The atmosphere is “very different than [in 2011] when we had the premium VOD conversations,” Regal chief Amy Miles said this morning at the MKM Partners Investor Day Conference. “Conversations” is a polite word for exhibitors’ angry response back then when they forced Universal to abandon its plan to show the Ben Stiller-Eddie Murphy caper comedy Tower Heist on VOD just three weeks after it opened in theaters. But studios have pretty much given up any talk about offering new releases directly to consumers in the two-month period when films are still in theaters, she says. “When we look at most recent trends in windowing it’s not encroaching on theatrical” as studios look for help to encourage people to stop renting films and buy movie digital downloads. Regal is glad to help: “We can partner with studios and say, ‘We have this great data base’ ” from its Crown Club loyalty program that includes members’ movie preferences. Exhibitors are in no mood, though, to make financial concessions to help studios that are licking their wounds from the summer’s over-supply of big-budget action and family films. “Studios are doing a lot of things to adjust the cost side of their models,” she says, but “meaningful gains are not going to come from our side.” She doesn’t fear that studios will retrench to the point where theaters won’t have enough strong films. “I don’t expect the next few years to look much different from the last 20 or 30 years.”
Meanwhile Regal is still looking to buy theaters it can upgrade — including with large-screen venues where it can charge premium ticket prices. It’s also eager to entice customers to visit the concession stand. Fried cheese sticks are among the top-sellers on the chain’s expanded menus. But the concession strategy is more complicated than you might think. “We didn’t want to simply take someone who’s buying popcorn and [encourage him or her to] buy a lower margin hamburger,” CFO David Ownby says.