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CinemaCon 2016: Global box office news, plus Sean Parker's Screening Room

Chris Dodd, the Chairman & CEO of the MPAA, speaks at the opening ceremony of CinemaCon 2016, the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners.
Chris Dodd, the Chairman & CEO of the MPAA, speaks at the opening ceremony of CinemaCon 2016, the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

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CinemaCon is not exactly the film world equivalent of Comic-Con.

Movie fans aren't the target audience, but if you're a movie theater owner, or a vendor trying to get into the lucrative concessions market, then CinemaCon is right up your alley.

CinemaCon is where theater owners and movie studio chiefs rub elbows, screen films, sample new styles of popcorn, and generally pledge to keep the theatrical business alive. It's also where high-profile releases are previewed to get the buzz started.

The Frame's John Horn is in Las Vegas to cover CinemaCon, and he spoke with the show's senior producer, Oscar Garza, about the state of the global box office, the culture of CinemaCon, and a new, controversial method for screening movies that could be the future of movie-watching.

Interview Highlights:

We've heard about Comic-Con, the big summer convention in San Diego for all things comic books, superheroes, and fanboys. Does CinemaCon have a similar vibe?

If ComicCon is a way to seed the clouds and get fanboys interested in upcoming superhero movies, CinemaCon is kind of the same thing, but it's a broader spectrum of movies and it's trying to get theater owners excited about the upcoming slate of movies.

Theater owners are also going through a trade floor, they're looking at new flavors of popcorn seasoning, new seats for their stadium theaters, new projection systems ... so it's a bit of a trade show, but it's really a pep rally for theater owners.

All of that's just as important as the movies themselves, but what's being shown to distributors in terms of previews?

There are about nine presentations by different studios, and while those are largely the major studios, there are a couple of new studios and distributors that are here as well. I just came out of a presentation by STX Entertainment. They're a new studio that was founded about a year-and-a-half ago and they were showing footage from their new Matthew McConaughey movie, "Free State of Jones."

Disney's showing the new "Captain America" film. Lionsgate will be showing a sequel to "Now You See Me." But most of the films that are shown are just trailers, scenes or incomplete footage. There aren't a lot of finished films, but there's a lot of footage for films that go well into the year.

The other thing that really happens there is that the Motion Picture Association of America gives its state of the business snapshot. What were the big takeaways this year?

The big takeaway this year is that, without China, the movie business is in a little bit of trouble. The Chinese box office was up 49% last year from the year previous, which puts it about $6.8 billion, making it by far the second-biggest market in the world [after the U.S.].

If you look at the domestic numbers, they're pretty good — up 7.5% to $11.1 billion, which makes it the first time that domestic sales have ever gone over $11 billion. Together, that makes a pretty good year, but if you look more closely at admissions, especially domestic admissions, they're either flat or trending down.

There's something else on the horizon that could be causing theater owners some distress — a new idea called Screening Room, which comes from Sean Parker, the guy who shook up the music business with Napster. What exactly is Screening Room, and what's the reaction to it been like?

The idea behind Screening Room is to essentially release movies through a streaming service into your home as soon as they're available in movie theaters. This is something that other companies, like Netflix and other streaming sites, have done, but the difference here is that Sean Parker is aiming to share some of the revenues — it would cost $50 per movie to watch it in your home — with the theater owners.

The National Association of Theatre Owners, which is putting on the convention, has been kind of circumspect about this, but the issue did come up indirectly in the presentations by John Fithian, the head of NATO, and Chris Dodd, the head of the MPAA. This morning, Dodd said "the best experience is in your theaters," and I think we know what he was talking about, while Fithian said that new distribution models "will be developed by distributors and exhibitors" — meaning not third parties. There are some theater chains that have been a little warm to this, and some filmmakers have supported it, but I think very few major chains will get onboard.

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