Headquartered in Washington DC, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) represents over 33,000 screens in the United States, making it the largest exhibition trade organisation in the world. In recent years, it has also expanded its global footprint and now has members in over 90 countries and counting. The association’s top leadership, President & CEO John Fithian and Managing Director Mitch Neuhauser, caught up with Nitin Tej Ahuja post the association’s annual convention, CinemaCon 2017, in Las Vegas, and spoke of how Indian exhibitors could benefit by becoming members. Excerpts from the interview
Congratulations on the successful completion of yet another edition of CinemaCon. Can you take us through the highlights of this year’s convention?
Mitch Neuhauser (MH):CinemaCon 2017 was a huge success. Our paid attendance jumped to more than 3,400 and we had delegates from over 75 countries. We also set a record with 10 studio presentations during the course of the week. Our trade show was sold out yet again, with vendors offering exciting new products. The panels we scheduled were very well received by attendees, and they dealt with a broad range of topics from virtual reality to understanding the needs of new generations of movie-goers.
For the benefit of our Indian readers, who may not be fully aware of NATO and CinemaCon, can you fill us in on the objectives and history of both the association as well as the convention?
MH:CinemaCon was started in 2011. Previously, the annual convention in Las Vegas was called ShoWest. We have found a great home for the show in Caesars Palace. The Colosseum, which is home to such musicians as Celine Dion and Rod Stewart when we aren’t in town, allows us to present footage from our studio partners in the best way possible. Our objective every year is to create a show that allows distribution and exhibition to come together in a productive way. We also want to do everything we can to provide meaningful seminars that educate attendees on key issues.
Oh, and we always get a lot of great movie stars who show up to get exhibition excited about their new projects. We thank our studio partners for continually raising the bar when it comes to their presentations at our convention. A lot of very busy people at studios take time out of their schedule to put on a great show that conveys how valuable their partners in exhibition are.
John Fithian (JF): NATO was formed in 1965, when two other associations merged, and we are the largest trade association in the world for cinema owners and operators.We serve the business, legislative, media and technological interests of cinema owners in the United States and around the world. We represent all of the largest circuits in North America, as well as hundreds of independent and international members.
We have a rich history of helping our members succeed while they face new challenges. Through every new home entertainment technology since the advent of television, we’ve been touting the strength of the theatrical experience. Competition is not new to us. The digital transition was not easy, but we helped the industry with that and now cinemas are in a much better position, as a result.
In your opinion, what are the challenges as also the opportunities that the North American exhibition community is faced with and what implications do these have for Indian exhibition?
JF: Making the cinema experience enjoyable for new generations is crucial, and thanks to improved technology, reserved seating, luxury seating, more diverse concession options, and new forms of alternative programming, the industry is succeeding at this goal. There is a misconception that younger audiences do not value the theatrical experience, and we’ve found that it simply isn’t true.
JF: It’s incredibly healthy. 2016’s global box office total set another record, with $38.6 billion, according to the MPAA. Yet it’s important to remember that measuring in US dollars doesn’t tell the whole story. Key markets around the world posted impressive increases in revenue based on local currency but when converted to US dollars, the same markets were down. The most prominent example of this is in China, where the market saw a 3.7 per cent jump in local currency but a $200 million decline in US currency. Currencies will fluctuate and we can’t control that, but at the end of the day people all over the world still cherish the theatrical experience.
Is NATO an exclusively North American outfit? If not, for an Indian exhibitor, what are the benefits of joining NATO?
JF: No, we’re not exclusive to North America. We have members in 92 countries. Our wide reach gives us the ability to share information on industry developments in a quick and efficient manner, and we can have a unified exhibition voice with key third parties.
Another huge benefit for an exhibitor in India signing up – dues for NATO’s international members are US $1,000 for companies operating more than 10 screens – is that you get a discount on CinemaCon registration. If you plan on sending a few people to the event, then your savings could come close to matching – or even exceeding – what you paid to be a member. You also receive free registration to NATO’s Annual Membership Meeting and the NATO Fall Summit, held in conjunction every fall in Los Angeles. The international presence at that event grows each year.
Given the varied geographies that different film markets operate in, how can a global body like NATO help exhibitors outside North America?
JF: We work on a lot of issues that have global ramifications, such as piracy and the theatrical release window. If a pirated copy of a movie is released online, it has a global impact. The dynamic between India and the US is becoming more important with each passing year. 2016 was a crucial year for Hollywood in India, thanks to the strong performance of The Jungle Book. Already in 2017 we have seen Baahubali 2:The Conclusion easily crack into the top 10 at the North American box office. As movies from both markets continue to cross over, it’s very important to keep an open dialogue, and that’s something that NATO can definitely help with.
Going forward, what are the initiatives that NATO is working on?
JF: We listen very closely to what our members’ concerns are, and we are about to update our strategic planning. The core issues of the theatrical release window, piracy, and the promotion of our industry through better data and research are bound to stay prominent in the years to come.