It’s 33 years old, but it’s just a shadow of its former self. It used to be prestigious, but now it’s seen as a chore. I’m talking about ShoWest, the longest running event for the cinema exhibition and distribution community. The National Association of Theater Owners conference kicks off today at the Paris and Bally in Las Vegas. Once upon a time, the movie studios used to vie for the attention of theater owners and operators with elaborate dog-and-pony shows, celebrity meet-and-greets, and teaser reels about upcoming films. No more. ShowWest just isn’t a big deal to Hollywood anymore. Blame the consolidation of screens by leading chains Cinemark, Regal, AMC which control a combined 14,000 screens and 55% of the box office revenue.) “ShoWest started out as a gathering of hundreds of Mom and Pop exhibitors who really were making choices about which pics to play. Now studios can cover the entire country for the most part by speaking with the top chains that have tonage with screens,” an insider explains to me. The days of the big dais — remember how Warner Bros’ used to groan with heavyweight stars? — are passé. Now hick theater owners and operators are lucky to get a cocktail party. (I reported earlier that Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner may showcase the new UA logo at theirs.) “I’m not saying exhibitors don’t support it, because they do. But the studios are handling their participation differently. There are smaller niche events and less full-slate presentations,” another source says. One of the issues is $$$. “Instead of doing an event for thousands, you can really do what you need to do by hand-holding probably 20-30 guys. It costs a fortune to pay for travel and hotel for talent, create a reel, host a lunch or dinner. Millions and millions. I see real shifting there.” Now the studios spend the convention trying to convince operational managers to give pics some love in their theaters (running the trailers often, placing all that marketing crap in the lobby, etc.). Truth is, ShoWest is little more than a press event. By the way, expect uber-coverage by The Hollywood Reporter because ShoWest is managed by Nielsen Business Media, that trade’s parent company.
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