New technology, the importance of theatrical and the rise of China will all be among the talking points at this year’s CinemaCon, which gathers exhibitors and distributors in Las Vegas (April 15-18). Jeremy Kay reports.

Each year, CinemaCon enables the leading lights from exhibition and distribution to assemble in Las Vegas to mull over the most pressing issues of the day. This year, the industry will be as anxious as ever to reaffirm the value of the theatrical experience at a time when alternative distribution platforms proliferate.

The record $10.8bn North American box office for 2012 was an easy headline-grabber and will no doubt be trumpeted in their annual state of the industry addresses by two familiar faces to the show: John Fithian [pictured], president of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) chairman and CEO, Senator Chris Dodd. CinemaCon is the official convention of NATO.

‘We’ll be talking about last year’s record box office and about the slow first quarter of this year’

John Fithian, National Assocation of Theatre Owners

Everyone knows that annual inflation drives up box office and nowadays the price premium on 3D tickets provides a big hike, too. A far more reliable indicator of theatrical health is the number of tickets sold, and in this regard Fithian and Dodd will have even greater reason to be cheerful. Ticket sales climbed 5% compared to the previous year, to 1.36 billion in 2012, marking the first annual rise in three years.

This will be good ammunition for attendees as Fithian, a charismatic leader who remains ever the realist, is all too aware. “State of the industry is always to be discussed at these affairs,” Fithian says. “We’ll be talking about the good news of last year’s record box office and the challenging news about the slow first quarter of this year. We are always trying to emphasise that, quarter-to-quarter, these things are cyclical and driven by movie supply.”

Indeed, by the time the show gets underway on April 15, it is entirely possible the tide will have begun to turn, given the boisterous $80m March debut of Oz The Great And Powerful and a slew of multiplex films leading up to CinemaCon that included The Croods, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Host and the 3D re-release of Jurassic Park.

“Technology is always a big theme,” continues Fithian, “particularly as we wind up the transition to digital. We are well over 85% deployment [in North America], and some overseas territories are completely transitioned. There are also the issues of high frame rate and laser light sources. Our members will be talking about these issues, and what helps the bottom line and what doesn’t.”

CinemaCon attendees can also expect plenty of talk about piracy and, as an adjunct to this, the MPAA will unveil a public-service message to run in theatres. This time, there will be debate over another area of criminal activity within the theatre, sparked by James Holmes’ murderous rampage last July in the Century 16 multiplex in Aurora, Colorado.

The chief talking point continues to be China, now the second-biggest market outside North America

“The wrinkle is how our country and the industry responds to what happened in Connecticut and Aurora, and other locations where gun violence raises a big issue, so that’s part of a new twist I am sure will be a big part of the discussion,” says Fithian. “When an incident like that happens, people re-evaluate their protocols and make sure they retrain their staff… There’s no national one-size-fits-all answer for every theatre: the elements have to be decided on a company-by-company basis.”

One aspect of the theatrical sector that continues to deliver success is the international arena. Markets outside North America combined for a record $22.8bn in 2012 and leading territories like the UK, Germany and Russia each generated unprecedented numbers. The chief talking point of course continues to be China, now the second-biggest market outside North America and predicted to become the biggest within three to five years.

Dalian Wanda Group’s acquisition last summer of the AMC chain, in a deal reportedly worth $2.6bn, injected the latter with cash and signalled China’s clear intent to become a key player in Hollywood and the entertainment space as a whole. Wanda Cinemas CEO Jerry Ye is scheduled to take part in an exhibition panel on International Day on April 15, and it is a safe bet that there will be more than a few leading US film executives sitting in the audience.


CinemaCon 2013 will play host to more than 5,000 attendees at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, with all the major studios expected to show product reels.

April 15 is International Day, with keynote addresses by Fox International co-presidents Paul Hanneman and Tomas Jegeus, and SF Bio CEO Jan Bernhardsson.

There will be panels on China, among others, while awards will be given to Disney’s David Kornblum (the Passepartout Award), Fox International (International Box Office Achievement Award) and Cinépolis CEO Alejandro Ramirez Magana (Global Achievement Award In Exhibition).

There will be keynotes on April 16 by MPAA chairman and CEO Chris Dodd, and NATO president John Fithian, with the 2013 NATO Marquee Award presented to Regal Entertainment Group CEO Amy Miles.

On April 17, a panel hosted by film critic Elvis Mitchell will discuss the evolution of film-making, while on April 18 others will focus on high frame rates, laser projection, digital, 3D, alternative content, immersive sound and other technologies.

CinemaCon Big Screen Achievement Awards will be presented to Asa Butterfield, Chris Pine, Harrison Ford, Armie Hammer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and others.