Why We’ll Miss Nikki Rocco When She Retires As Universal’s Head of Distribution

Nikki Rocco

Nikki Rocco, President, of Domestic Distribution, Universal Pictures

Arriving at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas for my return flight from CinemaCon last month I was greeted at the gate by a potpourri of industry professionals, as was to be expected. There were engineers and sales reps from manufactures such as QSC and Volfoni, studio distribution executives from the likes of Twentieth Century Fox and film buyers from exhibition chains both large and small.

Among this assemblage was Nikki Rocco, the president of domestic distribution at Universal Pictures, who at the time was using an iPad to work on something I could only assume must be very important. Earlier today Universal announced Rocco will retire at the end of 2014 after spending 47 years with the company, the last 18 as the first woman ever to head up distribution at a major studio.

Just three days before I watched Rocco walk CinemaCon attendees through Universal’s summer slate during the studio’s annual presentation of its upcoming releases. As I listened to Rocco skillfully introduce titles such as the raunchy comedy, “Neighbors”, Seth MacFarlane‘s “A Million Ways to Die in the West” and the James Brown biopic “Get On Up”, I was once again reminded just how talented and special she is as a person and an executive.

If spending nearly five decades at a single company wasn’t evidence enough to demonstrate just how special Rocco is, consider for a moment that the company at which she has spent her entire professional career is a movie studio. How many studio executives in senior management roles make it past the decade mark at just one company? Not very many. Especially ones that joined their studios as paid interns in 1967.

On top of that, Rocco has been able to survive as the head of distribution during several ownership and leadership changes at Universal. Seagrams purchased the studio the year before Rocco was named the head of distribution in 1996. This was after five trying years under the ownership of Matsushita Electric. In 2000 Universal was sold to Vivendi, a french water utility, transforming into Vivendi Universal. By 2004 Universal was sold again, this time to GE, which already owned NBC, the broadcast television network, thus creating NBCUniversal. Cable operator Comcast then bought a controlling share of NBCUniversal in 2011 and acquired the company outright in 2013.

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Fathom Events New CEO John Rubey Provides Both Experience and Leadership

John Rubey

John Rubey, CEO of Fathom Events

When National CineMedia (NCM) spun off its alternative content division, NCM Fathom Events, into a completely separate business entity at the end of 2013, it did not identify a chief executive officer for the newly formed company. Kurt Hall, the chairman and CEO of NCM, stayed with the cinema advertising network, and Fathom went off to find a suitable senior executive to fill its open leadership position. Their search came to an end earlier this month when it was announced John Rubey would become the stand-alone Fathom Events first CEO.

If Rubey’s name sounds vaguely familiar there’s a good reason why. Rubey comes to Fathom after spending the last 14 years as the President of AEG Network Live, the concert promoter’s in-house multimedia production company. While with AEG he helped produce some of the earliest noteworthy events in the nascent alternative content industry by beaming concerts into cinemas from the likes of Bon Jovi, Dave Matthews Band, Garth Brooks and Phish.

This is a great hire for Fathom as Rubey brings a lot to the table. He’s got more than two decades of experience working in one form or another on content and marketing for big-ticket entertainment events. Before signing on with AEG, Rubey founded and owned Spring Communications which specialized in pay-per-view events. He has a working knowledge and practical experience in multiple forms of media production, entertainment marketing, alternative content and working with exhibitors. His relationships and ties to key players in the concert and entertainment industries run deep.

The whole purpose of AEG Networks Live is to “eventize” a concert, a tour, an arena or sports, generating marketing opportunities and actual revenue. These goals are identical or complimentary to most alternative content releases. To help him achieve these objectives during his tenure at AEG, Rubey worked with content aggregators and distributors such as Hulu, MySpace, Vevo and YouTube. Thus, he’s no stranger to digital content distribution and its many intricacies.

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Vista Continues Strategic Growth and Diversification With Stake In MACCS

Murray Holdaway, Bert Huls and Mathieu van As

(From left): Murray Holdaway, Bert Huls and Mathieu van As

One of the more important stories to come out of this year’s CinemaCon is one that didn’t even get announced until more than a week after the show ended. By then anyone who follows such news was already well aware that the cinema exhibition software firm Vista Entertainment Solutions had acquired a stake in MACCS International, the developer of market leading distribution software. We’d like to summarize why we believe this is a significant industry development.

