Category Archives: Concessions

America’s Greatest Cinema Export to China Is Under Threat (Not Movies, Popcorn)

Chinese and american cinema audiences

Could Chinese authorities be about restrict imports of the quintessential multiplex staple imported from the United States?

No, we are not talking about movies or Hollywood; the greatest American export success to Chinese cinemas does not come from California but from the fields in Nebraska.

Different Attitudes – Changing Habits

Nothing illustrates the difference between Chinese and American cinema goers more than the respective attitudes to 3D and popcorn. While American audiences are increasingly turning their back on 3D, their appetite for concessions appears undiminished, to the point of circuits like Marcus and Laemmle installing larger seats to accommodate the expanding backsides.

Meanwhile, the challenge for Chinese cinemas is how to get people to consume more concessions to match their seemingly insatiable appetite for 3D films and thus increase average revenue per cinema visit. But a change is already underway.

The importance of popcorn to the growing Chinese cinema sector was highlighted by the recent revelation by Dalian Wanda Group that nationwide popcorn sales for its Chinese cinemas totaled 390 million yuan (USD $62.8 million) last year.  This amounted to 72% of total concession sales and 9.5% of its total earnings of 4.1 billion yuan. (By way of comparison Wanda’s American chain AMC earned USD $1,847 million from ticket sales and USD $787 million from food and beverage in 2013, with concessions thus representing over 28% of total revenue.)

The push to pop in China is understandable because the ingredients for a bucket of popcorn cost just 3 yuan (US$0.48) while selling for 20 to 30 yuan (USD $3.22-$4.83). Huang Qunfei, general manager of the Chinese exhibitor Beijing New Film Association,  was quoted by Xinhua as saying, ”It is very common to have an 80-percent profit margin in selling popcorn due to its low costs. Although tickets sales make up the largest share of revenues, popcorn and snacks can sometimes contribute more to profits.”

Sales of popcorn accounted for as much as 20% of the total revenue of Chinese cinemas turnover in 2013. Wanda is the largest but not the only circuit benefitting from growing popcorn demand. Quoted in the Want China Times:

An executive at the Beijing UME Cineplex stated that popcorn and beverages were usually the only derivatives sold at domestic cinemas and that the complex’s popcorn sales accounted for 10% of its total revenue of at least 30 million yuan (US$4.8 million) last year.

However, the issue of concessions is complicated by the increasing tendency by Chinese cinemas to bundle cinema tickets, popcorn and sodas as one combo.

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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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UK Cinemas Are High Profile Targets For Anti-Sugar Campaigns

concession table UK

Calorie and sugar levels in UK cinema snacks

Having looked at challenges facing United States exhibitors relating to carbonated sugar beverages (Cinema’s Dangerous Addiction to Sodas), it is now time to examine the situation in the United Kingdom. The issue has come to the forefront with an article in the Daily Mail’s This Is Money section titled “The 35 teaspoons of sugar in a box of cinema popcorn: Cinemas slammed over supersized snacks“. The piece highlights the amounts of sugar found in the concessions offering of the UK’s Big Three (Cineworld, Odeon and Vue).

Coming hot on the heels of the new recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) to cut daily intake of sugar by half, the statistics in the Daily Mail’s article make for sobering reading. Effectively a UK cinema goer could consume his or her entire weekly sugar “allowance” in just one cinema visit, if they buy a soda and a popcorn. From the article:

A 200 gram box of toffee popcorn at Cineworld comes in at 840 calories and 121 grams of sugar, equivalent to about 30 teaspoons. Adding a 32oz Coca Cola carries an extra 407 calories and 101.2 grams of sugar, or 25 teaspoons.

A large bucket of sweet popcorn at Odeon cinemas amounts to 1,005 calories, which is more than half of a woman’s recommended daily intake. And at Vue, a 200 gram tub of toffee popcorn contains 138.9 grams of sugar, which is equivalent to about 35 teaspoons.

