Theater Owners Group Backs Free Trade, Immigration Stances

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NATO president-CEO John Fithian

"Immigration is good for our business, free trade is good for our business," NATO president John Fithian said Tuesday at a press conference at CinemaCon.

John Fithian, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, on Tuesday emphasized the benefits of a global marketplace for the film industry during a press conference at CinemaCon in Las Vegas.

Earlier in the day, the exec spoke onstage about the importance of taking a global viewpoint, and while Fithian did not mention President Donald Trump by name, he was asked at the subsequent press conference if he was concerned by some of Trump's international policies and how those restrictions could affect the theater business.

“There weren’t any particular politicians in that speech. ... We’re talking about a global world where there is a trend in many territories for protective policies,” said Fithian. “Free trade is really very good for our business, and it really always has been … This is a comment about economics in the world in general.”

He continued: “Immigration is good for our business, free trade is good for our business. The diversity of people going to our movies in the United States was one of the most encouraging parts of our data.”

Fithian spoke about several other concerns facing the business, including the drop in the audience for 3D movies and the current discussion about exclusive theatrical windows for films.

Many of the attendees at the exhibitors' convention are focused on the issue of windowing, with reports that the studios are talking about shortening the traditional 90-day theatrical window so they can begin offering movies earlier as paid premium VOD. However, Fithian emphasized that the talks with studios should happen individually with each of NATO's member companies and behind closed doors, not in the press.

“We’re not going to talk about it publicly, and our members aren’t going to talk about it publicly," he said. "I would caution you that the issues you’re writing about are because you know about those issues because someone is talking to you about those issues. There may be a whole lot on the table that you don’t know about.”

When asked about smaller independent theaters and how windowing might affect their business, Fithian added: “This issue is on everybody’s mind. Everyone wants to find a solution. The independents are having their voice heard. A bunch of independent operators have gone to Los Angeles to have their own conversations with the studios."

He continued: “Some people have argued that shortening windows is a way to fight piracy. We believe that is completely crazy. The data shows there are two big piracy periods: when the movie first hits our cinemas … and then when it goes on digital services … these waves are almost identical on impact on us. So in our minds, if you shrink the release window, all you’re doing is cutting out the phase without piracy.”

Fithian was asked about the possibility of theater seating being priced like airline practices, with certain better seats offered at a higher price rather than all seats for the same price.

“I think it’s fair and appropriate to say that some of our members are looking at more sophisticated pricing schemes,” he said.

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