Events: CinemaCon 2019: Uncertainty clouds the horizon in Vegas

The gala that is CinemaCon usually sees razzamatazz filling the halls — but this year things seemed a little muted. Patrick von Sychowski reports


With no earth-shattering demos or monumental announcements, and a generally positive domestic and global box office picture, albeit with several underlying worries rumbling in the background, CinemaCon 2019 often seemed like a silver cloud in search of a dark lining ­— or maybe it was just a wait-and-see year. 

At the end of the customary post-keynote press briefing, NATO’s John Fithian berated the assembled press corps for having spent half of their allocated hour on asking questions about Netflix to him and the MPAA’s Charles Rivkin, whilst not once mentioning that the US had its best box office year ever in 2018. Are cinemas so spooked by streamers that they don’t believe their own good fortune, despite certainty that another great cinema year lies ahead?

The first cause for concern was industry consolidation, whether that is Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox ­— which closed on 19 March, less than two weeks before the show — Cineworld swallowing Regal, or even Box Office Magazine taking over Film Journal International. The net result is fewer studios showing off films, fewer exhibitor representatives participating and smaller stacks of trade magazines in the halls of Caesar’s Palace. Disney opened its slate presentation with a spirited “Two-Great-Studios-Together” clips reel, but disappointed with no “Frozen 2” or “Star Wars IX” footage, let alone any on-stage star appearance. [“Dumbo” disappointed and though “Captain Marvel” overcame fan-boy hate, it was no “Black Panther”, thus leaving Q1 down year-on-year while  all waited for “Avengers: Endgame”.

Studios: now you see ‘em, now you don’t

More worrying was the absence of Sony Pictures, the first time a major Hollywood studio had decided to sit out CinemaCon, citing evaluation of whether the many million spent on putting together a show in Vegas could be spent better targeting exhibitors. Sony Pictures might be back next year, but it was telling that Amazon Studios also did not sponsor its customary Thursday lunch (though it did screen “Late Night”). Amazon had earlier threatened to do away with the release window for its films, after several of them underperformed on the big screen.

With Netflix’s recent four Oscar wins for “Roma”, there was a palpable nervousness, particularly as the streaming giant had just become an official member of the MPAA. This is why perhaps the biggest applause and headlines of the show were reserved for Dame Helen Mirren declaring on stage while promoting New Line’s ‘The Good Liar’ that, “I love Netflix; but f**k Netflix.” You can catch her latest film in the cinema.

Warner Bros. delighted exhibitors with trailers and footage from “Joker”, “Godzilla: King of Monsters”, “Detective Pikachu”, DC films and not least “IT: Chapter 2”. Universal cranked it up with “Hobbs & Shaw” duo Johnson and Statham making it personal on stage, before “Pets 2”, “Ma” and “Good Boys”, as well as a dollop of Brit films (“Last Christmas”, “Downton Abbey” and “Yesterday” — performed live on the Colosseum stage by star Himesh Patel). All assured the crowd that the studio will continue its winning streak. “Audiences will show up to original movies from brilliant filmmakers as well as franchises,” Universal chair Donna Langley affirmed. Paramount appears to be staging a much-needed comeback, with “Rocketman” hoping to emulate the $900m success of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but also “Terminator: Dark Fate” (Arnie and Linda on stage!), “Sonic the Hedgehog” (Jim Carrey throws popcorn on stage) and “Dora the Explorer.”

Lionsgate’s “Long Shot” was one
of three films screened together with WB’s “Blinded by the Light”, with Springsteen thus joining Elton John, George Michael, Lennon-McCartney and the Country of “Wild Rose” in providing musical film inspiration at the show. “The Greatest Showman” clearly has a lot of green-lighting to answer for. Meanwhile the only
studio hand-out was Paramount’s “Rocketman” t-shirt. Some delegates were heard to grumble that the goodie bag was nothing more than a sugar holder, but less tat also means less waste. #sustainability [Ed: Amen to that.]

Premium everywhere

CinemaCon saw no fewer than three major premium large formats (PLF) announcements. Jumping the gun somewhat the new-ownership THX announced its THX Ultimate Cinema, which was mainly a branding exercise for the partnership between Cinionic (Barco) and China Giant Screen (CGS). While the former will launch at the Regency Westwood Village Theatre in LA later this year, the CGS PLF was already showcased at Regal LA Live the weekend before CinemaCon by Todd Hoddick & Co. It claims already to have the world’s second largest PLF install base after IMAX and thus ahead of Dolby Cinema — and offers 10 year guarantees. Yet Barco’s light-steering technology was only demonstrated at the Fox lot in LA with no commitment on when it will ship, due to the DCI’s prevarications over HDR/EDR

Sony Digital Cinema, as its PLF offer is known, was launched during but off-site to CinemaCon at the new-build Las Vegas Galaxy Theatres Luxury+ Boulevard Complex in the expanding Boulevard Mall. Sony’s head of digital cinema Bob Raposo talked up the brand and Sony’s broad knowledge of entertainment tech, but was vague on technical details. There was also no discussion about Sony’s LED screen at the show. Meanwhile, Christie announced its new brand Cinity Cinema Systems partnership with GDC Technology and Huaxia film, which will push to showcase Ang Lee and Paramount’s “Gemini Man” in 120fps 3D.   

There were announcements from key immersive seat manufacturers, including 4DX, MX4D and D-Box, all proving the format’s enduring appeal, but nothing quite on the scale of Cineworld’s announcement about 4DX and ScreenX deployments signed with CJ4DPLEX last year. It was clear that premium in its many shapes and forms was a key theme for CinemaCon and the continued evolution of the cinema experience. Meanwhile GDC’s GoGoCinema gave a glimpse into the potential future of cinema with crowdsources film selections and ordering of movies like you would from Uber Eats.

Subscriptions and data

While it has amazingly still survived, there was very little sign or talk of MoviePass at the show, with the likes of AMC, Cinemark and even Alamo Drafthouse having launched their own in-house subscription schemes with great uptake.

MoviePass competitor Sinemia threw a big party at the Omnia to highlight its B2C SubGen white label service, which several exhibitors both in the US and Asia are using to operate their own subscription services. In addition, Influx was at the show with its own Infinity subscription service. Fandango and Atom Tickets were mostly busy reporting record pre-sales of “Avengers: Endgame”.

Movio’s CEO Will Palmer made
the headline-grabbing sponsorship announcement that exhibitors using its Movio Cinema saw a $227m collective uplift in their box office revenue in 2018, with a goal of 100m targeted subscribers that could add another billion dollars to the global box office. Movio’s parent company Vista was at the show in force with a huge booth and some 100 attendees from the various group companies: Veezi, Powster, Numero, Flicks and others. Inevitably its competitors such as Compeso, Jacro, Ticket and Admit One were somewhat overshadowed, but were not without their clients or new products.