1 April 2022
If you were hoping this week’s CJ Marquee editorial would expound on actor Will Smith slapping comedian Chris Rock at the Oscars, you might be disappointed. There are plenty of other places to read hot takes on the shocking incident and keep abreast of all the latest finger pointing over who is to blame and for what. Already the episode has dominated the conversation about this year’s Academy Awards, overshadowing the true purpose of the Oscars; to promote movies and moviegoing.
That this should have occurred on the same day that New York Times columnist Ross Douthat published a lengthy opinion piece expounding on how big-screen entertainment is no longer the essential American popular art form is either ironic or serves to underscore his points. “Within the larger arc of Hollywood history,” Douthat wrote, “We aren’t just watching the decline of the Oscars; we’re watching the End of the Movies.”
Whether you agree or not with Douthat’s hypothesis – that movies as an art form are going the way of novels, opera and ballet in their cultural relevance – the piece is worth reading as he is rather adept at making his case, as any columnist should be. After the Oscars, Douthat tweeted, “If you wanted a movie that exemplifies the increasingly interchangeability of big screen and small screen content, you pick CODA.”
In this Douthat makes his irrefutable point in a single sentence. And the focus on Smith’s actions on Oscar night have helped cloud the reality that a movie which appeared primarily on a streaming service, released day-and-date in a handful of cinemas, won the Academy’s top prize; Best Picture. The reason so few saw that “CODA” could win all three Oscars it was nominated for is because so few actually saw the film in the first place. Yet, rather than wallow in the slow demise of the art form which is the basis of our industry, if we can be objective for even a moment, we would see that “CODA” actually illustrates an opportunity for cinema and a path forward for theatrical distribution.
From the moment CODA premiered at the opening of the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival it was obvious the movie was destined to be a winner. You didn’t need a theatre full of people to know it was the kind of heart-tugging crowd pleaser that could go on to become a genuine word-of-mouth box office sensation. Just like “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” “The Big Sick,” “Precious” or “(500) Days of Summer,” all of which premiered at Sundance.
Even before the festival came to an end, Apple spent USD $25 million to acquire “CODA” for their new streaming service. My hope was that the tech giant would be wise enough to release the film theatrically in hopes of generating both box office and ultimately the awards buzz that seemed, at the time, inevitable. These hopes were buoyed when Sundance handed “CODA” its U.S. Dramatic Audience Award, Directing Award and Grand Jury Prize. They even gave the film a special jury award for Best Ensemble.
I was dismayed to watch Apple distribute “CODA” last summer in about 50 movie theatres and in tandem with its debut on their own streaming service. Where the film did play theatrically exhibitors reported solid attendance for the week or two it graced their screens.
But then awards season kicked into gear last fall and, as I had been proclaiming to anyone that would listen, “CODA” might garner a few nominations along the way. I wasn’t sure the movie was capable of going on to win Best Picture as, until last Sunday, no Sundance Film ever had. I was confident though, that a majority of audiences who saw it would be won over by “CODA.” Not surprisingly, that is exactly what happened, though those audiences comprised primarily of guild members and Academy voters.
In fact, SAMBA TV, which measures viewership through smart televisions (though not laptops, computers and mobile devices) reported fewer than 600,000 households in the United States had viewed “CODA” in the six months before it received Academy Award nominations. That figure had jumped to 973,000 the week before the Oscars. Compare that to releases with titles that had exclusive, albeit shortened, theatrical release windows like Searchlight’s “Nightmare Alley” with 3.1 million household viewings since 1 February and 20th Century’s “West Side Story” with 1.9 million viewings since 2 March.
Though there are other variables to include, such as cast, filmmakers and subject matter it almost seems as if titles that rack up awareness through a significant theatrical release are actually more popular on streaming services. Go figure.
More evidence that audiences tend to spread the word about good movies which impact them emotionally could be seen in the way “CODA” slowly built momentum throughout the awards season until it became the frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar. Originally it looked as if Netflix might finally win the trophy for its Jane Campion film “The Power of the Dog.” Then “CODA” topped the SAG Awards and Academy voters scrambled to catch up with the movie. That led to more awards from the likes of the Producers Guild, BAFTA and others, with each successive prize generating larger audiences and admirers of the film.
