CinemaCon 2021: International Market Panel Features Optimistic Studio and Exhibition Executives

By J. Sperling Reich | September 9, 2021 2:41 pm PDT
CinemaCon 2021 - Globally Speaking Panel - Mooky Greidinger, Veronika Kwan Vandenberg, Nancy Tartaglione, Alejandro Ramirez Magana, Mark Viane

Traditionally, the first day of any CinemaCon (and ShoWest before it) has been reserved for International Day; a full program of seminars geared towards international attendees who usually arrive in Las Vegas a day before the conference begins. With COVID-19 travel restrictions preventing most international delegates from heading to CinemaCon this year, the show’s organizers ditched their annual International Day. Instead, the event kicked off during the last week of August with a panel discussion focused on the international movie market.

If a single panel discussion seems like a poor substitute for a day filled with educational seminars, we should note that the panelists were an all-star group of top executives from major Hollywood studios and leading exhibition chains. The “Globally Speaking: A Look at the International Market,” included Mooky Greidinger, CEO of Cineworld Group; Veronika Kwan Vandenberg, the President of Distribution at Universal Pictures International; Alejandro Ramírez Magaña, CEO of Cinépolis; and Mark Viane, President of International Theatrical Distribution at Paramount Pictures.

Moderating the panel was Nancy Tartaglione, the International Box Office Editor of Deadline. She opened the session by pointing out that the last time CinemaCon was held in 2019, the global box office went on to earn a record breaking USD $42 billion. International grosses accounted for 73% of that, amounting to USD $30 billion, proving the significance of cinema markets outside North America. So far this year, that figure is up to 82%, though it’s hard to know how to interpret such data since the pandemic continues to interrupt cinema-going in various parts of the world.

Because so many professionals were unable to be present at CinemaCon this year, we’re providing the following transcript of the “Globally Speaking” panel. It has been edited for clarity, readability and length.

Nancy Tartaglione: It’s been a rough time for everybody and there’s a lot of hand wringing going on. But I don’t think anybody sitting here is really too terrified of the demise of the theatrical business, or doesn’t believe that it will survive. Especially with so much growth potential still out there, so many markets that still have room to grow. But what I wonder for my exhibitors here, what is the current concern level over the potential of increased dynamic windowing as studio platforms continue to expand globally?

Mooky Greidinger: I think in general, we are after the lowest point. We know there are different COVID variants that are coming and going, and there will be probably more, but I think we are at the stage now where we should learn to live with COVID, not to run away from COVID. And I think altogether if we look at the numbers, and I think we have a very good example just from the last weekend, and we saw a movie which is holding very well, when it gets a window. I think that we should be optimistic looking at the lineup, which is coming from the studios in the coming months. And all together, things will settle. And I’m very optimistic about the future of this industry and the theatrical business in particular.

Alejandro Ramrírez Magaña: I just want to echo what Mooky said. I think a prerequisite for people to go back to cinemas is for them to feel safe. So as we finish this third COVID wave some experts predict that it will become an endemic thing, you know, like illness like our seasonal flu. I think people will definitely come back. We did a survey in Mexico and one of the top things that people said that they missed during the pandemic is going to the movies. And we’ve seen that when the contagion rates go down, people come back to the movies in big numbers. And I think the windowing experimentation that we’ve seen throughout this period, which is understandable, given the unpredictability of the whole pandemic, I think a lot of lessons have been learned during this period that I’m sure will come out in this discussion. I still firmly believe that our window of exclusivity of some period for a film in cinemas, I think that’s the model to maximize the return for a film. I think a lot of experimentation has been going on and may continue. But I think a lot of lessons are there, that have to do with even things like piracy.

Nancy Tartaglione: Sure. I think you said you had some interesting figures out of Mexico on piracy. Both of your studios have released giant theatrical only films in the last couple of months between “F9” and “A Quiet Place 2” and there’s also been some dynamic windowing domestically. And one of those issues that comes up with that is piracy. Because as soon as you get something on a high quality streaming platform, then there’s a pristine copy out there. Mooky, we’ve talked about that before as well. What has been the studio experience on that? Have you seen an impact from that?

Veronika Kwan Vandenberg: Well, in terms of “F9,” we took a release strategy that was tailored to each market, depending on COVID recovery. And that was really important in terms of maximizing the box of grosses internationally, which is why we had multiple territories go out weeks before domestic. Based on that it was really important to protect the movie against piracy as best as we could. And we put additional measures into place in each of those markets, to make sure that we were maximizing the film theatrically and protecting it as much as we could. At the end of the day, we were really pleased to see that the piracy levels were relatively low.