As I noted just before this year’s CinemaCon, I have a great deal of respect for Murray Holdaway, Vista’s Chief Executive, and Derek Forbes, the company’s President of North America. Over nearly twenty years they, along with a growing team of smart executives, have taken the New Zealand based outfit from being a small player in a crowded field of cinema point-of-sale vendors to being the dominant exhibition software solutions developer in the space. In the process, Vista has left a wake of once prominent entities such as Splice and Titan Technologies.

In all fairness, Vista still faces a field of new and perennial competitors. They include, though are not at all limited to, regional and worldwide entrants such as Allure Global, Compeso, Diamond Ticketing Systems, Jack Roe, NCR, Omnico, Omniterm, Ready Theatre Systems, Retriever, TicketNew, TicketSoft and Vendini.

What has helped set Vista apart from some of these rivals is how the company has been able to think beyond its own systems and offerings to see opportunities in related or adjacent markets. They have managed to avoid pitfalls, even when enticing distractions beckoned with the promise of future riches. A great illustration of this would be Vista’s decision to not develop a theatre management system (TMS) for digital cinema installations. Such software is generally forced upon exhibitors by integrators and has become commoditized, save for a few solutions offered by Arts Alliance Media, Cinedigm and Unique Digital.

At the same time, Vista has been adept at increasing its revenue through a series of wise decisions about building or acquiring product offerings that have expanded its customer base. For instance, the company developed Veezi as a cinema management and ticketing system for small and independent cinemas; a market it didn’t serve and one that couldn’t afford Vista’s current solutions.

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CinemaCon 2014: Press Release Roundup

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PLEASE NOTE: If we missed any individual press release it was not done purposefully. If you would like us to include a CinemaCon related press announcement in a future roundup, please forward it to tips@celluloidjunkie.com.

Historically companies and organizations doing business at trade shows and conferences have relied heavily upon press releases to get their message out to an industry. This has been especially true at CinemaCon and ShoWest before it. This year was no different.

The first day of the show always sees a flurry of announcements “hit the wire”. As the week (and convention) progresses the number of releases tends to dwindle. We thought it might be useful to sum up all of the announcements made at this year’s show, and when appropriate, provide a bit of insight or analysis. Here are the releases published during CinemaCon 2014 listed in alphabetical order by company name:


Arts Alliance Media
The London based digital cinema integrator and software developer is is always good for a few releases during industry trade shows. CinemaCon saw them release no fewer than four. The first announced the launch of a new software solution called AdFuser. The software was designed for all aspects of on-screen cinema advertising. The software is capable of planning campaigns and managing inventory, targeting ads to appropriate genres or audience demographics, automated ad playlist creation, ad content delivery, reporting and much more. AdFuser can be used in either an extremely granular or completely automated fashion.

Our Take: AAM’s cinema advertising software has been in development for years so it is interesting to see them finally launch the product. We have yet to have a close demonstration of the solution, but look forward to seeing it in action. The company is entering a niche market with a stiff competitor (Unique Digital) that has more than a decade head start in the space.

AAM announced a software deal with Vox Cinemas, a cinema chain based in the Middle East. The circuit will be employing AAM’s suite of software to manage their digital cinema technology and operations. This includes solutions such as Screenwriter Plus (Theatre Management System), Producer (Enterprise Circuit Management System) and Locksmith (Enterprise KDM Management) and Lifeguard (NOC Tools). Vox operates 9 complexes which account for 92 screens in Lebanon and the UAE.

Finnkino was already using AAM’s theatre management system (TMS) and will now upgrade to Screenwriter Plus, which has additional features for automation and monitoring. The circuit will rollout the new version of Screenwriter Plus throughout their 14 sites and at a later date has the option to include their 11 Forum Cinemas located in the Baltic.

AAM began as a digital cinema integrator with their own virtual print fees (VPFs) in Europe. They have now entered the complicated Latin American market with a series of partners, most recently Quanta-DGT. The trio announced three deals for VPF rollouts with three exhibitors in Uruguay; Grupo Cine, Life Cinemas and Movie.

Our Take: This agreement is a perfect example of just how complex Latin America can be for the motion picture business. While the combined 61 screens covered in the contract already have digital cinema equipment installed, these screens will now fall under AAM/Quanta-DGT’s VPF agreements.


Barco
CinemaBarcoThe Belgian based projector manufacturer was incredibly active during this year’s CinemaCon, showing up at the conference with half a dozen press releases. Many of the notices centered around their new CinemaBarco initiative, specifically the 60,000-lumen laser projector the company is bringing to market. The projector is DCI-compliant and capable of showing 4K content all the way up to 60 frames per second. The Barco 6P laser projector is capable of showing 3D content in 4K at 14 ftL and is fully integrated within the DCI-compliant projector. It will be commercially available immediately in the United States and China before being distributed in the rest of the world by the end of 2014. The company demonstrated the projector at CinemaCon without a “shaking” screen.

