Extra-dimensional ShoWest optimism


Innovation is the route to prosperity. That's been the overarching theme of ShoWest 2009, and the cheerleading for change was again in evidence Wednesday, with continued talk of the lucrative benefits beginning to flow from the fledgling rollout of 3-D exhibition.

"Everybody's smiling because of the big opening of 'Monsters vs. Aliens,' " Carmike Cinemas chairman David Passman said. "But can you imagine what it would have been like here if it had flopped?"

Passman allowed himself a big chuckle over that dodged bullet. His Columbus, Ga.-based circuit has been in the vanguard of exhibitors embracing first digital projection and now 3-D.

Carmike has installed digital projects in 94% of its 2,500 screens, spread throughout small-town America with 250 locations in 36 states. An impressive 20% of Carmike's auditoriums also boast 3-D capability.

"We're convinced the technology has been embraced by the consumer," Carmike COO Fred Van Noy told a reporter. "There's been some buzz about how maybe it will just be a fad, but I don't think so."

Elsewhere at the show, Sony touted a slate of film releases, which include the 3-D animated feature "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs." The Sept. 18 opener is one of more than a dozen extra-dimensional movies studios have set for release this year to cash in on the spreading consumer interest in 3-D exhibition.

But the focus of Sony's energetic reel presentation was on summer tentpoles including the Tom Hanks starrer "Angels & Demons" (May 15), the Denzel Washington-toplined "The Taking of Pelham 123" (June 12) and the Jack Black comedy "Year One" (June 19).

"It's very diverse," Sony worldwide distribution president Rory Bruer said of the summer slate.

He also touted planned future productions, including a third "Men in Black" film and new sequels in the studio's "Spider-Man" and "Ghostbusters" franchises.

Meanwhile, ShoWest's busy trade show floor features several novel products, including product intros aimed at the 3-D market. Dolby has a booth in which it's pitching a 3-D system for larger screens of up to 70 feet. Its previous products provided 3-D playback for screens of up to 42 feet.

Kodak chose to demo its new digital file-server in a hotel suite rather than on the trade show floor.

"There are still a lot of tire-kickers in the industry," a Kodak exec said.

The Kodak server on display is in use in Cineplex theaters and now being pitched to other circuits. Kodak touts the server as more format-agnostic than JPEG-only equipment, as it can also handled MPEG files.

Crowds paraded through show floor exhibits. But those staffing the booths at trade shows tend to be a hard lot to please, and traffic can always be better.

"It's OK," allowed not-so-jolly Carlton Smith of Sioux City, Iowa's Jolly Time Pop Corn. "But it's not so great compared to past years."

There was a marked contrast in tone at the booth operated by Plano, Texas-based iCount USA.

"In tough times, it's better to save money than to lose money, because every penny counts," iCount's Sherry Meeking said.

Her product? Fraud surveillance software that compares boxoffice to patron head counts to detect skimming. (partialdiff)