ShoWester of the Year: Ellis Jacob


Over the course of his two decades in the Canadian exhibition business, Ellis Jacob has often demonstrated the entrepreneurial spirit that has earned him the 2008 ShoWester of the Year award.

Still, it's hard to top his head-turning coup in the summer of 2005, when the Cineplex Entertainment president and CEO acquired his larger rival Famous Players for $500 million. The Calcutta-born Jacob spoke with The Hollywood Reporter's Michael Rechtshaffen about what's been popping lately in his theaters.

The Hollywood Reporter:
Your acquisition of Famous Players took a lot of people by surprise. How difficult was it to accomplish?
Ellis Jacob: It was a tough grind because we were in a situation where you had a company that didn't want to sell to us, you had a government that preferred we didn't buy it and you had employees that didn't want to work for us. We spent many months with the (Canadian) government, and they were pretty rigorous in their approach to dealing with this particular merger. They required us to divest about 10% of our market share, and we ended up in the 63% range and are now closer to 66% in Canada. On the media side, we now represent over 90% of the market, and on the exhibition side it's allowed us to do things like
loyalty programs and Web marketing and all kinds of things that we could never have done had we been two separate companies.

THR: Last year, attendance in your theaters increased 6.6% over 2006 figures? What do you attribute that to?
Jacob: Our actual average ticket price is lower today than it was three years ago. The reason for that is I'm more focused on filling those seats and (thinking) out of the box.

THR: In what way?
Jacob: We've been very proactive in our entrepreneurial area and the way we even sell food items to our guests. Today you can come to our theaters and buy a Burger King Whopper or have Tim Hortons coffee. We focus a lot of these concessions on street pricing, so it becomes a destination where people can come, have a meal and see a movie. And we just opened a new complex just outside of Toronto with three VIP auditoriums, bowling, billiards and child-minding services. It's been doing extremely well.

THR: What are the biggest challenges facing today's exhibitors?
Jacob: I think one of the big challenges we faced in Canada in 2007 was the issue of piracy. We got the law changed last year so it's now a criminal offense, and this was a great example of a partnership between the studios, exhibition and government. It's also important to provide the customer with a different experience, like digital and 3-D formats. We've had a lot of success here with alternative programming. It's all about being entrepreneurial, taking a risk and getting the market to respond.