To prove just how market ready their laser projector is, Barco announced that Cinemark would be the first exhibitor to install the new technology. The release didn’t specify precisely which sites Barco would be installing its high-tech projector in, though don’t be surprised if Cinemark Century 16 South Point and XD winds up being the first. That’s the Las Vegas cinema in which Barco was conducting off-site demonstrations of its laser projector during CinemaCon.

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Ted Schilowitz and Barco Set To Announce New Secret Project at CinemaCon

Ted Schilowitz

Ted Schilowitz, Barco’s New CinemaVangelist

Ask Ted Schilowitz whether he works in either technology or motion picture production or computer hardware or high resolution imaging or marketing, and the answer you’re most likely to receive is, “Yes”. The technologist was recently tapped by Barco, the cinema technology company, to become their CinemaVangelist and help the firm launch its CinemaBarco suite of products.

That’s not the first non-traditional title Schilowitz has had. He’s also a consultant at Twentieth Century Fox where he holds the title of Futurist. Under the arrangement, which began at the end of last year, Schilowitz works with the studio’s President of Physical Production, Joe Hartwick, and President of Feature Post Production, Ted Gagliano, to identify and figure out what kind of technologies and storytelling tools and strategies a big movie company needs to pay attention to, you know, to make sure they don’t miss something really big.

Schilowitz’s title at Fox is almost tame compared to the ominous one he held at Red Digital Cinema; Leader of the Rebellion. Along with James Jannard, Schilowitz helped co-found one of the leading manufacturers of digital cinematography equipment as the company’s first employee. He remained with Red until September of last year.

With those kinds of credentials, it almost seems pointless to mention his role in founding G-Tech, a manufacturer of media storage devices which was purchased by Hitachi. Nor that he helped develop the video cards for AJA Video Systems in collaboration with a little company called Apple.

You can probably see why it might be difficult for someone with Schilowitz’s resume to provide a direct answer about the definition of his profession. Even so, during a recent phone conversation with Schilowitz as he drove to Las Vegas for CinemaCon, I figured its was at least worth asking him how he landed his most recent title with Barco and exactly what he’d be helping the company with.

The transcript of our conversation is a perfect example of how good Schilowitz is at building excitement around the technology used in modern motion pictures and television. What’s even more amazing is that he can manage to do this without divulging the details of a big new product Barco is announcing at CinemaCon, only managing to further build the suspense over just what it might be.

Celluloid Junkie: Okay, I’ve got to start with title. What’s the deal with the CinemaVangelist title?

Ted Schilowitz: My logic about titles in the modern world of business is that titles mean a lot less than they used to. It’s really what people do versus what they’re called that matters. When I started talking with Barco about what my title should be in this new role there were a bunch of very traditional titles that made me sound very self important. None of that really worked for me. It needs to be more fun. We’re in the entertaimnet business, we’re in the movie business, we’re in the fun business. I want this to be a kind of watershed moment for Barco in terms of the kind of environment that we’re creating and what I’ve been brought in to help spearhead is this new level of showmanship and this realization that technology doesn’t need to be boring, but that technology needs to be integrated with the wonder of storytelling and that’s where things get exciting. So we came up with like five or six different names and then the Barco execs said “We like CinemaVangilist we think that defines your role and it defines Barco and why we’re both very excited.” I’m thrilled to be a part of Barco and Barco is very motivated to have me helping that effort. It’s very bidirectional. It’s essentially evangelizing the art, the science and the fun of cinema, in all its form and functions. It doesn’t really have a hard definition.

CJ: What led you to Barco and what will you be doing for them?

TS: Well, at the same time as I’m doing this crazy gig for Fox, in the background, in secret, I’m working on this very interesting piece of technology and storytelling for Barco, which is an amazing company in so many ways. Not a lot of people know about Barco. They know Barco, they just don’t realize they know Barco, because every time they go to a cinema they see a Barco projector. They have the leading market share out of all the three or four big companies. They are in my opinion best of breed when it comes to this number one in terms of the technology and number one also in terms of servicing their clients and really making sure that they get maximum value out of the technology. So we’ve been working on this secret thing and Fox is involved in it along with one other big movie studio, but I’m not sure I have clearance to talk about them. It’s going to be launching on March 25th.