Nancy Tartaglione: Is that partly because you’re still recording something in a cinema if you’re pirating it at that point?

Veronika Kwan Vandenberg: That’s right.

Nancy Tartaglione: Yeah. Okay. And Mark, I guess, same thing.

Mark Viane: I certainly agree with Veronica in terms of this. And each and every market is going to have a different sort of window. Every market plays very different for how long they normally stay in theaters. I think, you know, we’re going to continue to see whichever window we do set here in the future, it will be a window that’s going to be appropriate for that marketplace. And then when it comes to the piracy, yes, certainly, you know, we saw piracy, and listen, we still have eight markets to release on “A Quiet Place” because those markets are still not open. So, certainly piracy will affect those types of markets. But because it was not on a streamer we obviously had a different type of quality of piracy on that.

Nancy Tartaglione: So speaking to that Alejandro, do you want to maybe talk a little bit about what you…

Alejandro Ramrírez Magaña: Sure, one very influential journalist in Mexico, Gaby Meza, she has about 220,000 followers on Twitter. She’s a film journalist and an influencer. And she just asked a very simple question. How did you watch “Black Widow?” And 28% said, I watched it in a movie theater, 13% said I watched it on Disney+, 32% said I did not watch it, and 27% said I watched it pirated. If you exclude the people that did not see it, that means that 40% of people that saw it, saw it pirated. And that’s a lower bound, because people are usually reluctant to reveal that they saw it pirated. And it’s 25,113 respondents. So it’s a big survey, you know, over 25,000 people. That gives you a clue of how bad piracy is, in emerging markets when you have day-and-date release, now you have a pristine copy available on minute one, and in all available languages. You know, in the past, that is something they had to do with camcording to get the languages of each country. Now they get all the languages in one go and in a pristine format. So evidently, you know, the pirates are making a lot of money with day-and-date releases.

Nancy Tartaglione: And that’s something that is neither good for exhibition nor for the studios. Everybody loses in that case. So throughout this, how has the nature of your relationship between distribution and exhibition evolved or changed? We’ve talked about this a little bit in the past. Has the pandemic created new opportunities?

Veronika Kwan Vandenberg: We’ve definitely found a lot of opportunities to be in greater partnership throughout the pandemic. You know, it’s been a difficult time for everybody in the industry. We feel that communication during this time has been absolutely key to all of our success and we’ve worked together hand in hand; in the UK on a PVoD deal and different things that we’ve been discussing throughout the business.

Nancy Tartaglione: How do you feel about your relationship with the studios right now?

Mooky Greidinger: Everybody understands the relationship between exhibition and studios is a partnership. At the end of the day, both sides need one another, we’re working together. A balance should be found. And I want to go back for one minute to the piracy issue just to conclude what Alejandro was saying. You know, we were all debating between ourselves and the studios, how many people we will lose to the home entertainment when they go day-and-date. But nobody really imagined that the big losers here are both of us, because we lose to the pirates. Because we’re saying, “Okay, we will lose 20% of the attendance, 30% of the attendance, in favor of this Disney+ or Paramount+ or whatever.” But this is not the case. The pirated movie is a loss for the studio and for us, and this problem is growing in numbers because of the high quality. And my guys have showed me that the minute Disney+ shows a movie in the US, after two hours, there is a full pirated copy in China.

Piracy has no borders. It doesn’t matter where Disney+ operates. So I think the piracy is the thing that will return the model to where we will have a window, though not as long as it was. But together with the studios, as Veronica said, we’re discussing this. And we’re also testing, it’s a new reality. But I think we’re getting there and we will have the new normal, relatively soon, maybe early 2022. It will be similar with the studios and the exhibitors, because you can’t give a different exhibitor a different window in the same country. And you can’t have just one studio with 10 days and the other studio is 40, so it needs to be something that will be the new normal. And I think it’s going to happen soon.

Nancy Tartaglione: Do you? Mark, how do you feel about that about the partnership between exhibition and distribution? The studios?

Mark Viane: You know, listen, everyone’s backs are against the wall right now. And this is a time when you could, in theory… everyone could be fighting for themselves. But I think the important thing is, as Mooky said, it is a partnership. And we’ve had really tough conversations about some of the issues going on. But we’ve all kind of come and met in the middle, and we’re trying things that we haven’t done before. And having that happen during a pandemic, is I think it’s just an amazing sign that shows what kind of partnerships we really do have, because we’re all fighting for the same thing. We want to get people back in cinemas. And that’s what we’re doing.

Nancy Tartaglione: So, something actually slightly positive to have come out of this whole experience?

Mark Viane: If you could say there’s a positive thought in this, sure.