It is my assertion that theatrical audiences would have behaved in a similar fashion with the gross for “CODA” in later weeks sustaining or improving upon its opening numbers. Heck, there are even plans to turn the movie, which as a reminder is about deaf people, into a Broadway musical… think about that for a second. If Apple had invested as much in marketing the film in theatres as they did to buy it at Sundance, they could have come close to earning back or surpassing their acquisition cost at the box office and eventually have “CODA” stream exclusively on Apple TV+ to attract new subscribers to the platform. Instead they probably spent the same amount on an Oscar campaign and, at the time of writing, currently have little to no box office to show for it.
Unfortunately, that is not the game technology companies like Apple, Netflix and Amazon play when they dip their toe into the film industry, but it should be. It is called show business for a reason.
In fact, Apple is now reporting a 300% jump in viewership of “CODA” with the film attracting 25% new viewers to the streaming service. This kind of makes sense. After all, how many times have you heard anyone say, “I don’t want to subscribe to such-and-such streaming service. All they have is award winning movies that have already been in theatres.”
Fresh off its triumph at this year’s Academy Awards, Best Picture winner “CODA” is finding its way into 600 movie theatres, at least in North America. This is not to say that the movie centering around the hearing one hearing child in a deaf family had not been theatrically distributed.
Apple, which acquired the film at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, gave “CODA” a minimal theatrical release on 13 August 2021 day-and-date with its premiere on the company’s Apple TV+ streaming service. The film’s box office in North America was never reported, but earned USD $1.3 million in at least two international territories. This is somewhat the reverse of traditional awards release strategies, with films usually playing in cinemas before the Oscars. Still, it’s a welcome move since playing a good film in a movie theatre, the venue it was meant to be shown, is rarely a bad idea.
“As our industry recognizes ‘CODA’ with its highest honor, we’re excited once again to bring this moving film to theaters so that audiences can share in the experience of watching it together,” said Erica Anderson, one of the the executives at Apple Original Films. “As with previous theatrical runs, all showings will have open captions, so that the film is accessible to the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.”
While the idea of open captions might turn some potential audiences off, it is worth noting that those portions of the film featuring deaf actors using sign language already have subtitles. One thought might be to reverse the usual distribution strategy of having a limited number of showtimes with open captions and instead have one showing per day without them, with the majority featuring captions.
Mergers & Acquisitions
In early March rumours were swirling that PVR, India’s largest cinema chain was in advanced talks of merging with the country’s third largest circuit, Cinépolis India. On 28 March we learned those rumours were half true. It turns out PVR was in merger talks, but with Inox, India’s second largest operator, not Cinépolis.
The merged company will be named PVR Inox Ltd and operate 1,546 screens across 341 properties and 109 cities. It will outpace rival exhibition chains in the country including Carnival Cinemas, which operates more than 450 screens, and Cinépolis India (part of the Mexican theatre chain Cinépolis), with around 380 screens.
The pandemic has hit India’s cinema-going market hard, with repeated nationwide lockdowns disrupting business on top of additional costs associated with health and safety compliance adding more pressure to profits. Moreover, the pandemic has seen a greater shift and acceptance by Indian consumers for streaming services debuting everything from Bollywood blockbusters to smaller indie fare.
The merger is meant to position PVR Inox to better take on such market challenges, especially subscription video on demand services.
Cinema advertising spend in the United Kingdom and Ireland looks set to exceed 2019 levels this year on the strength of super hero and other other blockbuster films. UK market leader Digital Cinema Media (DCM) has seen a major rise in ad spend, with revenue from 2022 Q1 exceeding the peak levels in 2019 and “smashing” its budget by 18%. Rival Pearl & Dean has seen sales levels match those of 2019 and is already discussing Q4 plans with client, which is unusually early in the year.