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Audience Entertainment Is Helping Moviegoers Become A Part of the Story

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Now that the worldwide digital cinema rollout is nearing completion, with most of North America and a majority of Europe and Asia converted, companies, business models and content will begin to emerge that exploit the capabilities and benefits of the new technology.

One such entity you can expect to be hearing about at this year’s CinemaCon and in the months that follow is Audience Entertainment. The company creates branded entertainment which large groups can interact with in unison. To date, Audience Entertainment has worked mostly on interactive games for ad campaigns that are played in movie theatres, concerts and special events. Barry Grieff is the CEO of the company, which he founded in 2009.

If Grieff’s name sounds familiar there may be good reason. During a decades long career in the entertainment industry, Grief has held a number of positions in a all areas of the business. He started out as the National Advertising Director for National Lampoon and went on to work as a senior executive in music for A&M Records and as a Vice President of Marketing at ABC Records. He’s even been the President of Lorne Michaels’ production company Broadway Video. Back in 1984 he produced “Treasure: In Search of the Golden Horse” which was the first interactive laser disc for Pioneer as a showcase for the new digital medium.

“Treasure” was actually an interactive game that sent viewers out in search of a golden horse worth USD $500,000 that had been buried somewhere out in the world. It very well might be one of the earliest examples of transmedia, since it was released on multiple platforms including theatrically, on television, and on laser disc.

As Grief explained during an in-depth conversation a week before CinemaCon, it was this early experience with interactive content that ultimately led to Audience Entertainment. After several years of trials, tests and one-off productions, the company is ready to launch in earnest. To help the company grow its platform in cinemas around the world, Audience Entertainment recently announced a deal with Barco, the digital cinema projector manufacturer. The strategic partnership is part of the latter company’s new CinemaBarco suite of product offerings.

Celluloid Junkie: Maybe it’s best to start at the very beginning of your career since you’ve had several different focuses throughout your professional history. Is your varied experience an asset when it comes to Audience Entertainment?

Barry Grieff: Absolutely. Unlike someone that’s been in a distribution system their entire career, it’s more difficult for them to see the benefits and the pitfalls of that. I’m more agnostic about that. I look at things and say, “There are all these distribution channels, why limit yourself to just this one.” So, I think my lack of holding a job is a good thing.

CJ: Did the concept for Audience Entertainment originally come from your work with Pioneer in the 1980s? That kind of interactive entertainment was a little ahead of its time, so what was it that stuck with you for more than 20 years to want to expand on the idea?

BG: What I saw with “Treasure” was that this game was used by schools, by teachers, it taught geography, it taught logic, it taught math, because the puzzles were all interesting. I saw involvement at a level I had never seen in previously passive kinds of media and I was intrigued by it. But there was no real future because nothing was digital yet. I kind of held onto that idea hoping that someday this would be possible. Then a couple years before I started Audience Entertainment, I was heading a company called the Brand Experience Lab. We had technologies from different universities and folks around the world that they were looking to showcase to marketers. We had a 3D printer, we had holograms, we had virtual reality, but nobody knew what to do with it. What I saw was incredible interest from everybody. During that period we ran into a technology, which is motion capture, which is what we’re using now. One of the clients that came into the lab saw it and said, “Hey that’s really interesting could you do that in the movie theatre?” And it hadn’t occurred to us prior to that so I said, “I don’t see why not”.

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Hal Douglas and the Evolving Art Form of Movie Trailer Voice-Overs

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It’s been a week since we learned about the passing of voice-over legend Hal Douglas at the age of 89. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, then you probably don’t work in the marketing department of a film or television company.

Over the course of four decades Douglas provided the voice-over narration for hundreds, if not thousands, of movie trailers and promotional television spots. His list of credits is far to vast to list in total, but included movies like “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs”, “Con Air”, “Die Hard”, “Forrest Gump”, “Four Feathers”, “Lethal Weapon”, “Meet the Parents”, “Men In Black”, and “Philadelphia” to name but a few.

Since Douglas’ death was announced I’ve heard it suggested repeatedly both in the media and in various conversations with industry professionals, that Douglas helped establish and was a part of a “golden age” of voice-over. Joining him in this unofficial category are the likes of Don LaFontaine, credited with creating the trailer catch phrase “in a world”, and Don Morrow, whose credits include “Fistful of Dollars”, “Saving Private Ryan” and “Titanic”. Up until five years ago, and dating back to the mid-1970s, Hollywood studios and television networks relied upon this troika of talent so much that their deep bass busting style has become standard to the point of almost being cliché.