Nancy Tartaglione: And Alejandro?

Alejandro Ramrírez Magaña: I agree. I think at the beginning of the pandemic, we were all saying, “We’ll get through this together”. We didn’t know how long this would be. So at the beginning, I think we were communicating constantly. As this started becoming longer and longer then we started hearing of movies going to streaming platforms, films that were being sold. And, of course, it’s very disappointing for exhibitors. But on the other hand, it’s understandable because everybody’s trying to survive in this environment. We’re glad that of the 25 large titles that we had scheduled for 2020, only six got sold to streamers, and most were kept for 2021. Few have moved to 2022. But there’s been a dialogue like everyone else said, to try to work things out and to try to survive and learn together, but also cooperate in this very difficult environment.

Nancy Tartaglione: In terms of dating, because international, it’s become particularly recently with what’s happened in Australia, and opening and closing and some of the other markets feels like whack-a-mole to a degree where, you know, on Monday, a market is open, and you have a movie coming out on Friday, but on Wednesday that market shuts, or part of it closes down, or you know, 65% of it closes down…

Mark Viane: We’ve all experienced it.

Nancy Tartaglione: Yeah, and same for exhibition. I mean, how are you dealing with dating going forward? Is it on an hourly basis? Is it a daily basis? You know, how are you kind of projecting? And how are you working with the individual markets? Because every market is different.

Veronika Kwan Vandenberg: It literally is on an hourly basis. I mean, it’s hugely challenging for all the teams around the world. We have to continue to be nimble and look at every single situation and assess each development, market by market. And I think one of the big things that’s been really important to us is the partnership with our agencies to make sure that we have a lot of flexibility so that we can lift and shift campaigns if we need to, working very closely hand-in-hand with domestic to make sure that we have some sort of a global strategy that makes sense. And again, just going back to the “F9” discussion, that was a huge discussion that went on studio-wide in terms of, “Does this make sense to go out five weeks before domestic in a market like China and Russia, for example?” And at the end of the day, we’re also working very closely with the filmmakers, and then hand-in-hand with exhibition. But it’s been very challenging, and we’ve learned a lot in the process.

Nancy Tartaglione: Can you give us an example?

Veronika Kwan Vandenberg: Well, for one thing, a Go/No Go date is very important. And once you have that Go / No Go date, making sure that you have the right process in place, the right people in place, again, the agency partnership, making sure that we have a lot of support there, and flexibility in the campaigns that we’ve been creating. You know, we’ve been working more and more towards digital. I think everybody has talked about this. But there’s more flexibility there than the traditional media that you would spend.

CinemaCon 2021 - Globally Speaking Panel - Mooky Griedinger, CEO of Cineworld and Veronika Kwan Vandenberg, President of International Distribution at Universal Pictures International
Mooky Griedinger, CEO of Cineworld (left) and Veronika Kwan Vandenberg, President of International Distribution at Universal Pictures International during the Globally Speaking panel at CinemaCon 2021 (Photo: J. Sperling Reich – Celluloid Junkie)

Nancy Tartaglione: And for the exhibitors in terms of when a market just shuts down, or they’re, you know, partial closures or the movies have come off the schedule in a short window… How has that been for you guys to deal with?

Mooky Greidinger: Look, I think many of the people that are sitting here know how difficult it is because on one hand, we have the issue from the studio side, which is the lineup of the movies and movies are moving. We for example, at Cineworld Group, took the decision when Bond was postponed last October, to close our cinemas again. Some of our competition decided not to close. Everybody has his own elements of when you to make the decision what you do. But one of the things that for the international companies like us that we operate in 10 countries, and Alejandro will also say this, you know, we have different tools from every government. Where one prime minister thinks the best thing is that kids will not be allowed to go to the movies. The other one thinks we need to keep five seats between one transaction and another. The third one thinks we should not sell popcorn, you know, it’s crazy. And you’re sitting and you’re dealing on a daily basis with the territories.

Now it’s quieted down a little bit. And now we are almost with no restrictions in most of the countries. So it’s good, but at the peak, it was a disaster because it was every day changes, you know, so if we are not allowed to sell popcorn, do we close the cinemas? Or do we open them? It was really very, very frustrating, but all together, things are now relaxing, I think that almost no restrictions, they will be coming now a wave that we will need to show a proof of vaccination probably in many of the countries, which in the beginning will create some chaos. I’m saying this from the experience we had already in Israel. At the end of the day it is not a bad thing and will create some stability to the situation. Knowing how to live with the COVID is something that we will need to learn how to do.

