Screening Room Concept Already A Topic Of Discussion At CinemaCon: “There’s Only Risk,” Studio International Exec Says

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At today’s CinemaCon International Day panel “Exhibition and Distribution: Collaborating and Partnering for the Greater Cause,” foreign distribution and exhibition executives addressed the elephant in the room here at this week’s confab: Is there a future for premium day-and-date VOD services like the Screening Room or shortened theatrical windows like what Paramount experimented with last year on Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension?

“I think the whole discussion around the Dark Window or flexibility or the Screening room or putting cinema online as the Norweigen Exhibitor’s are considering is extremely sensitive for exhibition. They look at it and think there’s only risk for us. You have to be honest. It is fear of the unknown. ” said Paul Higginson, EVP of 2oth Century Fox EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa).

As exclusively reported by Deadline, the Screening Room is here at CinemaCon, making a pitch to exhibition. It has been widely reported that AMC Theatres has signed a letter of intent with the Screening Room, and many of those in the industry believe that has been prompted by the chain’s parent company China’s Dailan Wanda Group. Movie streaming is still a fertile opportunity in China, with no first-run films available outside theater chains. Hence, there’s a growing interest in streaming as a new profit center in the Middle Kingdom.

Talking about what type of impact a premium VOD service would have overseas, Higginson said: “I don’t know the answer, but I do know that China and Russia have grown at a remarkable pace and developed a very sophisticated exhibition market and have done that against a background of virtually 100% piracy. I’m not advocating that you can do that in any developed markets, but I think we need to have an open mind of what’s possible. Because we can’t be like King Canute or we’ll get drowned.”

On the topic of shortened theatrical windows, in particular for those films that might underperform at the box office, Cameron Mitchell, CEO of Middle East chain Vox Cinemas, said: “I think it’s in our best interest to make cinema as exciting as possible. We can do anything from home now. We need to look at what works for everyone. The industry needs to talk rather than Paramount doing this and somebody else doing that. The industry needs to get the top 10 global exhibitors and six and seven major studios, put them in a room for a weekend and not let them out until we come up with something sensible. I think it’s dangerous to do ad hoc things, but I understand that there’s a frustration on the distribution side, of films being pirated and revenue being missed. It’s a huge risk because 50% of the box office comes from the cinema, and that’s really healthy and it’s the best way to watch any movie. We need to protect that and fix other issues.”

The bulk of the panel’s discussion was devoted to exhib and distrib execs speaking about how they’ve improved their working relationships overseas in this uber-multiplex digital age.

“We’ve been guilty of not having foresight, but there’s so much opportunity to change,” said Niels Swinkels, EVP International Distribution at Universal Pictures International. “We’ve been reactive and opportunistic about looking at 3D as the be-all and end-all, but now we’re scratching our heads as to what’s happening with it, why it’s been on the decline. We’ve been listening to consumers, and it’s about intelligence and creating a dialogue.”

Swinkels explained that one way UPI responded to the demands of consumers was by selling tickets to event films in the UK six weeks before a title opened. This started with the release of Les Miserables. UPI learned from an independent study that consumers become excited about event films months in advance. “That’s been a transformation as there’s no such thing as Fandango (in the territory),” Swinkel added.

The responsibility of marketing movies used to fall on the distributor, but exhibitors have taken a greater hand in making moviegoing an event with local stunts. In addition, there’s a lot of bonuses that the studios pass on to the exhibs, which then are passed on to the consumer. For example, movie posters and T-shirts once were considered novel and extremely rare for any moviegoer to obtain. But through Edwards Regal Crown Club, the more moviegoers spend at the theater, not only is there the opportunity to earn back free tickets and concessions but also movie tchotchkes. Essentially, more marketers are coming into the business, and that has impacted the global box office for the better.

“There was some real competition from the hi-def large-screen TV and Blu-ray in the homes,” Higginson said about the greater dialogue with exhibition. “We (as an industry) had real competition. We had to move away from analog. We had to make what we were selling relevant against that. That’s when greater marketing orientation came into the business. It’s been great. But we’re a little behind.”

The Fox executive called for a greater transparency between exhibition and distribution, particularly when it comes to intel and assets. “We hold ourselves back by not working together,” Higginson said. “We should be intimate partners in everything except when the spoils are on the table. We can then argue about who gets what, but let’s get as much as we can on the table.”

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