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As Netflix, Amazon and other streamers compete for a best picture win at the Oscars this weekend, exhibitors will be placing bets on tech giants sending more of their movies to theaters rather than to their online services.
“They’ve been expressing plans to get more significantly into theatrical distribution for some time and that’s starting to actually take place now,” Cinemark CEO Sean Gamble said of online retailer Amazon making good on plans to spend $1 billion a year on theatrical film releases after acquiring MGM Studios for $8.45 billion.
Ben Affleck’s upcoming sports drama AIR from Amazon Studios is set to open in theaters worldwide on April 5 in advance of its debut on Amazon’s Prime Video. Gamble, speaking during an appearance at the Morgan Stanley TMT Investor Conference on Tuesday, pointed to other theatrical release experiments by streamers, including Netflix’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery getting one week of limited play in cinemas before going to video-on-demand.
“By their own account, they thought they left money on the table. … We certainly were disappointed they didn’t take advantage of a more significant theatrical release, just based on the overwhelming consumer demand,” he said of Netflix during the investors conference.
But Gamble quickly took the high road as he added of Netflix and its Glass Onion sequel release in theaters: “We look at it as a positive step forward and we remain optimistic that, in time, they will take advantage of large theatrical releases, just because there’s a lot of value to pursue there.”
The Cinemark boss also pointed to Apple recently hiring Disney veteran Ricky Strauss as the tech giant looks to grow its TV streaming division, and potentially its theatrical movie release efforts.
“Apple has expressed the same types of interest in getting into the theatrical space. It provides a great promotional platform for these films,” Gamble argued as he pointed to Apple deciding to release Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon theatrically, with Paramount as its distribution partner.
As Cinemark like other major exhibitors looks to continue recovering from the pandemic on cinema box office and attendance, Gamble discussed whether recent success in increasing ticket prices and concession stand sales amid inflationary pressures in the U.S. economy is sustainable.
“Maybe we’ll see some of that going forward. But at this point, there’s no indication of a slowdown there,” he said of Cinemark’s concession per-patron reaching an all-time high of $7.43 in the recent fourth quarter, up 39 percent over the fourth quarter of 2019, as consumers go to the food and drink stand more often.
And Gamble added Cinemark will continue to experiment with ticket pricing to secure more revenue in 2023. “We think through strategic pricing and general inflationary increases, that will lead to some modest growth,” Gamble said, while cautioning Cinemark remains careful to ensure patrons continue to be believe they’re getting good value when going to the multiplex.
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