Douglas made light of his own omnipresent narration by appearing in a trailer for Jerry Seinfeld’s 2002 documentary “Comedian” as a voice-over artist who only speaks in movie trailer colloquialisms.

With the passing of LaFontaine in 2008 and now Douglas, the argument being made is that an era of voice-over artistry has ended with them, and henceforth, all we’ll get is a string of artists trying to imitate these masters. While there is no disputing the talent of Douglas, LaFontaine, Morrow and their thunder throated contemporaries, when it comes to voice-over narration I must disagree with the notion that the timeframe in which they worked was anymore golden than those that came before, after or have yet to occur.

Like just about everything in life, and especially the arts, voice-over narration evolves from one set of overlapping characteristics to the next. Just as modernism spawned postmodernism or as the work’s of Picasso, the renown painter, transitioned from a monochromatic blue-green between 1901 and 1904 into cubist works by 1909, the time period in which Douglas was so prolific is defined by a style of voice-over that he helped establish.

Put another way, it’s not that Douglas was simply good at delivering “Voice of God” (VoG) narration, he actually created the style (along with others such as LaFontaine). With his passing, the style will shift slightly to match the taste of current audiences and the characteristics of whoever the next big voice-over talent is. Given the natural progression of marketing, design and popular culture, this new style will, in all likelihood, be close, though not identical, to that of Douglas and his peers.

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Vista Serves Up The Future of In-Seat Ordering

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I am always pleased when an email arrives from Murray Holdaway and/or Derek Forbes. They are, respectively, the CEO and President of North America for Vista, an entertainment software company primarily known for the popular point of sale system they developed specifically for movie theatres.

In a market that suffers no lack of strong competitors, Vista has been one of the more progressive and innovative companies in the space. So when an email from Murray or Derek turns up, it’s a safe bet it contains something worth reading.

That was not the case this past Tuesday when Derek sent an email that simply read “I thought you might enjoy this video.” My initial reaction was that I should get in touch with Derek and let him know his email had been hacked by someone who was no doubt interested in selling a drug that could enhance various parts of the male anatomy.

Upon reading the only other sentence in the email I realized it must actually be from Derek himself. It read, “Hope to see you in Vegas next week”; a direct reference to CinemaCon which is being held next week in, you guessed it, Las Vegas.

The video Derek linked to, which is embedded above, had been posted by Vista USA’s YouTube account less than a day before. It only lasts a little over a minute, but it left me speechless. Somehow Vista had figured out a way to deliver concessions directly to patrons in their theatre seats through the use of unmanned drones. I always knew the company was technologically savvy, but automated conveyance of cinema concessions could revolutionize the industry by saving theatre owners millions in payroll. Why hadn’t anyone ever thought of it before?!

I immediately watched the video again and began to see a few flaws in the concept. Specifically, the unmanned drone is a little wobbly, making it almost certain a soft drink or popcorn will eventually get dropped onto an unsuspecting patron. If the cinemagoer were watching a movie like “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs” this could be an immersive enhancement which Vista could ultimately charge for. They could call it 4D, if someone hasn’t already trademarked that name.

It got me thinking, could Derek’s video actually be of a real product offering being launched at CinemaCon? This would be just around the time that we’d all be hearing about new products.

The reality, of course, is that the video was Vista’s spoof on Amazon’s announcement last December of Amazon Prime Air. You might recall Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, telling the news program “60 Minutes” of the company’s intention to deliver lightweight orders to customers via unmanned arial vehicles (see below).

So though I may have suggested Derek’s email wasn’t worth reading… I never said it wasn’t worth watching. I’m just glad the video wasn’t some elaborate hoax meant to get Vista some (hopefully) humorous media attention. That kind of stunt rarely ever works.

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CinemaCon Mobile App Gets Pushy… In A Good Way

2014 CinemaCon App Alert

For those attending the upcoming CinemaCon trade show later this month who still haven’t downloaded the event’s official mobile app you’ve already missed out on a number of announcements sent out by the National Association of Theatre Owners, the organization running the conference.

Back in February we told you about the updated mobile app being made available for the show, but we though you might want to glimpse first hand how it keeps delegates informed with up to the minute news.  After installing the app on an iPhone or Android device it will begin displaying alerts on the phones lock screen and in the designated notification center.  An example of such a message pushed to my iPhone last Thursday accompanies this post.

The screen capture shows a notification for a screening and party being held by Universal Pictures in support of their film “Neighbors”.  As is true with most mobile apps, these push notifications can be turned on and off by every user.  See you in Vegas!