Even the recession-proof movie industry isn’t entirely recession proof.
Movie exhibition companies are proving themselves to be one of the few businesses that have been bucking hard times. Ticket sales are up to $1.7 billion — a 17.5 percent rise from last March — thanks to record-breaking box-office returns, and stock prices for major exhibitors Cinemark, Regal and Marcus are solid.
And an upcoming slate of tentpole movies including “Wolverine,” “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” “Terminator Salvation” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” almost guarantees the box office will continue to skyrocket at least through the summer.
But despite the good times at the box office, exhibitors can expect a scaled-down version of their annual convention, ShoWest, which begins Monday at Bally’s and Paris casinos in Las Vegas.
Attendance for the convention has dropped about 15 percent from last year, and exhibitors can also expect fewer lavish parties thrown by studios, whose parent conglomerates are deep in the recessionary abyss, ShoWest managing director Mitch Neuhauser told TheWrap.
The number of companies attending and buying space in ShoWest’s trade show hasn’t diminished, but the companies are sending fewer employees to the convention. “Instead of sending 10 people, they’re sending six,” Neuhauser said.
“Instead of sending 18, they’re sending nine. On the trade-show floor, some companies that used to buy eight booths are taking four, those who used to take four are taking two.”
Indeed, though the exhibitors themselves are doing well, “people in the affiliated industries are not fairing quite as well — those who would be exhibitors on the trade show floor,” said Bruce Olson, senior vice president and president of Marcus Theatres Corp.
As for the partying, while the economy surely has put a damper on the festivities that once had been a large element of ShoWest, these already had started becoming a part of the event’s past. Studios that once went all out for their exhibitors are now reined in by their superiors at corporations such as GE, Time Warner and Viacom.
“When studio heads wanted to throw a huge party at ShoWest, they could make the decision and do it. Now there’s a huge corporate hierarchy that needs to address the situation and make the decisions,” Neuhauser said.
Instead, studios are putting their energy — and their money — into screening upcoming films on state-of-the-art digital equipment.
Disney will screen “The Proposal,” starring Sandra Bullock, and Mark Zoradi, president of Disney Studio’s Motion Pictures Group, will give a 90-minute presentation on all of the studio’s upcoming 3D projects. Lionsgate will debut its upcoming 3D animated feature, “Battle for Terra.” Sony will also present its summer line-up, and Warner Bros. entertainment president and CEO Alan Horn is expected to give a sneak preview from one of the studio’s upcoming films during his welcoming address.
ShoWest’s schedule also includes screenings of smaller films such as Woody Allen’s “Whatever Works,” Paramount’s “The Soloist” and Imagine’s “$5 a Day,” along with luncheons, seminars and a golf tournament and the annual closing-night banquet and awards ceremony, this year honoring Rachel McAdams, Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Sienna Miller, among others for their performances. Michael Caine will get a nod for his body of work.
“The schedule is not quite as full in previous years. But there still will be business conducted,” Patrick Corcoran, director of Media & Research at the National Association of Theatre owners, said. “The glitz is a fun part of it, and it’s always good to see new movies. But the main thing is the business that takes place.”
Corcoran, Neuhauser and Olsen agreed that 3D cinema and theaters’ digital conversion will be the hot topic this year. Coincidentally, DreamWorks’ “Monsters vs. Aliens” — which was all the rage at last year’s conference — will debut on 5,000 nondigital screens and 2,000 digital 3D screens this weekend, despite original estimates of 5,000 digital screens. Whether the majority of moviegoers opt to see the film in 3D will certainly give convention attendees something to talk about on Monday.
Attendees also will be curious about what MPAA Chairman Dan Glickman will say during his annual address on Tuesday. The organization cut $20 million from its budget and laid off key staff members this month — moves that are expected to drastically cut their spending on anti-piracy campaigns.
“Dan used to concentrate his address on the figures and facts of the year before. But over the last couple of years, he’s made those announcements earlier so that he can weigh in on subjects of importance to the industry that are more than just numbers,” Neuhauser said. “But we’re looking forward to what Dan says and what John Fithian [president and CEO of NATO] says as well.”
“The show must go on, right? And this show will go on.”