Perhaps you’ve noticed this is the second week in a row that you’ve been forced to hear from me at the top of the CJ Marquee rather than our editor, Patrick von Sychowski. Have no fear, Patrick hasn’t gone anywhere. We’re just in the midst of launching our new newsletter platform. It’s been two years in the making and would not have been possible without the support of Dolby, which has been generously sponsoring The Marquee as we experimented with formats, styles and user interfaces since June of last year.
We’re still putting the finishing touches on certain design and functional elements of The Marquee so you may see a few differences in upcoming weeks. (Click on any of the headlines in this newsletter and see what happens.). Our goal was always to create a content management solution for our newsletters with a robust backend that would allow us to create newsletters focused on specific areas of the motion picture industry. While The Marquee is centered on exhibition, we have a newsletter in the planning stages that spotlights distribution. Little did we realize that in the time it took our very small team to create our modest platform, newsletters would become a hot media trend. All the cool kids seem to have one (or are about to launch one).
Newsletters are kind of like this year’s streaming service. Remember back in 2020 when no studio, television network or distributor would be taken seriously unless it operated or would soon launch a streaming service? If the last week is any indication, then streaming services are arguably still the must-have accoutrement for any well respecting entertainment conglomerate.
Disney and Warner Bros. seem to be the examples everyone uses when discussing this industry trend. Likely because both studios keep sending titles that were slated for theatrical release to their respective streaming services. Last week Disney announced that Pixar’s “Turning Red” would premiere on Disney+ rather than in theatres this spring. We’re not sure who was more upset at this development, exhibitors or Pixar employees.
If there was any question which direction Disney was headed in regards to its longterm distribution strategy, it was put to rest on Monday when Bob Chapek, the CEO of the Walt Disney Company, sent out a new year memo to employees that outlined the organizations priorities. Amidst phrases such as “franchise ecosystem,” “storytelling engine” and even “metaverse,” was the following paragraph:
While Chapek provided little in the way of details it’s easy to read between the lines. Chapek is reiterating what everyone already knows; that the future success of Disney is directly tied to its streaming platform. To that end, it’s safe to say everyone within the exhibition community wishes Chapek to triumph, just not at the expense of cinema operators. After all, a prosperous Disney should theoretically mean more theatrical releases from the company; titles which can, in turn, be made even more valuable after a healthy run in cinemas before heading over to Disney+.
For studios to hit their streaming service revenue goals while also banking some decent theatrical box office along the way doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. It just feels that way sometimes.
The world’s second largest cinema operator saw the total global revenue in December hit 88% of its 2019 equivalent, marking a strong return of the end-of-year box office. Box office and concession revenue in UK and Ireland was 89% of pre-pandemic levels in December, while in the United States where Cineworld operates Regal Cinemas, the number was 91%. This was largely driven by the success of “Spider-Man: No Way Home”, which has since become one of the global Top Ten grossers of all time.
Before that October was the best month in the UK & Ireland, thanks to Bond film “No Time To Die” pushing the month to 127% of the 2019 levels. However, the decision by Paramount Pictures to push “Top Gun Maverick” to 2022 resulted in a lackluster November, which came in at just 56% of the pre-pandemic year. The overall result was enough to push up the share price of Cineworld significantly, signaling a new optimism for the cinema sector.
“This demonstrates that fans are continuing to choose the unrivalled theatrical experience,” [Cineworld CEO Mooky] Greidinger said. “We are continuing to implement guidelines to ensure our cinemas are a safe environment for our customers. While there are challenges ahead, we are excited to welcome customers to our cinemas to enjoy the highly anticipated slate of movies throughout 2022.”
According to Variety, Cineworld has appealed the the decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in the case of Cineplex against Cineworld, in which it was ordered to pay USD $957 million in damages for abandoning a merger deal.
While detailed figures were not made available, Cineworld revealed that it went from just 50% of pre-Covid levels in July to a point where the company was cash-flow positive in the last three months of the year. Cineworld also talked up the strength of the 2022 slate for its outlook.
Denmark is allowing the reopening of its cinemas on Sunday 16 January, having shuttered them 19 December for four weeks. Denmark was, together with The Netherlands, one the few countries to close cinemas completely in the face of rising Omicron variant cases. Cinemas were also closed in Belgium but a court order reversed the government decision, while cinemas had earlier been closed in Austria and Eastern Europe.
Under the new rules, Danish cinemas will be allowed to have audiences of up to 500 people, revised up from 350. Face coverings and COVID vaccination certificates will still be required. Denmark was one of the first European countries to see a significant wave of Omicron infections, which led to the closure of entertainment venues, but only some restrictions for hospitality venues. Food and beverage will be allowed in the re-opened cinemas.
This move leaves The Netherlands as the only major European territory where cinemas are still shuttered, though severe restrictions known as 2G+ (testing and proof-of-vaccination) are in place across many German states meaning cinemas are hamstrung even when open. Operators in Denmark, such as Nordisk, had to close its cinemas after the opening weekend of “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
Speaking on the CJ Cinema Summit Nordisk Film CEO Asger Flygare Bech-Thomsen revealed that audience numbers surged on the final days that movie theatres were open. Denmark was one of the best 2021 cinema markets on the strength of both domestic and Hollywood films, at least prior to the closures.