Following the success of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “The Batman,” both advertising companies expect strong sales for upcoming releases “Jurassic World,” “Doctor Strange: in the Mouth of Madness,” “Avatar 2,” “Top Gun Maverick,” “Thor: Love and Thunder” ands the new Fantastic Beasts and Black Panther sequels. The inflation of advertising spots is highlighted as the reason for success, while cinema advertisers have a fixed Cost Per Thousand (CPS). Clients who abandoned cinema during lockdown are said to be returning. They are joined by new brands such as Deliveroo, Just Eat, Getir, Kazoo and other. Top categories are entertainment and media, telecoms, finance, motors, food, travel and transport; as well as online retail.
“This outstanding start to the year proves that the cinema medium is very much alive and in an amazing shape,” DCM chief executive Karen Stacey is quoted as saying. “Partnerships and experiences are really attracting clients,” Pearl & Dean chief executive Kathryn Jacob says. “We’re being mindful of what is deliverable and will create the required impact – so we’re looking at briefs carefully.”
Brands are also said to be interested in outdoor cinema advertising opportunities this summer. Online used car marketplace heycar has secured a partnership with The Luna Cinema for the summer, which operates 38 outdoor venues across the UK. Lastly, the shift of the World Cup to November could help steer brands towards “Avatar 2” given higher cost of television spots in Q4.
Fresh from being named the first woman to serve as the President of the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation, Heather Morgan has been hired by Alamo Drafthouse Cinema as Chief of Staff & Strategy, a new position which will report to company CEO Shelli Taylor.
Leaving her role as Vice President of Content and Programming at Harkins Theatres, Morgan will now be responsible for “designing and executing key strategic programs to drive the organization forward.” Her new job seems pretty wide-ranging including everything from company culture to working with filmmakers to “reinforcing and redefining the exhibitor’s relationships with distributors.”
“The Alamo Drafthouse brand is synonymous with the type of edgy forward-thinking that drives our industry to new heights and delivers an unapologetically, film-fanatic level experience,” Morgan said of her new job. “I’m absolutely thrilled to be joining this iconic cinematic institution and to be part of their impressive vision for the future.”
Morgan has a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Prior to joining Harkins she was Vice President of Studio Partnerships and Film Finance at AMC Theatres.
Korean cinema major CJ CGV has raised its ticket prices for the third time since the start of the pandemic as attendance continues to lag. The basic raise will be KRW 1,000 (USD $0.83), pushing the price up to KRW 14,000 during the week (USD $11.58) and KRW 15,000 (USD $12.41) on weekends. Premium formats such as IMAX, 4DX, ScreenX, SphereX, and Starium will go up by KRW 2,000 (USD $1.66). In addition, tickets for high-end cinemas such as Cine de Chef, Tempur Cinema, and Gold Class will be increased by KRW 5,000 (USD $4.14). However, discount rates for military personnel, police officers, firefighters, and persons with disabilities and national merit will remain in place.
CGV said that it was forced to raise the movie ticket price after suffering a cumulative operating loss of KRW 360 billion won (USD 300 million) in Korea alone over the past two years due to the COVID-19 outbreak, CJ CGV also has cinemas in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Turkey and elsewhere that have also suffered significant losses.
According to the 2021 Korean Film Industry Collected Data announced by the Korean Film Council, the sales of the Korean film industry in 2021 decreased to KRW 1.23 trillion (USD $1.02 billion) for two consecutive years. It has decreased by nearly 60% compared to 2019’s KRW 2.509 trillion (USD $2.08 billion), before COVID-19. “The film industry ecosystem, including production, investment and distribution, no longer has the strength to sustain itself, so the price has inevitably been raised to survive,” CGV said in a statement.
Due to COVID-19, the share of Korean films has dropped below 50% for the last two years. Currently there are 60 major domestic releases that are awaiting a new release date, with distributors holding off releasing them in cinemas due to lower takings and clash of dates with Hollywood films. Meanwhile CGV tries to innovate with virtual reality art showings.
Celluloid Junkie is the leading online resource dedicated to the global film and cinema business. The Marquee is our newsletter focused on motion picture exhibition; keeping industry professionals informed of important news, the latest trends and insightful analysis