UK’s Weight Watchers has thrown its, um, weight behind this criticism, with a call to ban ‘super sized’ serving portions, as part of its ‘Slim Our Snacks’ campaign. Quoted in The Mirror:

Actress Patsy Kensit, 44, who is 9 stone (126 pounds or 57.2 kilos) after shedding 14 pounds with Weight Watchers, said: “The full-sugar fizzy drink and popcorn sizes are ridiculous.”

WeightWatchers’ Zoe Hellman said film fans should not be faced with “blockbuster-sized sugary and fatty foods”.

Cinemagoers Enjoying Concessions

While in the Daily Mail article:

Weight Watchers spokesman Angharad Massie said: ‘Cinemas are inherently family focused spaces, yet we all recognise them to be one of the worst spaces for promoting portions of high fat, salt and sugar snacks with little or no choice of healthier alternatives.’

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Cinema’s Dangerous Addiction to Sodas

The Killer Inside Me -  Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Killer Inside Me – Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The past couple of months have not only seen the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show and the premier of Stanley Kubrick’s nuclear satire Dr Strangelove: or, How I stopped Worrying And Learned to Love the Bomb. It is also 50 years since the landmark report Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General, delivered on Saturday 11 January 1964, so as not to rock the stock markets but also to get maximum publicity in the sunday newspapers. Five years later cigaret ads were banned from radio and television. You’ve probably seen it featured on Mad Men.

This anniversary should make exhibitors ponder whether they too will soon find themselves on the wrong side of history when it comes to sodas and sugary drinks. The initial battle may have been won by Big Soda, but it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a long war ahead.

Defending ‘Freedom’ and ‘Choice’

NATO President John Fithian delivered a robust response to New York Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to ban large cup sizes of sodas, in his keynote at CinemaCon’13, devoting an entire paragraph of his speech to it:

Cinema patrons deserve the freedom to choose the food and beverages they want. That important consumer choice extends to serving sizes as well. I congratulate our associates at NATO of New York for their successful law suit against Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to regulate consumer choice. If a patron wants to splurge and have a big Coke, they can. Or if they want a healthier option, they can make that choice too, without the government choosing for them.

That’s five uses of the word “choice” in just one paragraph, as well as the all-important term “freedom“, in framing the conflict as one between individuals’ freedom of choice against government attempt to regulate and remove that choice. This argument won the day in the courts, as reported by FJI’s Concessions Editor Anita Watts:

The biggest news of late on drink size restrictions in New York City is that they were struck down again. On July 30, the First Division of the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division upheld the first ruling against the ban, saying the proposed law was unconstitutional. In March of this year, New York Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling had ruled that New York City could not enforce the ban. His decision came a day before the ban was set to be enforced. Tingling called it arbitrary, capricious and beyond the city’s regulatory powers.

Exhibitor’s won the battle in courts and with Mayor Bloomberg replaced by Mayor de Blasio, who is more worried about the size of income inequality in NYC than by size of servings of Pepsi, the battle might seem to be over (1). But far from it.

NY, CA, SF, VT, HI and Mexico

This month it has become evident that the battle has merely shifted from New York and gone east and south, where it looks likely to find more fertile ground. California is the first US state where sodas could be forced to carry warning labels, just like cigaret packets do, according to the Sacramento Bee.

California would become the first state to require warning labels on sodas and other sugary drinks under a proposal a state lawmaker announced Thursday.

SB1000 would require the warning on the front of all beverage containers with added sweeteners that have 75 or more calories in every 12 ounces. The label would read: “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”

Picture that facing movie goers lining up to buy concessions or on the side of the 16oz cup of soda dispensed in the multiplex, blocking part of the Avengers 2 promotion. But with the law proposal enjoying the backing of both the California Medical Association and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, it is hard to argue against it. Not least as it does not technically infringe ‘choice’.

