Tag Archives: NATO

Smartphones Are Killing the Cinema Experience

TCL Chinese

Last week a man got maced in the face for asking a fellow patron in a cinema to turn off their smartphone during the screening of a film. What is shocking is not that the attacker was a woman, or that it happened during a screening of an art-house film, or that the woman was escorted off the premises rather than arrested.

No, the single most shocking thing is the defending silence from the cinema industry in the face of such an attack. Not only have no lessons be learned since the fatal shooting earlier this year over an argument over smartphone use in the cinema, but there appears to be no willingness to tackle this issue.

The use of smartphones in cinemas is killing the cinema-going experience more effectively than camcorder piracy. Let me repeat: smartphones use in cinemas is killing the cinema-going experience more effectively than camcorder piracy.

If it is not tackled it will contribute to the further decline of cinema attendance. There is an urgent need for concerted industry action. Sadly, there appears to be a lack of leadership and willingness to challenge prevailing social norms.

An Attack at the Epicentre of Films

The attack itself took place in the heart of Hollywood, at a screening of a film considered an awards contender at an iconic cinema located just a block away from the Dolby Theatre (formerly the Kodak Theatre) where the Oscar statuettes will be handed out in a few short months.

The man was at an American Film Institute screening of Mr. Turner when he asked a woman to stop using her cell phone, an eyewitness told Mashable. After asking several times, he tapped the woman on her shoulder. The woman had a violent reaction to the shoulder tapping, and stood up, turned on her phone’s flashlight app, screamed at the man and threatened to call the police.

People asked her to turn off the phone, but she began going through her bag and produced a bottle of mace. She used the mace on the man, who left the theater with a companion. The woman continued to watch the movie, which never stopped playing, until security escorted her out about 20 minutes later.  LINK

It boggles the mind that the alleged attacker would sit down to continue enjoying the film after she had temporarily blinded a fellow cinema goer.

But more troubling is that the management in the cinema apparently did not see fit to call the police or escalate the matter, but simply escorted the woman off the premise. No word on whether she was refunded the cost of her ticket on her way out.

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New MPAA and NATO Wearables Policy Is As Much About Social Norms As It Is About Piracy

Sergey Brin Wearing Google Glass

Google’s Sergey Brin shows off Google Glass

In his classic 1835 treatise on American society, Democracy In America, french historian Alexis de Tocqueville wrote “Laws are always unstable unless they are founded on the manners of a nation; and manners are the only durable and resisting power in a people.”

This passage sprang to mind as I read the anti-theft policy update issued jointly on October 29th by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO). The new policy focuses on wearable devices like smart watches and Google Glass, the latter being an optical head-mounted display (OHMD) that attaches to prescription or custom eyewear. Many of these devices are equipped with a camera and thus the reason the MPAA and NATO felt obliged to revise the policy. Their statement read as follows:

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have a long history of welcoming technological advances and recognize the strong consumer interest in smart phones and wearable “intelligent” devices. As part of our continued efforts to ensure movies are not recorded in theaters, however, we maintain a zero-tolerance policy toward using any recording device while movies are being shown. As has been our long-standing policy, all phones must be silenced and other recording devices, including wearable devices, must be turned off and put away at show time. Individuals who fail or refuse to put the recording devices away may be asked to leave. If theater managers have indications that illegal recording activity is taking place, they will alert law enforcement authorities when appropriate, who will determine what further action should be taken.

The two organizations already had a standing policy against the use of mobile phones in theatres. It is simply being extended now to encompass wearable devices. You might even say the decision was a “no-brainer” accept for the confusion that might occur in reference to the cinema patron who decides to use “no brain” by wearing such a device into an auditorium in the first place.

Unfortunately people do indeed wear electronic devices into cinemas as was demonstrated in January when a moviegoer in Columbus, Ohio was detained by federal authorities for wearing Google Glass during a showing of “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”. The incident occurred when alert theatre personnel at the AMC Easton 30 noticed a patron wearing the “recording device” during the screening and contacted the MPAA, who in turn notified the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees movie theft.

Much in the way there were recently fuzzy policies and procedures on how to treat Ebola patients in the United States, there were no guidelines back in January for cinema operators on how to handle patrons with wearable devices such as Google Glass. It took the trade organizations a notably long time to update their anti-theft policy afterwards, however this may have more to do with the MPAA’s working relationship with Google and their desire to maintain it.

