New NATO President Michael O’Leary Calls on Wall Street to Invest in Film in CinemaCon Debut

The theater org chief also calls on studios to bring more variety to screens

National Association of Theater Owners President Michael O'Leary
National Association of Theater Owners President Michael O'Leary (Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty)

CinemaCon 2024 began in earnest on Tuesday with a keynote speech from the National Association of Theater Owners’ new president Michael O’ Leary, who painted an optimistic portrait of the movie theater industry’s future that was characteristic of the annual exhibition trade show.

“Keeping pace with the increasing demands of the movie-going public is not new, but it does require capital,” O’Leary said in Las Vegas. “And to our friends in the financial industry, investing in the talented people that run the innovative theatres across this country and the world is a smart investment. Getting
more capital into the system will benefit everyone — creatives, studios, exhibition, local communities and, most importantly, movie fans.”

O’ Leary began full-time duty as NATO president following last year’s CinemaCon, hitting the ground running during a summer box office season that saw theaters bask in the box office bonanza of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” only to face delays of multiple films due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes that shut down Hollywood for six months.

Those delays have left the U.S. box office 11% behind last year’s pace after the first quarter of 2024. On Sunday, exhibition consulting firm Gower Street Analytics predicted that the global box office would reach $32.3 billion this year, down $1.6 billion from 2023.

Despite the setbacks, O’Leary stressed that the fundamentals of theatrics are still sound and that the biggest obstacle to getting the theatrical economy back to full speed isn’t a lack of public interest in moviegoing, but a lack of consistent releases for theaters to put on their screens.

“To have a truly successful filmed entertainment industry, a variety of movies that appeal to moviegoers is critical,” O’Leary said. “It is not enough to rely solely on blockbusters — we must have a strong and vibrant market for movies with smaller or medium-sized budgets.”

O’Leary also announced several new initiatives to highlight and elevate owners and operators of cinemas — including a “Faces of Exhibition” video series that highlights independent cinema operators, a regional development initiative to enable more newcomers in the industry to attend CinemaCon and an anniversary program to highlight cinemas that have been operating for 50, 75 and 100 years, including B&B Theaters, which is celebrating its centennial anniversary in 2024.

“Over the past year, my highest priority has been meeting and talking with as many people from across our business as possible. I’ve had countless conversations with theater owners, and this helps me to understand your unique perspectives, your passion for movies on the big screen, to understand what motivates you and to understand what keeps you up at night,” O’Leary said. “I want to thank everyone who has welcomed me into this special community, and supported me and the NATO team over the past year.”

O’Leary was joined by Charles Rivkin, the chairman of the Motion Picture Association, who, as in CinemaCons past, touted his organization’s efforts to combat piracy. Rivkin announced that the MPA would be supporting federal legislation that would create a court process for blocking sites that are specifically created to host pirated films, TV shows and other copyrighted content.

“Site-blocking is a common tool in almost 60 countries, including leading democracies and many of America’s closest allies,” he said. “There’s no good reason for our glaring absence. No reason beyond a lack of political will, paired with outdated understandings of what site-blocking actually is, how it functions and who it affects.”

CinemaCon 2024 runs through April 11 in Las Vegas.

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