This is not a lone law attempt to tackle soaring obesity levels in North America:

- Vermont proposed a similar law last year, which is currently held up in the Committee on Human Services;

- San Francisco is proposing a referendum to approve a tax on soda and other sweetened drinks at a rate of two cents per ounce;

- Similar proposal to SF’s were previously put forward in Richmond and El Monte (a Los Angeles suburb), but were defeated by the drinks industry;

- A Soda Tax was approved in Maine in 2008 but repealed two years later following “a major lobbying effort from the American Beverage Association. Voters in Washington state similarly reversed their legislature in 2010″ (link);

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Popcorn In Slow Motion

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How Cinema Dining Conquered the World (And Soon New York Too)

Upscale Cinema Concessions

When Jeffrey Katzenberg is quoted as saying, “I am one hundred percent sure that these theaters are the future of movie-going,” you assume that he is talking about 3D, maybe with HFR and Immersive Audio. But in the case of this article in WSJ he is talking about another phenomenon that has grown in the shadow of digital – cinema dining.

Call it ‘bijou cinema’, ‘CinéBistro’ (™), or ‘CineDine’ (also ™), it is a phenomenon that rivals Imax for growth and even outpaces Immersive Audio installations. “These new theaters really up the quality of experience because they require a high degree of service that movie theaters have lost,” is Katzenberg’s opinion and the numbers seem to back him up.

By 2011 there were 300-400 such establishments in the US and today the figure is likely to have doubled, with the phenomenon starting to catch on overseas. As NATO President John Fithian said in his 2013 keynote speech at CineCon:

“The traditional popcorn and a Coke constitute our biggest sellers. But many modern cinemas offer additional items, such as salads and burgers, finer dining menus, and adult beverages. In many locations, it’s no longer “dinner and a movie”. It’s “dinner at the movies.”

By that he didn’t mean the perpetually re-heated hot dogs and nachos with a sticky yellow substance on them characterised as ‘cheese’. Taking its cue from the airlines industry, First Class has now arrived in the multiplex.

Cinema Fine Dining

There are two divergent trends when it comes to premium cinema experience, typically built around fine dining. The first is dedicated stand-alone cinemas with only one or a few screens that typically show art house or niche films, sometimes mixed with popular and family fare. These cinemas had traditionally had a bar that permitted the selling of alcoholic beverages or at least a premium coffee counter, which over time expanded its offering and migrated them into the screening room itself.

Famous examples of this are Alamo Drafthouse, which was founded in in Austin, Texas in 1997 and has now spread to nine locations. As the company’s Wikipedia page notes:

The company began as a second-run movie theater, and distinguished itself by the food and drink service offered inside the theater, including cold beers. The seating is arranged with rows of cabaret style tables in front of each row of seats, with an aisle between each row to accommodate waiter service. Customers write their orders on slips of paper, which are picked up by black-clad waiters.

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AMC Theatres Offers Federal Employees Free Popcorn

AMC Federal Employee Popcorn Promotion

Coming up with some unique angle on AMC Theatres free popcorn deal for federal employees is nearly impossible. Over the last 24-hours apparently every media outlet worth their salt (pun intended) must have been required to write nearly identical pieces on the cinema chain’s altruistic announcement.

We at least have an excuse for covering the four paragraph press release from AMC Theatres; Celluloid Junkie is specifically focused on motion picture exhibition and distribution. After all, a bucket of popcorn serves as our logo.

This is actually a devilishly brilliant move by AMC on a couple of fronts. First off, their press release was picked up by the likes of CNN, the Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post and… well, us, of course. By having the popcorn promotion piggy back off a hot political current event AMC’s media hits were off the charts. Secondly, many of the federal employees AMC is hoping to reach with the announcement have been sidelined since Tuesday by an unpopular government shutdown due to budgetary reasons. There are at least 800,000 furloughed workers who suddenly find themselves with some extra time on their hands. AMC is simply offering government employees one suggestion for any newfound, though unwanted, time off.