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US Department of Justice Seeks to Block NCM-Screenvision Merger

NCM DoJ Screenvision

The United States Department of Justice (DoJ) has filed a lawsuit with the aim of blocking the proposed USD $375 million merger between US cinema advertising majors National CineMedia Inc. (NCM) and Screenvision LLC. NCM admitted to being both “disappointed” and “surprised” by the decision, but predicted that the case could be overcome within “four months or possibly more,” setting the stage for what could be an interesting court battle.

The DoJ move shows that, whatever the merits of the deal, NCM has not made a strong enough case as to why “eliminating competition that has substantially benefitted movie theaters, advertisers and, ultimately, movie goers” (in the words of the DoJ) should be allowed to be replaced with a de-facto monopoly for cinema advertising in the US.

The DoJ’s Case Against the Merger

The DoJ issued a strongly worded press release on Monday 3rd of November after the DoJ Antitrust Division’s lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

“The proposed combination of NCM and Screenvision is a bad deal for movie theaters, advertisers and consumers.  This merger to monopoly is exactly the type of transaction the antitrust laws were designed to prohibit,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “If this deal is allowed to proceed, the benefits of competition will be lost, depriving theaters and advertisers of options for cinema advertising network services and risking higher prices to movie goers.”

As the press release points out, the proposed merger is between two majors that control cinema advertising in “88 percent of all movie theater screens in the United States through long-term, exclusive contracts.” What the press release does not say is that while this merger covers 88% of total US screen count, these screens represent a higher proportion of box office, cinema attendance and prime audience demographic, which is what matters to advertisers.

The DoJ is methodical in laying out why during the past few years competition in the US cinema advertising sector has been so strong:

Over the past two years, competition between NCM and Screenvision intensified as Screenvision became a particularly aggressive competitor, increasing its efforts to steal business from NCM by dramatically reducing the prices it charges advertisers and offering movie theaters a variety of attractive financial incentives. The complaint contains statements from NCM’s and Screenvision’s executives describing the competition between the two companies and the motivation to end that competition by entering into the transaction:

  • Aggressive competition between NCM and Screenvision for movie theaters led NCM to observe that “we need to buy [Screenvision] before either us or [Screenvision] does a stupid deal.”
  • By April 2014, NCM arrived at what it called a “Strategy Decision Crossroads.” As NCM had told its board it could either acquire Screenvision, which would give NCM the ability to “Control Selling Tactics,” including “Pricing,” or it could compete through more aggressive pricing and adding theaters to its network. NCM chose to buy out its competitor.
  • NCM viewed Screenvision’s “new strategy of undercutting [NCM’s] pricing by 50 percent (or more) [as] a direct threat to [NCM’s] business model” and “a very unusual strategy in a duopoly.”

The implication is that NCM is not pursuing the merger so much to unlock synergies and better compete with television and online advertising, as to get rid of pesky competition that is eating into its bottom line.

The DoJ believes the proposed merger would lead to “advertisers paying more for cinema advertising and movie theaters receiving less revenue,” which in turn is likely to “result in movie theaters having to raise ticket or concession prices to consumers or forego theater upkeep and improvements.”

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Daily Cinema Digest – Thursday 7 August 2014

Berr in cinema

The City Council of Bristol, Tenn, recently voted 3-2 in favour of allowing beer sales in the local cinema, clearing a first hurdle and in line with a larger national trend.

National Association of Theatre Owners Director of Media and Research Patrick Corcoran said wine, cocktails and suds in the cinema are becoming another selection at the concession stand at theaters across the U.S.

At last count, nearly 900 movie houses — including ones in nearby Asheville and Knoxville — have alcohol alongside the popcorn and Goobers in food vending areas or in restaurants confined within the theater, which allow consumers to take their meals and spirits in to see the show.

“It’s moving more into the mainstream as some of the larger theater companies are getting into it,” Corcoran said. “There’s a growing adult market. The percentage of the older population is growing and theaters are looking for better ways to attract that demographic. One of those is through alcohol sales and dine-in theaters.”  LINK

An interesting footnote is that one Hollywood studio was initially dead set against the idea of beer in cinemas. Have you already guessed which one?

Corcoran said independent movie theaters and larger chains began selling beer and wine in the mid 1990s, leading the Walt Disney Co. to not release its films to some locations because they did not want their family films associated with the sale of alcohol. Disney later relented after sales became successful in those areas with the beer concept.

Cineplex

Canada – Cineplex has announced its quarterly figures and Canada’s largest exhibitor noted year-on-year growth, but it as mainly the in-organic (screen acquisition) kind and the company is not immune to the malaise that is gripping the box office south of the border.

