Reviving the Show

How the National Association of Theatre Owners restored luster to its annual Las Vegas convention and again made it a must-stop for Hollywood studios.

In its heyday, ShoWest was legendary. Exhibitors and the media could count on getting their first glimpse of Hollywood's summer lineup in spectacular fashion, with a parade of stars and directors taking the stage to introduce footage from upcoming movies. During the past decade, though, a significant number of studios began sitting years out, and the gathering became less extravagant.

Beginning in 2011, the National Association of Theatre Owners made the decision to take back its convention under a new name -- CinemaCon -- and let its contract with the Nielsen Co. lapse. NATO also decided to move the event from the Paris hotel to Caesars Palace. The inaugural CinemaCon was a rave success, with increased registration and a sold-out trade floor show. More studios participated and were particularly keen on having access to Caesars' state-of-the-art theater, The Colosseum, to stage their presentations. This year, there is even more activity: All six major studios are taking turns in The Colosseum. The newly merged Lionsgate and Summit also have a commanding presence, hosting a full screening of the upcoming comedy What to Expect When You're Expecting.

NATO president and CEO John Fithian says that in addition to a more attractive venue and a re-energized vibe, studios are reacting to the noticeable uptick in moviegoing this year, following a troubled 2011. "These companies didn't come to Vegas to do us a favor; they came because of confidence in their movies," he says. "The resurgence of CinemaCon is parallel with the resurgence of the box office, and 2012 is going to be a very dynamic show, in part because the growth of the business has returned."

The 2011 downturn at the North American box office took its toll on the exhibitor-studio relationship, with some at Hollywood studios suggesting that rising ticket prices were to blame.

Fithian has roundly decried this notion and defended ticket prices again during his state-of-the-industry speech at CinemaCon on April 24.

"The movies drive the market, yet whenever we have short-term declines, our critics blame everyone except the movies," says Fithian. "A year ago, for example, we heard that rising ticket prices kept people from coming out to the cinema -- yet our ticket prices, on average, have risen at a pace that is slightly less than inflation. The average ticket price during the first quarter of 2012 [$7.86] was similar to that in the first quarter of 2011, yet the results at the box office stood in sharp contrast."

One controversy that has quieted is premium VOD. Fithian, noting that CinemaCon 2011 ended on a sour note because of the issue, said in his speech that "attitudes" have changed dramatically, adding that exhibitors and studios are making progress on how to "grow the business together."

Digital cinema and 3D also are major themes at CinemaCon, as reflected in the projection booth at The Colosseum. Fithian believes it is the most sophisticated booth ever assembled, saying it includes eight digital projectors from four manufacturers, 10 servers, three 3D systems and "one near-relic of a machine called a 35mm film projector."



Last year, CinemaCon organizers brought the house down when they invited James Cameron and George Lucas for a panel on advances in filmmaking. This time around, THR chief film critic Todd McCarthy will moderate a luncheon discussion between heavyweights Ang Lee and Martin Scorsese on April 25. Digital filmmaking and 3D and how these change the game for exhibitors are bound to be primary topics -- Lee's first 3D movie, Life of Pi, comes out at Christmas, while Scorsese's first 3D movie (Hugo) was nominated for 11 Oscars and won five in February. Theater owners will be introduced to laser projection at a separate panel before the luncheon.


CINEMACON HONOREES: An all-star cast of actors, filmmakers and executives will be feted throughout the convention in Las Vegas.

  • Award of Excellence in Filmmaking: Judd Apatow (This is 40)
  • Action Star of the Decade: Dwayne Johnson (G.I. Joe: Retaliation)
  • Cinema Icon Award: Michelle Pfeiffer (Dark Shadows)
  • Triumph Award: Jim Tharp (Outgoing Paramount president of distribution)
  • Distinguished Decade of Achievement in Film: Charlize Theron (Prometheus)
  • Career Achievement Award: Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables 2)
  • Female Star of the Year: Jennifer Garner (The Odd Life of Timothy Green)
  • Male Star of the Year: Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy)
  • Comedy Star of the Year: Anna Faris (The Dictator)
  • Breakthrough Performance of the Year: Josh Hutcherson (Red Dawn)
  • Rising Star of 2012: Diego Boneta (Rock of Ages)
  • Female Star of Tomorrow: Chloe Grace Moretz (Dark Shadows)
  • Male Star of Tomorrow: Taylor Kitsch (Battleship)
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