Nancy Tartaglione: Talking about the changing of the schedules and the jockeying around and all of that from a studio standpoint, how difficult has it been to kind of maintain momentum? Because we’ve had so many stops and starts? Are you seeing there is a light at the end of the tunnel? What sort of lessons have you learned from this stop and go and how much does that affect what you’re looking at, say two years down the road?

Mark Viane: The one thing is dating. Thankfully, it’s not stressful any longer. Listen, I think Veronica used the perfect word; you have to be nimble. That’s the buzzword. You have to be so nimble in everything that you do. Because every single week it is changing. And depending on the mixture of markets that are either open or closed or closed for a few weeks, you have to make decisions on that far enough out before you hit that Go/No Go date. So you can start your campaign and make sure that you’re giving the movie everything that it deserves. Is there anything to learn? There’s not because you’re constantly evaluating on a weekly basis. You’re seeing the updates of whatever country is open or closed, and you just have to roll with that and then figure your strategy out. And then let’s say you have three weeks before you really have to make a decision, in that three weeks, so much will have changed that you just have to continue to assess it on a weekly basis. And that is the best thing you can possibly do. Plus, you’re looking at what other movies are releasing during that time. Could you end up with the marketplace to yourself? Do you take that risk? So you’re constantly looking at those aspects in order to make the best decision.

Veronika Kwan Vandenberg: I would just add to that it’s a long game. We’re releasing movies over many, many months and sometimes over the course of the year and we just have to be patient and see what makes sense market by market but it really is a long game.

Nancy Tartaglione: In terms of right now, we have Southeast Asia except for Singapore closed. I mean, what kind of impact has that been for you guys?

Veronika Kwan Vandenberg: Well, it’s an extremely unfortunate situation, the Southeast Asian markets have been some of the worst hit by COVID. And they’re some of the strongest emerging markets, you know, especially countries like Indonesia and Malaysia and the Philippines. And they’re also markets that have been, in terms of their cultures, have had a very strong movie going culture. So it’s very hard to predict what’s going to happen over time. It’s going to take a while for them to come back. But I do believe, as we’ve seen in other countries, when people come out of lockdown, and they love going to movies, they will come back and these markets will recover.

Nancy Tartaglione: Specifically with Indonesia, which was really, really growing and has such a massive population to serve, how much of a setback for those markets that were emerging that were really coming along and then had to be shut down? Do you expect them to get right back up and keep going,

Veronika Kwan Vandenberg: I don’t think anybody gets right back up and going again these days. It will definitely take time. But I do believe they will come back.

Alejandro Ramrírez Magaña: I can add something on Southeast Asia. In the first re-opening, back in September of last year, of the 19 markets in which we’re present, India made the fastest recovery. So India had the highest productivity of all the 19 markets and was doing very well. And then, of course, the Delta variant arose in India. It was the first country to shut down all over again in April, and we just opened again in August. So we were shut down from April to August. But even in just the two weeks that we’ve been open again, the recovery has been very, very quick. And again, India is on top of our charts in terms of productivity per screen. Then the epicenter of the pandemic moved to Southeast Asia and we have operations in Indonesia. And Indonesia had not such a fast recovery as India, but they were on the way of recovery, and then everything shut down again. So of all the 19 markets in which we’re in, were open reopen back in 18. Only Indonesia is fully closed.

But in some of these markets, like Peru, we were closed for 18-months in a row. We only opened two weeks ago, and we closed in March of last year. So from March of 2020 to August of 2021. And yet, we cannot sell food and beverage in Peru. So we hesitated whether we should open or not because we were doing not even a breakeven analysis, but a loss even analysis. How do you lose less? Open or closed? Because you’re going to lose in both, you know, instances, but it’s just how do you minimize burning cash and of all the regulations as Mooky was alluding to. Because even within a country you have wide diversity of regulations, according to each state and municipality. Some of our Japanese colleague exhibitors shared in a GCF call a few months ago that in Japan, they forbade selling a large popcorn, not small and medium, but large. And I’m like, “This is absurd. Why large?” Because people take longer to eat the large popcorn. They analyzed that small and medium were okay, but large popcorn is not okay. So just to give you an idea about the creativity of regulators.

Nancy Tartaglione: Let’s talk about something slightly more positive. What is driving people back to the movies? I mean, is it more weighted to the vaccination rates? Is it more weighted to the product? How are you seeing it right now?