“Total revenue for the second quarter of 2014 increased 7.2%, or $21.9 million compared to the prior year, due largely to the 2013 acquisitions of 24 Atlantic theatres and digital signage company Cineplex Digital Networks,” said Ellis Jacob, President and CEO, Cineplex Entertainment. “The box office was impacted by the underperformance of a number of big summer titles and the shifting of release dates on certain films which resulted in a same store decrease in box office revenues of 4.2%, compared to the prior year quarter.”  LINK

The silver lining was “diversification in related businesses including media, digital commerce, gaming, food service and alternative programming” to counterbalance under-performing films, plus the SCENE loyalty program reached 5.8 million members (an increase of 200,000 members in the quarter).

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Premium VoD Just Killed the Cinema Release Window

100,000 viewings DSK movie

One single tweet was the final nail in the coffin of the cinema exclusivity window, given added poignancy by being in French; “100 000 locations en une semaine, rien ne sera plus comme avant” (’100,000 viewings in a week, nothing will be as it was’).  This was the message from Vincent Maraval, Co-Founder of Wild Bunch, the French production and distribution outfit behind the controversial “Welcome to New York”, which was released on video-on-demand without first screening in French cinemas.

In a country (France) that counts cinema admissions rather than box office takings for a film (something that sets most of Continental Europe apart from Anglo-Saxon markets like the United States and United Kingdom), this tweet added insult to injury for what was truly a milestone for the industry in slaughtering its last sacred cow.

The day-and-date release of films in cinemas and on-line is nothing new, but we have now reached a point where the sacrosanctity of the exclusive theatrical window is well and truly dead for the vast majority of films. The recent Cannes Film Festival and the release of the report “Circulation of European Films in the Digital Era” (funded by the European Parliament and European Commission) has thrown this into sharp focus, yet there are many other factors to consider.

Fighting Day-and-Date for Years

“It’s the biggest threat to the viability of the cinema industry today,” is how John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), put it in 2006 in response to the day-and-date release of the Steven Soderbergh directed “Bubble”, which was released simultaneously on DVD, pay-per-view and in cinemas. Or rather, in a handful of cinemas. In Landmark Theatres alone, to be precise, the sister company of Magnolia Pictures, which produced and distributed the film, both owned by Mark Cuban.

Commenting on the experiment six years later, Steven Soderbergh opined:

On “Bubble” and “The Girlfriend Experience”, we really weren’t able to find out if the experiment worked because frankly, we were blackballed by all the chains. We couldn’t get any screens outside of Landmark, even though we offered to cut them in on some of the VOD and video revenue. They just blackballed us. Part of the point of going day-and-date is that somebody who lives in a place where that kind of movie wouldn’t typically open could watch it through VOD because they’ve read about it, because this whole thing of having to sell a movie multiple times is really f–king boring. We never got to find out if that worked or not because what does Landmark have, 75 screens or something? The movie was not allowed to be shown outside that group of theaters so I don’t know how day-and-date works.

Fithian was skilled in rallying his members to boycott the film, even though he knew that releasing a small independent film with no stars on DVD the same day as it plays in a few art-house screens was not the same existential threat as, say, releasing “Oceans 12″ (also directed by Soderbergh) on all platforms on the same day. But what it did represent was the thin end of the wedge, which is why Fithian was willing to risk coming up with a Jack Valenti-VCR-Boston-Strangler-type of quote.

Soderbergh Bubble

Bubble: “the biggest threat to the viability of the cinema industry today”

The key word in the Fithian quote is ‘today’ and where his greatest success lies was in killing off the discussion and experimentation for another half decade. Fithian is neither a technophobe nor is NATO blind to the direction in which the industry is heading. In response to Soderbergh’s interview, Fithian wrote, “Over the past two years NATO and our members have stated publicly that distributors should sit down privately with their exhibitor partners and their creative partners in dialogue about how the industry moves forward together.” But everything changed in early 2014.

The most serious threat wasn’t “Bubble” in 2006 but the MPAA-FCC exchange in 2009, known by the exhibitor-baiting headline, “MPAA Seeks FCC Okay For Transmission of First Run Movies Directly To Consumers”. While seemingly about day-and-date, we wrote at the time that “the MPAA may simply be hiding behind the concept of protecting content during shortened release windows as camouflage for their true motive; securing high definition digital content as it is distributed into the electronic ether of the home by controlling which devices can playback and display the content.”

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Daily Cinema Digest – Tuesday 22 April 2014 (post-Easter Bumper Issue)

ABC Brussels cinema

Belgium: Save the Brussels ABC! One of the last 35mm adult film cinemas in the world closed last year when the ABC in Brussels shut its doors.  There is now a campaign to save it and turn it into an art-house cinema with exotic flare.  You can donate by PayPal. The campaign is 47% towards its target.