AMC didn’t exactly try to hide the fact that they are exploiting the situation. John McDonald, executive vice president of Operations at AMC, came out and admitted as much when he said:

“There are hundreds of thousands of federal workers whose lives are being impacted. While we can’t do anything to resolve gridlock in Washington D.C., we can provide a few hours of entertainment, and free popcorn, while they wait to get back to work.”

I suppose it’s a little much to suggest the promotion might even help sustain the economy during such trying times. But wouldn’t it be great if it could?

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Theatre Patron Killed For Eating Popcorn Too Loudly

Natalie Portman In Black Swan

Natalie Portman in "Black Swan"

Make a mental note – the next time you happen to be seeing a movie in Latvia, you might want to go with Raisinettes at the concession stand rather than popcorn.

Reports surfaced earlier this week that a 42-year-old moviegoer was shot and killed Saturday evening at a multiplex in Riga, the capital of Latvia. Police arrested a 27-year-old man and charged him with the murder.

According to witnesses, both individuals were sitting through a showing of the Oscar-nominated film “Black Swan”. During the course of the screening the suspect had argued with the deceased over how loudly he was chomping away at his popcorn. The assailant waited for the film to end before shooting the victim.

While “Black Swan” is a suspenseful, psychological thriller, it’s hard to believe that the nature of the content is to blame for the incident.

Samosa Shortage Hits Mumbai Theatres

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Samosas Are Popular At Mumbai Movie Theatres

In many countries around the world it is hard to think of going to the movies without the smell of popcorn wafting through the air. The salty snack is a staple for millions of moviegoers, not to mention a high margin profit center for cinema owners. But it turns out popcorn does not top the list of movie concessions in places such as Mumbai, India.

In fact, this past weekend theatre owners in Mumbai found themselves in short supply of their top selling treats – samosas.

After the recent death of a partner at A1 Samosa, the city’s top samosa supplier to cinemas, the masala delicacy went missing from concession stands. According to a story in the Times Of India, about 30,000 samosas are consumed daily in 90 cinemas throughout Mumbai.

At the popular Gaiety-Galaxy Cinemas, where an average of 2,600 samosas are sold each day, management was unprepared for the shortage. Like many theatres in Mumbai, they relied on samosa alternatives such as batata wadas, burgers and vegetable puffs. Some cinemas were able to find samosas from an alternate supplier.

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Report: Movie Theatre Popcorn Makes You Fat (Surprise!)

200911192223.jpg As if theatre owners didn’t have enough to worry about with studios shrinking release windows at every opportunity, they may soon have to start worrying about moviegoers bypassing the real bread and butter of any exhibitor’s business, or more appropriately the popcorn and butter. A new study conducted by the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest and released earlier today reports that the food items found at most movie theatre concession stands are incredibly unhealthy. Lab tests revealed that eating a medium popcorn and soda combo from Regal Cinemas was the equivalent of eating three McDonald’s Quarter Pounders topped with 12 pats of butter. For those with a more of an interest in nutrition, that’s 1610 calories and 60 grams (three days’ worth) of saturated fat.

The CSPI report also found that the candy sold by most exhibitors is no better. An extra large box of Junior Mints contains 570 calories and 8 grams of fat. Raisinets are 420 calories and 11 grams of fat. M&Ms may be tiny but they pack in 790 calories and more than a half a day’s supply of saturated fat (16 grams). Then there’s the calorie king of all movie theatre confections, Reese’s Pieces which are loaded with 1,160 calories and 35 grams of saturated fat. To hammer the point home the study compares the intake of such candy to eating a 16-once T-bone stake with a buttered baked potato as a side order. It’s a miracle that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’s heart was still able to glow after downing all those Reese’s Pieces in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster back in the early 1980s. The alien rightfully should’ve keeled over from a heart attack according to CSPI.

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