After a two year slog through a global pandemic it should come as no surprise that the opportunities to offer new and exciting event cinema are somewhat limited. After all, Broadway shows have barely raised their curtains (when they aren’t going dark due to COVID outbreaks), big concert tours are only now gearing up for the first time since 2020 and sporting events aren’t always accessible to exhibitors due to licensing restrictions.
Opera, long the go-to art form for alternative content, has helped drive the return of event cinema in the post-pandemic world, thanks in large part to The Met: Live in HD.
Some exhibitors and event cinema distributors are either creating events out of upcoming releases or combating the lack of new events by turning titles backed by big names into one night only opportunities.
For instance, in advance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, AMC Theatres will be screening the documentary “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America” on Saturday 15 January at 250 locations throughout North America. The documentary, directed by Sarah Kunstler and Emily Kunstler, features civil rights lawyer Jeffery Robinson, tracing the history of racism in the United States. Sony Pictures Classics is distributing the film in a platform release starting 14 January in New York and Los Angeles.
Then, on 10 February, Iconic Events Releasing will be bringing the first installment of the three part documentary “jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy” to movie theatres throughout the US. The documentary, which chronicles the life and career of rapper Kanye West is set to premiere at the virtual Sundance Film Festival in late January, before eventually heading to Netflix beginning 10 February.
These are two great examples of using existing content to attract patrons into cinemas on the coat tails of marketing campaigns being run by the distributors of each title. In the case of AMC, they get to eventize a documentary at a time when few new Hollywood movies are opening, while getting a marketing push from Sony Pictures Classics. As for Iconic’s documentary play, they’ll have Netflix promoting the release, and more importantly, West himself making his millions of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook followers aware his documentary will be in theatres.
Turning the calendar to a new year often spurs some executive shuffling, no matter the industry. We’re only two weeks into 2022 and the human resource announcements are already making headlines (some of them on Celluloid Junkie). The year began with MediaMation bringing Vaughn Howes onboard as sales director for the immersive experience company and a few days later D-BOX Technologies, also an immersive experience provider, hired Karen Mendoza as their Vice President, Sales.
Now comes word that Anne Fitzgerald, the Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary at Cineplex, Canada’s largest movie theatre chain, is headed for the hills; figuratively and, depending on how one translates that idiom, perhaps figuratively. Or vice versa.
Having joined the exhibitor in 2004 to oversee the acquisition of its territorial competitor, Famous Players, Fitzgerald has announced she will retire from the company in February leaving the General Counsel duties in Thomas Santram’s capable hands.
If, like us, you were saddened to receive the news and wanted to call someone, anyone, to prevent Fitzgerald from leaving Cineplex, you’re in good company. She has long been considered one of the exhibition industry’s most competent and beloved executives. Fitzgerald has played a crucial part in helping create and launch the Global Cinema Federation, and most recently oversaw litigation related to Cineworld’s abandoned acquisition of Cineplex.
Fitzgerald says she will be working in the entertainment business in some capacity in the future, maybe even in legit theatre where she got her start. In the interim, somehow working for one of the world’s largest movie theatre operators during a global pandemic wasn’t a big enough challenge for Fitzgerald, so she’s decided to head north to the arctic and snowshoe across Baffin Island in Canada’s Nunavut territory. The expedition will serve as a fundraiser for Outward Bound, an organization she continues to chair.
Certainly we wish Ms. Fitzgerald well in her retirement and hope to be running into her again somewhere further on down the trail. Meanwhile, we look forward to getting to know more about Mr. Santram as he takes on his new role with Cineplex.
Several well known arthouse cinemas in Singapore and Asia are closing due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the region has weathered the last few years with relatively fewer deaths than in Europe and the Americas, restrictions have impacted cinema going, particularly for small cinemas that were operating on thin margins even before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Singapore’s Filmgarde announced that it would close two of its three cinema complexes, citing “changing trends in the film industry.” It’s cinemas in Bugis Plus and at Century Square will not renew their leases when they lapse in the first quarter of this year, with the loss of 24 screens in total. Filmgarde will keep operating the six-screen cinema in Leisure Park Kallang, though reportedly it will cease to be a regular movie house, with no further details provided. Meanwhile local major Golden Village (GV) is re-opening its i12 Katon multiplex after two years of refurbishment; now also offering live concert, e-sports events, and hold virtual meetings and conferences.
In Tokyo the iconic arthouse cinema Iwanami Hall will close for good this July. The cinema opened in 1968 as a general cultural facility and became a 200-seat cinema in 1974. According to Variety:
Iwanami Hall is renown for importing and screening award-winning foreign-language titles, hard to find Japanese films, and for helping to kick off a boom in single-screen and mini theaters in the Japanese capital.
The closure of these screens show that cinemas in Asia, with the slight exception of China, have been badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years. Though multiplex operators from India to Indonesia have been able to ride it out by accumulating debt, smaller operators and particularly arthouse cinemas have not had the same possibilities. In a region with a lower overall penetration of non-mainstream cinemas, they may not be the last victims yet.