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When more than 1,000 of the nation’s top film exhibitors, distributors, executives and vendors descend upon southern Florida on Monday for the 23rd annual ShowEast convention at the Orlando World Center Marriott, there will be the usual mix of events to keep them occupied: seminars about piracy and digital cinema, pre-holiday screenings, even a casino night.
But one primary reason most attendees will flock south like migratory birds is to kibitz about the motion picture industry — and about ShowEast itself. As the exhibition industry has undergone radical changes, nearly every trade show in the media space has had to grapple with the effects of media consolidation, the rising cost of booth construction and storage, and shifting distribution patterns as digital takes hold.
ShowEast — which is owned by THR parent Nielsen Business Media — is not immune.
Like every trade show, it has weathered years of behind-the-scenes grousing from attendees, even as it continues to have its boosters (Disney head of distribution Chuck Viane cites it as being “very beneficial”). But this year marks a crescendo in the discussion, with a number of insiders going public with their belief that it’s time for the convention to reinvent itself.
Fortunately, the convention’s management team seems prepared to make positive changes. Orlando as a venue has not been a popular location for a few years; it isn’t convenient to those on the West or East Coast, and the town’s nightlife and restaurant scene can be staid.
“You’d better like sitting at the hotel bar if you are in Orlando,” says Fox president of theatrical distribution Bruce Snyder, citing the dearth of things to do in the city.
So ShowEast organizers are taking action — the event will move to Miami in 2009, after organizers signed a deal with the Fontainebleau resort hotel, now undergoing a $1 billion renovation.
“We don’t operate in a vacuum here,” says ShowEast co-managing director Mitch Neuhauser. “We’ve been speaking to people. Change is always good. The Fontainebleau is magnificent. It will mean easier access for those coming from Latin America and easier access in the U.S. It’s a vibrant, exciting city, and we’ll be able to screen films at the nearby Jackie Gleason Theater, where everyone will be able to fit under one roof.” (The facilities in Orlando require that the audience be divided between two auditoriums.)
It’s a good start. The convention’s programming, too, has been upgraded with hot-ticket events such as Tuesday’s morning seminar, “The Future of 3-D in the Digital Age,” featuring DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Additionally, films including Focus Features’ stately Oscar hopeful “Atonement,” the Weinstein Co.’s Stephen King adaptation “The Mist” and Fox Searchlight’s “Juno” are on the docket.
“What makes us happy about the lineup is that it is a well-balanced, diverse group of titles from the majors, the mini-majors and the indies,” says Neuhauser. “There are titles that people are aware of as well as titles that might not be on the radar screens when the industry walks into the theater but will certainly be noticeable when they leave.”
Whether this good news will be enough to alleviate critics’ concerns remains to be seen. Though ShowEast is arguably geared for independent distributors and exhibitors, consolidation has led to shifts in the demographics of the on average 1,000-plus annual attendee pool.
Notes New Line theatrical distribution president David Tuckerman, who will receive the Show “E” Award on Thursday, the theatrical distribution business has changed significantly. “The old days — like 10 years ago — you had a lot of independent theater owners, guys who built circuits from the ground up. Every time you had an acquisition, it changed: You’ve lost a head film buyer, you’ve lost the guy who used to own them, all these people. And the industry has shrunk to the point now where basically both sides of the ball are all corporate.”
Today, the major chains — Cinemark, AMC and Regal — control an estimated 55% of the nation’s screens. As a result, the theory goes, there are fewer and fewer important exhibitors whom distributors need to reach at the convention. And at least one corporation with diminished attendance this year is Regal Cinemas, which is sending just a handful of participants.
According to Neuhauser, all of the major studios are attending this year. Meanwhile, the miscellaneous category of attendees now includes an increased Latin American presence. Such an increase is reflected in Monday’s International Day programming of seminars, including “The Power of the Internet as a Marketing Tool” and “Issues Affecting Digital Cinema in the International Marketplace and What’s in Store for 2008.” Awards will be handed out that night to Cinepolis CEO Alejandro Ramirez Magana; Felipe de Jesus Munoz Vazquez, Mexico’s head of the Federal Crimes Investigation division of the attorney general’s office; and Columbia TriStar Buena Vista Filmes do Brasil general manager Rodrigo Saturnino.
This shift in attendance has some distributors wondering about who they’re really pitching their wares to and whether the cost is worth it. The show relies on event sponsors such as Texas Instruments, Kodak and Barco to help defray expenses, but attendees still incur the $1.5 million-plus it can cost to put together a product reel or a print of an upcoming film for the convention.
Add to that the cost of airfare for a team of as many as 20 people — and a nearly $1,000 registration fee per person — and a budget can quickly balloon.
Costs like that make Fox’s Snyder careful when he determines if screening a film or hosting a function at ShowEast will make sense from a business standpoint. It can, he says, “if you have something you want to tout,” as his studio did in 2005 with “Walk the Line,” James Mangold’s Johnny Cash biopic.
More often, though, Snyder says that it’s prohibitively expensive to plan an event that is likely to attract a large portion of the attendees in town for the convention. “We are interested in reaching our customers at ShowEast, but we are concerned about the costs of entertaining everyone at a function.”
“The value of the conventions is that you have all the exhibitors in one place,” says Bill Thompson, Picturehouse senior vp and co-general sales manager. “The more exhibitors who are there the better, but if they do start to decline in numbers, it will certainly make the convention less valuable.”
At least one independent distributor already questions the value of attending both ShoWest and ShowEast. Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard says he and his company will not attend this year, though SPC had been a regular ShowEast fixture in the past.
“I get all the business I need to get done accomplished at ShoWest,” he says of ShowEast’s Las Vegas-based spring counterpart. “I can see the same people I need to see there.”
Which then poses another question, also faced by other bifurcated trade show events: When should the shows, like the exhibitors and distributors before them, consolidate?
Most distributors say they will continue to show up at ShowEast and ShoWest, but few deny the subject is worth examining.
“There have been conversations among exhibitors to return to one convention a year and perhaps call it ShowAmerica,” says Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. president of theatrical distribution. “They feel there’s a lot of consolidation in the business, and perhaps they can produce a better convention if they do it one time.
“I want to do what’s best for the industry,” Fellman continues. “If they decide to go one time a year, that could be a way to go.”
Highlights for ShowEast 2007
8:30 a.m. International distribution and marketing presentations
1:30 p.m. International Day awards ceremony
3:45 p.m. Discussion: “Digital Cinema –Implementation Challenges”
4:45 p.m. Discussion: “Now Showing: Alternative Content in Your Theatre”
8:15 p.m. Screening: Disney’s “Enchanted” (in digital cinema)
8:00 a.m. Special program: “The Future of 3-D in the Digital Age”
10:15 a.m. Screening: Focus Features’ “Atonement” (in digital cinema)
9:00 p.m. Screening: Picturehouse’s “Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days & 30 Nights — From Hollywood to the Heartland”
8:30 a.m. Breakfast at the Movies: “A Glimpse Into the Future of Real D Presentations”
10:00 a.m. Screening: Fox Searchlight’s “Juno”
12:30 p.m. ShowEast “Hall of Fame” induction ceremony
5:00 p.m. Screening: Warner Bros.’ “P.S. I Love You”
9:00 p.m. Screening: The Weinstein Co.’s “Grace Is Gone”
3:00 p.m. Screening: The Weinstein Co.’s “The Mist” (in digital cinema)
8:00 p.m. Final-night banquet and award presentations
Screenings take place at AMC Pleasure Island 24 Theatre Complex. Times are subject to change.
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