe the common factor among these movies for all ages is great storytelling, combined with high production value.”

But challenges remain across Disney’s territories. Iraola notes, “We realize that accomplishing the technological transformation from 35mm to digital is complex, mainly because of the different laws involved, vendors’ production and delivery abilities, plus the exhibitors’ financial resources and their capacity to adjust to this change. We definitely need to adapt and embrace these new technologies as soon as possible, and this development demands a joint effort involving all stakeholders in our business.” Evoking a DCIP-type initiative, Iraola adds that “an organized and coordinated effort is the only way to grow in this sense.”

As for deployment of DCPs to theatres rather than prints and the pace of digital conversion in theatres in Iraola’s Latin territories, he says that “Disney is providing support to any format our exhibitor partners require, whether it is DCP or prints. In our region, deployment has been slower compared to other territories, which is understandable due to our countries’ peculiarities and complexity. Nevertheless, we are absolutely committed to the process, as we believe it is our duty to keep moving forward. We are heading for a mostly digitized world by the end of 2014.”

As exhibitors like Disney deal with the conversion issue, is there anything that the theatre owners might do to invigorate audience attendance? “Innovation, technology and adaptation to new demands are three key points for us. Our partnership with exhibitors is now nobler, richer and more stable than in the past. In addition, I have seen very proactive and favorable changes in the way exhibitors address the market today. In the past, marketing was mainly, or even fully, a distributor’s responsibility; nowadays that concept has changed and we are all working together to attract fresh and bigger audiences to the theatres, with joint marketing and promotional products and activities. We are paying special attention to our consumers’ needs and demands, and we are carefully gauging the ways in which entertainment is consumed, so we can improve upon outdated guiding principles of the past.”

With so many other Disney films on his upcoming 2013 slate, Iraola doesn’t want to play favorites but allows that “my favorite movie is always the one to come. Wreck-It Ralph is definitely the most anticipated film these days, and from the very beginning has generated great enthusiasm among us all. We are very excited and we firmly believe in this movie from Walt Disney Animation Studios, which offers an original idea with a lot of heart and comedy. There is no doubt that audiences from around the world will immediately fall in love with it! Following Wreck-It Ralph, the pillars on which the company lays its biggest expectations are Oz: The Great and Powerful for March 2013, Iron Man 3 for next April, Monsters University in June and The Lone Ranger in July.”

With so much popping at Disney, Iraola has a busy year ahead, but the growing distributor/exhibitor synergy should ease the task, as is the fact that his Latin territories have become another kind of Disney World.