ShoWest panel ponders paradox

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The industry's conundrum: Boxoffice is booming, but the credit crunch is keeping exhibitors from rolling out new theater systems as quickly as they'd like.

"It seems like we have one foot in the present and one in the future due to the financial markets," said Lee Roy Mitchell, chairman of the large Cinemark theater chain and a decades-long fixture on ShoWest panels like the one that kicked off the annual confab Monday.

The weekend's monster opening for DreamWorks Animation's "Monsters vs. Aliens" was ample validation that the industry's costly rollout of digital and 3-D projection systems will pay off quickly, Mitchell said. But he noted that financing for such equipment rollouts remains stuck in low gear.

Still, much of the well-attended panel, moderated by The Hollywood Reporter editor Elizabeth Guider, swung on a much more quality problem: how to manage the boxoffice boom in a manner befitting the economic climate.

"We're not being complacent in any way, even with the good boxoffice," Sony worldwide distribution president Rory Bruer said.

"We're looking at this as an opportunity," said Tim Richards, CEO of U.K.-based Vue Entertainment circuit. "So that means getting to know your customer better than ever before."

He noted that Vue recently introduced value pricing on its concessions menu for weekdays, acknowledging flattening demand for food and beverages by recession-wracked consumers.

"We're managing today's prosperity as a reinvestment in our future," Harkins Theatres chief Dan Harks said. "We're keeping our concession prices where they have been for two years."

ShoWest continues through Thursday at the Bally's and Paris hotels here. (partialdiff)
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