CinemaCon: Disney-Fox Merger, Streaming Strife Will Be Hot Topics

Doane Gregory/Twentieth Century Fox; Michael Buckner/Getty Images; David Appleby/Paramount Pictures
From left: Jennifer Lawrence in 'Dark Phoenix,' John Fithian, Taron Egerton in 'Rocketman'

The annual gathering of theater owners and Hollywood studios gets underway this week in Las Vegas amid a dramatically changing landscape for the movie business.

There will be plenty for theater owners to discuss this week during their annual Las Vegas tete-a-tete with Hollywood studios, including the mega Disney-Fox merger and the push by many majors into streaming.

In between, exhibitors attending CinemaCon will be treated to a slew of footage from upcoming movies that could translate into another record year at the box office.

The convention, which runs April 1-4, will also serve as a coming-out party of sorts for the Disney-Fox marriage. Disney Studios chairman-CEO Alan Horn is scheduled to introduce the studio's presentation Wednesday, and chances are good that 20th Century Fox film vice chairman Emma Watts, who is now part of the Disney fold, will also be part of the two-hour presentation to tout Fox titles such as Dark Phoenix.

Consolidation isn't the only reason for the dramatic changes facing the film business as theater owners convene on the Strip. Disney, Warner Bros. and Universal will be rolling out their own streaming services in the coming months, creating more even entertainment options for consumers via the small screen.

On the eve of CinemaCon, National Association of Theatre Owners president and CEO John Fithian spoke with THR about this year's most pressing issues, including why moviegoing and streaming don't threaten each other.

CinemaCon will look different this time with the Disney-Fox merger and the absence of Sony. Any concerns?

We're going to have movie content of one form or another from 10 different companies, so the schedule will be packed. Disney and Fox will be a combined presentation. Sony has told me directly that they'll be back in 2020. I think [its absence] is a one-year blip. Given their slate and what they are doing elsewhere, they decided they would sit this year out. We understand.

How worried are theater owners about Disney's clout in the post-Fox era?

Some members have expressed concern about what the combined market share means. But there's a broader question about the state of our industry. Disney is about to launch a gigantic streaming service. Its most senior execs have reassured us that Disney firmly believes in the theatrical model. Will they make content directly for the streaming service? Of course. They will make non-blockbuster, lower-budget content for Disney+. They used to make straight-to-video movies as well, and this is no different.

NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia are also launching streaming services, and Apple is producing original content.

What's important now is how streaming and theatrical work together. That will be a gigantic matter of discussion. There's a misnomer that they don't work together. The more people stream movies at home, the more they go to the cinema — movie lovers are movie lovers. Netflix has given a home to all kinds of content that might not have had a home before.

Given this spirit of goodwill, is Netflix welcome at CinemaCon?

If they said tomorrow that Marty Scorsese's The Irishman is going to have a big long run in cinemas, then we're ready. Bring it on! (Laughs.)

Has Netflix said whether it will honor the 90-day window in order to secure a wide release for The Irishman?

No, they haven't. The Amazon movie that's going to have a traditional run in theaters this summer — Late Night — is going to show at CinemaCon. That's the point: It's a cinema convention — it's about movies that play in cinemas. There are some Netflix movies that would benefit from a long theatrical run. People don't remember most of the movies that are released on Netflix. People remember movies that have established their brand and have been part of the cultural conversation in cinemas.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

A version of this story first appeared in the March 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.