Mooky Greidinger: I will say that the first thing that drives people back to the cinema is when they miss the cinema. And we see it clearly when people are coming to the movies. Safety is very important and we made a huge effort to keep the cinema safe and really sterilized and do whatever we could do from our side. But people first of all came back and said, they’re happy to be back because they miss the experience of going to the movies. And this should be maybe the most encouraging fact for us because it shows this business is here to stay. Someone many, many years ago said to the exhibitors you are as good as your next movie. The product, of course, drives a lot of the things and the minute we have the movies, we showed good results. And we are showing better and better results. We talked about it so many times, about the difference of experiencing a movie in the cinema and outside of the cinema. There are surveys today that are showing, for example, there’s a famous one that is floating around the industry about “Wonder Woman 2” and the amount of people that really enjoyed the movie from the people that saw it in the cinemas is double than the amount of people that enjoyed it when they saw it at home. So, it’s a different experience. It’s also the fact that you don’t see the movie alone. If you see a movie, a big comedy or big action movie, with two or 300 people around you. It’s a different experience altogether. And this should be encouraging for all of us.

Nancy Tartaglione: What kinds of movies are working, do you find internationally right now? Is it varying region to region?

Alejandro Ramrírez Magaña: I’ll tell you what’s working in Latin America. In Mexico and other Latin American countries horror is working very well, “The Conjuring 3,” Mexico was the number one market outside of the US. And it did USD $17 million box office versus USD $21 million of the previous “Conjuring.” So almost, I mean, very close, then “A Quiet Place 2” did very well it did USD $6.7 million, box office in Mexico, compared to USD $7.7 million of the previous one. “The Unholy” did very well above USD $6 million too, and also “Forever Purge” worked very well. And of course, the big action blockbusters I mean, “Fast 9” and “Godzilla vs. Kong” are number one and two film in the entire Latin American region in every single market. And the films that have suffered a little bit more are more adult content and family content. Because what horror and the action films have in common is that they appeal to a demographic of 18 to 25-year-olds, who are the most adventurous and don’t feel a lot of fear about not being vaccinated yet. But family films and more adult films have suffered more. We saw some glimmers of success with a few familiar films like “Cruela.” “Space Jam” did okay. “Paw Patrol” did very well, this last weekend, it was the number one film in Mexico this week.

Nancy Tartaglione: And “Paw Patrol,” it’s kind of funny, because France has been having this issue with the health pass. And you know, you have to either show a negative test or that you’ve been vaccinated. And you guys [Paramount] were number one, on your opening weekend, even taking out a local movie in its second weekend that was anticipated to be a huge film. So is part of that because it’s skewing to younger kids who don’t have to be vaccinated, and they’re going with older people who are vaccinated?

Mark Viane: Yeah, I mean, that is part of it, obviously. In France with the health pass, the first two weeks of the health pass, were a little bit shaky. The audiences were not returning really in the numbers that we thought, but I think that they’ve gotten used to it. They’re honestly one of the best cinema going audiences in the world, and they want to really come back. So it made more people get vaccinated, which was part of the goal from the government. I think it’s really starting to pay off. “Paw Patrol” certainly has really played great for young families. I think parents felt either they’re being so pestered at home to get out and go to the movie, they said, “Yes, let’s just go.” Or, you know, they’re feeling comfortable enough, because as we all know, there haven’t been any cases reported coming out of a cinema. And I think that that’s a really strong message which resonates around each and every market.

Nancy Tartaglione: What have you been seeing working internationally Veronica?

Veronika Kwan Vandenberg: Definitely branded event movies, working internationally is usually the case, but especially now. We’ve certainly had great success with “Fast 9” and we were really confident again, also going into what Alejandro is saying about teens and 18 to 25-year-olds, it’s the right audience and the right kind of movie. We felt that you needed to have the right kind of franchise branded movie to bring movie goers back. The movie has done USD $525 million and continues to roll out internationally. We feel really good about that. But certainly, branded event movies. In Latin America, we also had “Croods” and “Boss Baby” internationally. And going back to the health pass, you know, again, less affected by the health pass, because in France, in particular, under 18-year-olds do not need to show a health pass. So, it’s been helpful on that front too.”

Nancy Tartaglione: What I want to talk about also is going forward, because what is the messaging? Mark, you brought up a good point about no COVID cases having come from the cinemas, but going forward what is the messaging to really resuscitate this business? I mean, what do each of you believe that that is? And how can exhibition, sort of enhance the experience and eventize the experience for audiences? Because that’s sort of a perennial question, but I think becomes more important at this point.