For over 40 years the ABC cinema screened adult films from 35mm – one of the last such cinemas not to have converted to digital – but in 2013 it shut its doors for the final time.

Earlier this year, a group from three of Belgium’s leading film and heritage organisations – independent cinema and archive Cinema Nova, festival organiser and programmer Offscreen/vzw Marcel and movie theatre heritage specialist La re?tine de Plateau – devised an ambitious plan to rescue the ABC for a life after porn.

Drawing on their experience, they believe that the ABC is the perfect size for repertory screenings and intimate-scale live events, and so they created the CINEACT Foundation, to raise €60,000 (approximately £50,000 / $83,000) to take out a year-long lease on the ABC.  LINK

Palace Theatre Orpheum Los Angeles

USA (CA): A great example of how to bring back a cinema from the dead and make it relevant for a new age and neighbourhood is provided by the former Orpheum (what an appropriate name) in Downtown Los Angeles, first opened in 1927 but in decline for a long time.

It stopped showing films 25 years ago, and then became the base for notorious television evangelist Gene Scott, who passed away in 2005. The entire building was sold in 2011 and earlier this year opened as the newest branch of the Ace Hotel. The upstairs offices were converted into bedrooms and the elaborate cinema at the core of the building was reopened with a Valentine’s Day show from Spiritualized.

As well as music, bringing movies back to the cinema was core to the brand’s rejuvenation of the building. The Ace got in touch with Cinespia, the Los Angeles-based classic movie screening organisation, to help. Cinespia founder John Wyatt had previously hosted one-off shows in the Downtown cinemas he calls “vintage jewels”, including La Dolce Vita at the ornate Los Angeles Theatre and Blade Runner at the Million Dollar Theatre, situated across from the Bradbury Building, which is featured heavily in the film. “I got really excited, one, because nobody was going to turn the building into loft apartments and two, because they were an interesting brand who might want to take some risks,” explains Wyatt.  LINK

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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!

CinemaCon Refreshes Its Mobile App

CinemaCon 2014 Mobile App

This year’s CinemaCon is just around the corner (March 24 – 27) and organizers of the world’s largest convention for movie theatre owners are once again providing show attendees with an informative smartphone mobile app.

Canadian based Soma Media developed the app for the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) using their EventKaddy platform. The free app is similar to those made available for CinemaCon in past years. In fact, if you’re like me and never deleted the app from your phone, all you have to do is update it to the latest and greatest version.

This year’s app is available now for both iPhone and Android. Attendees with Blackberry or Windows devices can access the HTML5 web app through their phones’ browser.

NATO, which runs CinemaCon, got Fandango, the web ticketing company, to sponsor the app. It features the most recent event schedule, a directory of trade show exhibitors along with maps of the trade show floor and convention area, and information on Caesars Palace where the conference is being held. There are even ways to see what CinemaCon is posting on its Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Though the app is very basic, it gets the job done. I personally found the iPhone version to be quite useful during last year’s CinemaCon. I especially appreciated the push notifications the app sent, alerting me to the start of various conference events.

Dolby Acquisition of Doremi Makes Perfect Sense – Here’s Why

Dolby Doremi Logo

The motion picture industry jump started their week with the surprising news that Dolby Laboratories, Inc. had reached an agreement to acquire Doremi Labs, a leading manufacturer of professional audio visual equipment, for USD $92.5 million in cash. The deal also includes a four-year earn out of USD $20 million which is contingent upon performance and other factors. As is customary, regulatory bodies both in the United States and internationally will need to approve the deal, though the acquisition should be complete by the end of 2014.

Dolby hardly needs an introduction. They’ve been providing audio and imaging technologies to the motion picture, broadcast and music industries for just shy of 50 years. The San Francisco based company is best known their proprietary noise-reduction systems, though they have also been at the forefront of multichannel audio, compression and broadcast transmission technologies. Dolby has annual revenue that has climbed from USD $327.9 million in 2005 to USD $909.6 million last year and net income that has grown from USD $52.2M to USD $189.2 million during the same time period. Its best year for both revenue and net income was 2011 when it rang up USD $961 million and USD $309.2 million respectively. The company’s current market cap is USD $4.2 billion.

Doremi Labs, founded in 1985, may not be as much of a household name as Dolby, though over the past 14 years it has steadily built a solid reputation within the industry as the manufacturer of digital cinema servers. Its servers and integrated media block (IMB) is installed in over 47,000 58,000 movie auditoriums around the world and has been purchased by exhibitors of all sizes. The company, which has offices in Burbank, CA and France, also markets broadcast and post-production equipment as well as closed caption devices. As a private company Doremi doesn’t report its revenue and earnings.

