Studio chiefs and cinema owners gather in Las Vegas this week for CinemaCon, the movie industry’s annual trade show, at a time of extraordinary change for the business.
Leaders of the Motion Picture Assn. of America and the National Assn. of Theatre Owners will take the stage Tuesday at Caesars Palace to extol the virtues of the theatrical experience and celebrate 2018’s record domestic box office of $11.9 billion in ticket sales.
However, the hot topics of the four-day conference will surely be the forces that are reshaping the business, including the rise of Netflix as a theatrical player, the loss of 20th Century Fox through its purchase by the Walt Disney Co. and the coming battle for streaming audiences between the major media companies and tech giants.
Here’s what to watch:
With Disney’s $71.3-billion acquisition of Rupert Murdoch’s entertainment empire finally complete, CinemaCon will go on without one of the major legacy studios, 20th Century Fox.
Widely expected job cuts have already begun at the company, starting with high-level Fox film executives, and the impending loss of potentially thousands of additional jobs will be on the minds of some attendees in Vegas.
Fox’s presence will be missed, partly because the studio and its domestic distribution president, Chris Aronson, were known to put on elaborate song-and-dance routines to introduce their presentations. (Last year, Aronson participated in a video skit featuring Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool.)
More important for exhibitors, Fox was a reliable supplier of edgy, mid-budget and R-rated movies. It’s unclear what presence Fox titles will have in Disney’s presentation, if any.
Compared to other studios’ presentations, Disney’s have been relatively low key in recent years, as the Mouse House has tended to save big announcements and major sneak peeks for its own events.
Expectations will probably be higher this year, as the Burbank giant has taken a clear position as the dominant player at the box office. Its upcoming slate includes such surefire blockbusters as “Avengers: Endgame,” “Toy Story 4” and “The Lion King,” and exhibitors will be eager to see any new footage.
Disney’s increased clout has made some theater owners nervous about the possibility that the company will eventually demand a higher percentage of ticket sales. Also on cinema operators’ minds will be Disney+, the company’s upcoming streaming service that is expected to include some films that bypass theaters.
What about windows?
The status of the theatrical window — the traditional 90-day gap between a movie’s big screen debut and when it becomes available for home viewing — is a perennial subject of intense debate at CinemaCon. Some major studios have in recent years pushed for a shorter window to respond to consumer demand to see films earlier. Theaters have strongly resisted such moves, saying it gives consumers less incentive to watch movies on the big screen.
Disney has recently been the biggest proponent of maintaining the so-called theatrical window. Fox was more willing to experiment with shorter windows and premium home video releases.
However, with both Disney and AT&T’s WarnerMedia going full throttle into Netflix’s territory later this year, many analysts wonder how long the industry can sustain the 90-day model, at least for movies that don’t have the same “see-it-now” hype of “Avengers,” “Star Wars” and Pixar films.
What’s next for Netflix?
Netflix has traditionally been perceived as a threat by cinema owners because it favors the simultaneous release of films on its streaming service.
Last year, the company caved a little, giving a three-week exclusive theatrical run to “Roma” in a bid to win the best picture Oscar. It almost succeeded. “Roma” was nominated, but it lost to a more conventional Hollywood pick, “Green Book.”
The Los Gatos-based streamer’s toe-dip into the water of old-school exhibition has led many to believe the company will continue to expand its theatrical presence, with upcoming movies including Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”
The company, which frequently clashes with exhibitors over its practices, does not present at CinemaCon. But Netflix is considered one of the major studios by many because of the amount of money it spends making and acquiring films. The company even joined the MPAA earlier this year.
Where are the studios?
The studios will have a smaller presence at CinemaCon this year, a striking contrast with 2018, when the show had its highest number of presentations ever.
Fox is out due to the Disney deal. Sony Pictures is skipping the conference, with insiders saying the company wants to focus its marketing energies elsewhere. The move was a surprise. Sony’s motion picture group chairman, Tom Rothman, could always be relied on to deliver a jab at Netflix on the Colosseum stage.
This year, it will be up to the remaining studios to pick up the slack. Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. tend to spend big to fly out talent for the confab. Universal’s upcoming summer offerings include the “Fast and Furious” spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw.” Warner Bros.’s 2019 lineup includes heavy hitters such as “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and “Joker.”
STX Films and Lionsgate, both considered mini-majors, will be on hand to unveil their slates.
Another company to watch is Amazon Studios, which has been on a buying spree since Jennifer Salke took over the company’s entertainment arm. Amazon will host a screening of Mindy Kaling’s “Late Night,” for which the company paid $13 million for U.S. rights at the Sundance Film Festival.