Mooky Greidinger: I think the task for exhibition remains very similar to where it was before the pandemic. First and foremost we need to deliver good cinemas and a good experience and nothing that can compare. If someone goes to the movies and the picture is dark, the sound is not good, the cinema is dirty, or our equipment is broken… that’s our part. We’re not making the movies. Our part is really to deliver the experience, good service… nothing has changed. Maybe it has become even more difficult now, because we need to also to deal with masks and we need to deal with sanitary and all the other things. On the other hand, we need also to be open to additional products. I agree with everything that has been said here with regards to the product. But we see also now see the importance, because we are in the international panel here, of the local product in the other countries. And no one can really describe the difference when you have suddenly strong Polish movie or strong Romanian movie. And this is not competing with the studio movies, these are in addition, that help us to keep the business. Not all the countries can produce local product, but countries that can do it, it’s becoming very, very important.

Nancy Tartaglione: It also helps the studios because that local product, if it’s a success, helps all of you know rising tide lifts all boats, and it gives the studios more exposure. People just go into the lobbies and see the trailers and all of that kind of stuff. Everyone’s going to see a “Demon Slayer” do what it did in Japan. I mean, is that encouraging to you?

Veronika Kwan Vandenberg: Absolutely. I mean, it gives us all hope that a marketplace can rebound and rebound to pre-pandemic levels and then some.

Nancy Tartaglione: Is it the same for exhibition? I mean, if you’re not in a market like Korea, are you watching how local content like “Peninsula,” does from afar?

Alejandro Ramrírez Magaña: Actually, we’ve also experimented and been doing that even before the pandemic with a lot of alternative content that has become very important in some months in which content has been very low. And talking about Korea, actually our best alternative content in the first opening last year was K-Pop; the BTS concert. It beat many movies for several weeks. And then also “Black Pink,” which is also K-Pop. And also we’ve programmed anime films like “Demon Slayer” as alternative content, because even though it’s a movie, it’s a niche product in Latin America. So, I think alternative content has become even more relevant than before because it helps you through the dry periods.

Going back to what Mooky was saying, you know, I think the things that are driving people back to cinemas, it’s the experience. We need to remind people why cinema is so much better than watching it at home. That sense of immersion and the deep emotional connection that they get watching a film on the big screen, it’s completely different than from watching it on an iPad or on TV at home. I also think we need to convey better the message that cinemas are safe places. It’s one of the safest places of out-of-home entertainment; cinema is the safest. You know, it’s safer than a restaurant, safer than a café, safer than a concert or a club or a sporting event. If you want to get out of your home and be safe, you know, cinema is one of the safest or probably the safest by the mere fact that people are in silence. And all watching in the same direction. I don’t think we’ve been able to convey that.

The air quality is much better than in a restaurant. And you’re in a restaurant, when people speak, they issue 14 times more saliva particles in a restaurant than in a cinema or in an activity that is in silent. There’s a study that I’m assuming people know. It was mentioned in the Global Cinema Federation advisory board meeting a few months ago, and we made it available for whomever is interested in it. It’s a study by the International Air Quality and Health Institute in Brisbane University in Australia, by Dr. [Lidia] Morawska. And what she found is that an activity that is conducted in silence but with physical activity like in a gym, you issue seven more times saliva particles than an activity that is in silence, and without physical activity. An activity that is without physical activity but where people talk, like in a restaurant or a cafe, people issue 14 times more saliva particles, and an activity where people actually yell, sing or shout like a concert or a club or a sporting event, they issue 90 times more saliva particles than an activity that is conducted in silence and without physical activity. So, through that, we know that going to the cinema is the safest out of home entertainment. Yet we haven’t been able to convey it effectively. And I think that’s something that we all, as exhibitors worldwide, need to do better.

Nancy Tartaglione: Did they study with the difference between a small popcorn and an extra-large? (Laughter)

Alejandro Ramrírez Magaña: Not yet. That’s the next one.

CinemaCon 2021 - Globally Speaking Panel - Alejandro Ramirez Magana, CEO of Cinepolis, Mark Viane, President of International Theatrical Distribution at Paramount Pictures
Alejandro Ramírez Magaña, CEO of Cinépolis, Mark Viane, President of International Theatrical Distribution at Paramount Pictures during the Globally Speaking panel at CinemaCon 2021 (Photo: J. Sperling Reich – Celluloid Junkie)

Nancy Tartaglione: Okay, sorry, I didn’t mean cheeky but I just couldn’t resist. So, in terms of what you guys are looking for from one another, and what can exhibition do for the studios or for distribution? I mean, in terms of, does exhibition need to get more involved in marketing?

Veronika Kwan Vandenberg: We have a huge, diverse lineup of movies coming up and it’s really important to us to release them theatrically. And we’re in a time where we need to do as much communicating as we can out in the marketplace to consumers. We have the opportunity to work together on campaigns to bring moviegoers back. These have been successful in the past, when we’ve been dealing with piracy and markets being affected. And now more than ever, it’s an opportunity for us to work together and do those kinds of things.