If one needed another sign that the global digital cinema conversion was coming to an end, beyond Hollywood studios ceasing the distribution of film prints, there is none better than this deal. Here is why we believe this acquisition is a smart move and makes perfect sense for both Dolby and Doremi:

Doremi

As mentioned, after more than a decade the rollout of digital cinema technology around the world has reached a saturation point. According to a February 8th presentation delivered by Media Salles in Berlin on February 8th, upwards of 87% of the world’s movie screens have converted to digital projection as of January 1st of this year. Doremi has grown quite steadily due to the brisk sales of its digital cinema technology over the past decade. While the company brought in revenue from the sale of pro-A/V equipment and technologies, the lion’s share of its earnings is likely derived from d-cinema related products.

Doremi would have seen sales volumes of existing digital cinema product lines plateau (if it hadn’t already) and potentially decrease during the next three to five years. Demand for d-cinema equipment (servers, IMBs and projectors) will decline and new sales will be dependent on the construction of new theatres (new builds) and technology refresh cycles. This in turn leads to the risk of a loss in market share should exhibitors select equipment from other manufacturers.

From all appearances Doremi was in good shape to weather a cyclical sales plateau or decline. The company, headed by Camille Rizko its founder and President, was right-sized with only 130 employees. In addition, Doremi’s strong engineering team is working on a slate of new products that include new hardware and software. An example of their handiwork is CaptiView, a closed caption system which was introduced a few years ago but the market for which is growing. Add to this the extensive and multinational dealership network Doremi has built up to sell such products.

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Michigan’s Rialto Theater Calls Attention to the Endangered Future of Small Town Cinemas

On Wednesday the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed piece by Jordan Stancil, who operates the Rialto Theater in Grayling, Michigan, providing him a forum to plead the case for saving independent cinemas, specifically those in small towns. With the conversion from 35mm film to digital projection, such theatres are finding it difficult or impossible to afford digital cinema equipment and are in danger of shuttering.
As we near the completion of the digital cinema conversion in North America, and as distributors (purposefully or forcibly) end the support of 35mm film the issue has slowly been gaining wider attention. Stories with headlines such as “Small Cinemas Struggle As Film Fades Out Of The Picture“, which ran on National Public Radio in January, are sure to be popping up more frequently, just as a year or two earlier the same outlets were running stories like “Ohio Movie House Screens Its Last Reel-To-Reel“.

It’s obvious why the Los Angeles Times would want to jump on the band wagon of this matter given their ties to a city dominated by the motion picture industry. They even went a step further by allowing a theatre owner to make a direct and impassioned appeal to readers. What’s more, the essay is as well written as the “Restore the Rialto Theatre” Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign it is meant to promote. This is despite a few suggested solutions which are non-starters or need more thought. More on this in a moment.

Presently no one is certain exactly how many cinemas are facing closure if they don’t convert to digital. The National Association of Theatre Owners put the number between three and four thousand screens at the Inter-Society meeting this past January. Like the Rialto, many of these theatres are located in small, remote towns of only a few thousand residents.

What makes the Rialto such an interesting case is that the cinema was originally founded in 1915 by Stancil’s great-grandfather. The theatre has remained family run throughout its history, which includes a fire that destroyed the original building. Before sound was brought to movies, Stancil’s great-grandmother provided piano accompaniment during showings. It very well may have taken the care, love and appreciation of a family to keep the Rialto afloat for almost 100 years. As Stancil explains in his piece, that family extends beyond his own to the citizens of Grayling for whom the theatre means quite a lot:

“When I consider what the Rialto means to this town of 1,884, I sense what a blow to rural America this loss of movie houses will be. The independent movie theater retains an outsize role in these communities that is quite unlike that of a city or suburban multiplex. In Grayling, our Art Deco theater (rebuilt in 1930 after a fire) is the architectural landmark on the main street of town. It is the only venue that draws large crowds to downtown year in and year out. Quite apart from any historical importance, closing this theater would irreparably deform the center of our town.

There is more at stake than just the fate of a speck on the map of northern Michigan. Small-town movie theaters still have a national purpose: the integration of far-flung places into our national culture. Every time we show a blockbuster on opening night, every time we screen a documentary or a foreign film, every time our audience feels empathy for a character the likes of whom they might never encounter in real life, we are issuing a reminder: yes, this little town is part of the wider world.”

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