For AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron, this year’s CinemaCon isn’t about MoviePass, monthly movie ticket subscriptions, rather how “the industry is booming” with $11 billion-plus domestic box office results for the third year in a row. And with Black Panther during the first quarter and Avengers: Infinity War looking to take down Star Wars: The Force Awakens record opening weekend record ($247.9M), by the end of June, 2018 will likely outclick the first six months of last year.
Despite last summer being the lowest in over a decade, the conventional wisdom that theatrical moviegoing was going the way of the newspaper business “was simply wrong” said Aron. Here at Deadline, we knew moviegoing wasn’t dead: To think that people went in droves to the movies for the first four months of 2017 and then changed their moviegoing habits immediately didn’t make sense, further underscored by the record B.O. boom that September, December and this past February reaped. It’s a product-driven business, there were a few clunkers last summer. Enough said. And what about that 20-year admissions low figure? “We don’t bank bodies, we bank dollars,” exclaims Aron.
Aron continued on to say that consumers aren’t making Sophie’s Choices when it comes to going to the movies or Netflix. “Netflix was in business in February (when Black Panther opened), and they’ll do good business this weekend when Avengers: Infinity War opens. The American consumer and the global consumer can handle all this content. We can survive healthy side-by-side with all these other means of getting content,” said the exhibition boss.
“Our stock since mid November is up 59% so someone is realizing that the industry is healthy again,” added Aron.
But really, what do you think about monthly movie ticket subscription services being introduced between exhibition and the majors, outside of MoviePass?
Aron believes that there is a model that both the majors and theater circuits can mutually agree upon.
“We have one in Europe right now and so does Cineworld. They’ve been doing theirs for a decade and Odeon has been doing theirs for three years and it’s very successful. I was in the ski resort business for ten years, and we sold season passes in huge quantities. I ran an NBA team for two years, and been a minority owner for six and half years (76ers); a lot of season tickets get sold in the NBA. If you look at our statement that we put out in August on the first day of the MoviePass announcement, we said subscription models are a good model, but you have to pick a price point where you collect enough money from the consumer so Hollywood can make affordable movies and movie theaters can afford to operate quality movie theaters.”
In regards to Saudi Arabia, Aron has less worries about the territory than the major studio co-panelists who appeared with him at Monday’s CinemaCon panel: They fussed over the 25% tax surcharge, as well as potential censorship. Aron believes that integrated gender seating is on the horizon, and that censorship won’t be a problem. Of course, R-rated raunchy comedies will have an uphill battle, but “we’re going to be smart about the films we take to Saudi Arabia and with one screen open there, I bet we can fill it with a tremendous amount of Hollywood product that won’t be offensive to anyone in the country.”
To date, AMC is the only U.S. exhibitor with a license to operate in Saudi Arabia right now, and Aron intends for the chain to be the market leader one day with around a 50% marketshare. On April 18, they threw the doors open to a one-screen 624-seat venue which will expand to four screens and 1,000 seats in the near future in the city of Riyadh. The Kansas-based circuit plans to open 30-40 cinemas in approximately 15 cities in Saudi Arabia over the next five years, and a total of 50-100 cinemas in approximately 25 Saudi Arabian cities by the year 2030.
Why isn’t Aron worried so much about censorship? He says that the Crown Prince is so in tune with his majority of under 30-year-olds in the country since he’s in the same age group himself. “There’s been more change in the last nine months there than in the last 20 years,” says Aron, “I think the jitters (by those in the industry) come from people not being so well informed.”
And that 25% upcharge tax? Aron makes sure he gets it back in his film rental from the studio, not to mention, it’s not stopping anyone from going to the movies in Saudi Arabia.
“We sold out (on our first day) in 45 seconds,” says Aron, “I guess if there wasn’t a tax, we’d sell out in 35 seconds.”