Mark Viane: I also think, as I was saying before, our partnership has really, really grown and we’ve become much closer. And I think what exhibition is offering to distribution right now, when it’s talking straight to their loyalty club members… they’re taking every extra step to try to make sure that the communication of whatever movie is releasing that weekend is front and center. And they have done an amazing job at that, which obviously, on top of our marketing campaign, that is how we’re really pushing audiences to get back into the theaters right now. But it is that partnership that is more solidified, and we’re working closer and closer together. This is what we need for us to be doing.

Nancy Tartaglione: And you’ve got loyalty programs, Mooky. How have you seen the uptake internationally since everybody’s come back?

Mooky Greidinger: I think one of our strongest tools are the loyalty programs and we have two levels, one is what we call the regular with points, where you’re registered, but we get the data. And this is very important, not only for us, but also for the studios. And the second level is what we call the Unlimited. It’s not only us doing this, but it’s also very, very important. This is really a possibility to allow more people that love the movies and want to go to see many movies to get it in a way which is discounted a bit, but not discounting the people that are going only once in three months. It’s a great marketing tool. And I agree with Veronica and I agree with Mark, the goal is the same; we need to have footfall inside the cinema. And we should work and do it together. Today, the social media gives us a lot of new direction almost every week, there are new things and new ways to reach the audience, which are not only the classic TV spots, or the ad in the paper, which doesn’t really exist anymore. I think what is very important, when we talk to Veronica we talked to Mark from time to time, is also the US movies, which are driving this business, having most of their PR from talent point of view done in the US. It’s very easy to get a movie star into NBC or CBS or “Good Morning America.” It is much more difficult to get these guys to appear on French TV or even in England. It is very, very important for us the world is becoming smaller on the one hand. And on the other hand, the international business is more than 75% now. So, it is crucial to really have this work together about how we promote and how we market the movies.

Nancy Tartaglione: And that’s something that obviously couldn’t be done in the last year-and-a-half because the big junkets couldn’t travel. But it’s true that when I’d speak to you guys before the weekend release I’d ask where’s the talent been. Is that a plan going forward to get back to that kind of thing?

Mark Viane: Oh, for sure. That is definitely the top of the list. As soon as the markets can open and we don’t have to quarantine people in these markets. But you know, certainly during this time we’ve been doing Zoom calls with talent, a lot of phoners to try to get at least as much coverage as we possibly can, considering the limitations.

Nancy Tartaglione: But it does make a big impact when somebody goes to a market.

Mark Viane: One hundred percent it does. And listen, certainly on the international side, when you’re dubbing movies and you’re using local talent, you can utilize them in-territory, and we don’t have to rely on one smaller group of actors to try to service the entire world. You can actually do that market by market.

Nancy Tartaglione: Or you have Tom Cruise that will just go to 82 countries in three days. Okay, “A Quiet Place 2” was one of the last movies to get to release in China before the summer blackout. Is it a positive sign now that they’ve started dating?

Mark Viane: Yeah, it’s always a positive sign when they start to date movies. You know, certainly “Free Guy” has now gotten its date. And you’re starting to hear rumblings on other pictures getting in. So, I believe that that market is going to be opening up and you’re going to see a lot more movies coming in.

Nancy Tartaglione: We’re being very optimistic and I think we have every reason to be but still there is the unpredictability of the virus. What might give you pause in the future, other than, you know, an 18th wave kind of thing?

Veronika Kwan Vandenberg: I mean, really, that’s what it is at the end of the day, right? You know, it’s the unknown, the uncertainty that something else could happen. But we do feel that as vaccinations increase, market restrictions decrease, consumer confidence rises, we should be in a great place down the road. How long that will take market-by-market will really vary in each territory. I am really hopeful. We just released “Fast 9” in Japan and even despite rising COVID and concerns in the marketplace, the movie did extremely well, it’s going to be the third highest market globally behind domestic and China. So, it’s great to see that happen. And we feel very optimistic about the future.

Nancy Tartaglione: Mooky what are you concerned about in the future, the most?

Mooky Greidinger: I will not say I’m not concerned because after the last 24 months, I will say if somebody says he is not concerned, it will sound relatively stupid. If you told me two years ago that this is what is about to happen, I would tell you that something like this can’t happen. So, we need to be concerned. We need to think ahead, but I think we’re moving in a positive direction. And we are now on the way to come back to learn to live with COVID. You know, someone mentioned to me yesterday, in a call, that there was a huge Spanish flu. That was a pandemic in 1918. Fifty million people died in this pandemic, most of them were in Europe. And the world went through that with no vaccination and with no medical knowledge that we have today. We have huge science behind us. The vaccination is there. Medicine probably will be found at a certain stage. So, we need to be optimistic. Concerns? We need to think about everything that can happen. We need to be ready. But in general, I think we need to be optimistic to look at the last quarter of the year. Great product is coming. And 2022 looks great. I think that I’m less concerned today than I was six months ago.

