Michael P. O’Leary has been named president and CEO of National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), the organisation said on Thursday (March 2).
O’Leary officially joins NATO on April 10 and will work alongside current incumbent John Fithian heading into CinemaCon (April 24-27). He assumes the post on May 1 after Fithian retires.
The Washington DC-based appointee has served in senior positions at The Entertainment Software Association, 21st Century Fox, the Motion Picture Association, and on Capitol Hill and the Department of Justice.
Rolando Rodriguez, NATO board chairman and senior advisor, Marcus Corporation, made the announcement and hailed O’Leary’s “extensive knowledge and strategic senior leadership”. He added, “With the help and support of our very talented NATO team, as well as our friends at the film companies, artistic community and lawmakers, we will continue to grow back the motion picture theater industry with Michael’s leadership.”
Rodriguez continued, “Also on behalf of the NATO executive board we want to thank John Fithian for his tremendous contributions to the exhibition industry. His leadership, dedication, commitment, accomplishments and passion will long be remembered as he retires on May 1. Thank you, John, for a great legacy. And welcome, Michael, to our NATO family.”
O’Leary said, “The cinematic experience is an enduring and dynamic part of the entertainment landscape in communities everywhere. I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to work with the leaders of this iconic global industry and the talented and dedicated team at NATO to chart its next chapter.”
The transition comes at a critical time as exhibition attempts to rebuild following the pandemic and lengthy cinemas closures in the US and around the world. Under Fithian, NATO secured government bailouts and loans for struggling cinema owners.
Recent tentpole performance has been encouraging with the likes of Top Gun: Maverick and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever earning $1.49bn and $858m, respectively, while Avatar The Way Of Water on $2.27bn currently ranks as the third highest global release of all time.
Gower Street Analytics reported in January that global box office earned $25.9bn in 2022 and gained 27% on 2021. While the year-on-year climb was encouraging, 2022 trailed by an average of 35% pre-pandemic 2017, 2018 and 2019.
The challenge for cinema circuits is adult-skewing dramas, smaller independent and arthouse films and the industry will be watching closely in the coming months to see if the audiences, particularly older patrons, return in meaningful numbers.
Motion Picture Association chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin welcomed the appointment and said he looked forward to “continue building a strong and dynamic ecosystem for exhibitors and the entire film industry”.
Rivkin continued, “Michael is, of course, no stranger to the MPA. During nearly a decade on our team, he led the global policy and external affairs department and achieved numerous successes on behalf of our member studios and the industry. His selection to lead NATO’s next chapter gives me great confidence that our two associations will continue to forge the close and collaborative relationship that enables us to advance our many common goals.
“As I welcome Michael to NATO, I also want to thank my good friend John Fithian for his counsel, wisdom and decades of leadership at NATO. NATO’s growth over the past 23 years is due largely to John’s energy, creativity and dedication, and we are all grateful for his commitment to this iconic American industry.”
NATO’s global membership represents more than 67,000 screens and the group maintains an active lobbying profile on Capitol Hill.
O’Leary also becomes a member of the executive committee on NATO’s Global Cinema Federation. NATO also operates Cinema Foundation.
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