Nancy Tartaglione: For sure. And you guys, Veronica and Mark, anything other than what you’re calling…

Mark Viane: I mean, listen, with vaccination rates, especially internationally, how quickly they’re rising, which is a great sign, this means people are going to be that much more comfortable. Economies are going to get back open quicker and rebound quicker, which then allows for people to go to the movies and enjoy life again. And that’s what people want, ultimately. So, I’m very optimistic. But of course, always in the back of your mind is, “What if there is a next wave? What is going to happen in the fall?” It ties back to everything we’ve been talking about. You got to be really nimble in what you’re doing and how you’re thinking. You’ve got to keep planning and re-planning, and re-planning and re-planning, and that’s ultimately what we do. But yeah, the scary thing is, what is the next variant that’s going to hit? And how is that going to affect us?

Alejandro Ramrírez Magaña: I agree with everything that’s been said, I think we need to be cautiously optimistic. But we had an epidemic in 2009, with the H1N1 flu that started in Mexico, and we didn’t know how deadly it was going to be. So, the government shut down everything for a week. And then it took us five weeks to recover. It was devastating. It ruined our results for 2009. When this began, that was our only reference point to an epidemic. So, we thought, well, this can be instead of a one week, shutdown, a 10 weeks shutdown. We thought 10 times more, that’s fair enough. And then 12 weeks of recovery. We never in our wildest dreams imagined that a year and a half later, we would still be with countries that were fully closed. I agree with everyone, we need to be optimistic, cautiously optimistic, because we don’t know what the next variant will be. But, fortunately enough the vaccines have been effective for every variant. The Brazilian variant has not been discussed much. But it’s spread like fire in South America last spring. The shutdown in South America came first especially in Brazil and neighboring countries, because of the Brazilian variant. And yet movies are back open in Argentina and Brazil and Colombia and even Chile and Peru, which took over a year and a half to re-open. And people are starting to come back. So, I think, as Mooky said, the scientific advances are such that I’m confident that this third wave, in my view is the last wave. I mean, there’s of course, a lot of markets like in Africa and some markets in Central America that still have very low vaccination rates. So, we really need all those countries to get vaccines because the variants can arise anywhere. One arose in South Africa, one in Brazil, one in India, you know, so they can arise anywhere. We need to think about how the international community can help developing countries vaccinate their population. We’re all thinking about the booster shots in the developing world, but a lot of countries have not had their first shot yet.

Nancy Tartaglione: What about sort of an overall return to the cinemas return to the levels of 2019? I mean, I don’t think anybody ever expected 2020 to reach 2019. It was just so stratospheric. But we didn’t expect, at the same time, what happened in 2020 to happen, for it to be so low. Mooky, you’re very bullish on the last quarter of 21. And you sort of, you’ve told me, 2022 is maybe not 2019 levels, but pretty close. And how’s everybody feeling about that?

Mooky Greidinger: I grew up in a house where I’m the third generation in this industry. And I grew up in a house where every five or seven years, someone would come to my father and would tell him, “You know, cinema is going to die. TVs will kill you.” Then, “The video will kill you.” Then the DVD. And my father said to me, “When anyone comes and tells you this, your answer is, ‘Next year is going to be the best year ever.’” So 2022 probably will be the best year ever. We need to wait and see. And I think this is what we need to believe we never know what the movies will be. And we never know who is the sleeper and who is the disappointment. The lineup for 2022 looks great. But we need to push COVID a little bit more to the side. And then it will be a great year. 2019 was amazing, 2020 on the paper was a great year. But what happened, happened. I think that if we will learn to live with COVID, not get rid of COVID, but if we learn to live with COVID, with vaccinations, with all kinds of safety procedures, 2022 could be a very good year and might take us back to 2019 numbers.

Nancy Tartaglione: I think that’s a pretty good sort of fine line to end on, unless anybody has anything to add or you believe the complete opposite.

Mark Viane: No, listen, I think it’s warranted that we have this cautious optimism for the business going forward. We’re seeing it in France, you’re seeing it in the UK, you’re seeing it in Russia, you are seeing some really great numbers come from markets and every market is going to be on a different timeline because of how the virus is going, the vaccinations and how each government has dealt with it. But you can see in certain places that were poised to come back. It’s just a matter of time.

J. Sperling Reich