Can you take us back to that first CineShow that you had 20 years ago, in 1998? What led to its creation?
Byron Berkley: President & CEO, Foothills Entertainment: The tradition of having that show came out of a board of directors meeting that was held in 1998 for NATO of Texas. This was before the formation of the South Central States NATO, which was the successor to NATO of Texas. The suggestion was made at that board meeting that we form what was referred to as a mini trade show or a tabletop trade show.
The idea had originally been proposed to us by a fellow who’s no longer with us—but was quite prominent at the time—Al Wiggington, who ran Theatre Services Company, based here in Dallas. He did screen cleaning, carpet installations, and other types of theater work. He used to appear at ShoWest often, dressed up as a circus barker. If you remember the guy, he used to wear a top hat, be all dressed up. He was the one that originally suggested the idea. We presented it to the board, they thought it was a great idea, and we took it from there. It started out as a tabletop trade show, which is basically a series of people standing around card tables. From there, it just began to grow, and grew into what it is today.
Randy Hester, President & CEO, Hometown Cinemas: I can’t remember exactly how many people attended, but it must have worked because we haven’t missed a year since then.
Byron Berkley: It was a struggle in the beginning, of course, getting everyone together. The first few years, we got off to a decent start. But it took a couple years for the momentum to really start to kick in, for it to start to really grow.
What were some of the milestones you hit throughout the years to be able to have grown it to the show that we know today?
Byron Berkley: Randy might have some recollections. We did have a show where we went out to the Studios at Las Colinas. Do you remember that one?
Randy Hester: Yeah. The Studios at Las Colinas, that’s the only set of soundstages in Texas. We were fortunate, because most of the distributors had branch offices back then in Dallas. The people from California were glad to come out, because they could see their people here, visit with them, and attend our event. So it was very well supported by distribution. That even made it better, because there was an actual soundstage. Some of the film production and TV production used the Studios at Las Colinas.
How much did the conversion to digital projection impact the show?
Byron Berkley: At first, it had a significant impact because it brought in a whole group of new companies that typically did not exhibit at these regional shows. NATO brought in a contingent of people from its office to discuss the Virtual Print Fee program. I think it brought in greater participation in the meeting, because a lot of people wanted to learn about this technology. They wanted to hear about all the pros and cons.
Randy Hester: Well, that was about the late ’90s or early 2000s, and it gave the exhibitors a chance to get together and talk to one another about how we’re going to solve this issue. I think it made a huge difference in getting people comfortable, because they saw their colleagues in the industry. There were always some exhibitors that understood it better than others. There were always early adopters, and then there are followers.
What are some of your fondest memories of the show throughout the years?
Randy Hester: I actually bring my staff every year, to experience these new products out there and bring them to the table. “Check out this new product! Oh, that looks great. What’s the price point on it?” We might bring that product online. It might be digital projection, so that’s a great opportunity for some of these companies to bring a new piece of equipment and show it to us, show us what the new features are on it.
Byron Berkley: Let me say this. It’s the kind of event where people that have been doing this for a long time, some of whom are competitors, they came together. They had long-standing relationships with vendors. Anytime Frank Liberto walked in the room, it was fun. He knew everybody, everybody loved him. That’s just one thing that pops into my mind. It was kind of like seeing family once each year. For little companies like us, we depend so much on the vendors to help us. Then we can all sit around and commiserate with one another about things that we didn’t like but we couldn’t fix.
Todd Halstead, Executive Director, Theatre Owners of Mid-America: From my perspective, this show does not exist without the support of the vendors, suppliers, and partners. We’re very much in debt and full of gratitude for their support of the convention, because without them it would not exist.
David Boles, National Account Manager, Vistar: As a supplier, I’m an exhibition rat. We supply candies and concession goods to the theaters. It’s the heartbeat of my business. This trade show here catapults me. The ability to be into the show and be part of it has had a huge influence on my success. It’s also done it for a lot of other people.
I was trying to think back to San Antonio, how many suppliers we had there and how much it’s grown. We’ve grown over the last 15 years around this show; it’s been a big part of it. Seeing my other partners come in, from seed producers, get the candy guys back into it. We all see the value of this regional trade show in supporting the guys here in Texas NATO and Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas.
Todd Halstead: I’d just like to build on that. Folks like David are really integral to the show. David was the recipient a couple years ago of the CineShow Vendor of the Year Award. This year, the Theater Owners of Mid-America board determined to rename the Vendor of the Year Award the Frank Liberto Award. I think it was Randy who mentioned that he was the life of the party in his earlier days. I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Liberto, but hearing the history of the exhibition industry is really important. We look forward to honoring the dedication, the service, and leadership that Mr. Liberto brought to the industry. It kind of exemplifies the purpose of the award and its mission.
Texas really seems like an innovative and distinctive region when it comes to cinema exhibition in the United States. Why do you think that is?
Byron Berkley: Well, I think Texans have a little separate culture from the rest of the country. I think we are somewhat different in character than other parts of the country. Maybe we’re more willing to take chances and take risks with new things, possibly.
Todd Halstead: I am not a Texan, I am a true-blood Kansan. I know that sounds really exciting. The event has predominantly been a Texas show over the last 20 years. That really kind of changed in 2015 when we merged the various regional associations that were in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas. Since then, I think we’ve seen the event become significantly more of a regional event. We now have movie theater owners from Missouri and Oklahoma and Kansas and Arkansas increasing their numbers and attendance.
To your point as to why movie theaters or exhibitors in Texas seem to be leaders in innovation? It’s a very good, prescient point. You look at what they do: they’ve led the way on dine-in cinema; they’re leading the way on the family-entertainment-center model. Just look at the amazing movie theaters available in Texas. Probably the thing that I could chalk it up to is, from its inception, anybody who was headed to Texas did so because they had a pioneering spirit. I would probably chalk it up to that more than anything, as an outside observer.
David Boles: The entrepreneurial spirit of these guys is huge. Byron, Randy, Kevin—those guys have always pushed me to know what our customers want, what our customers need, making it the best for them. I’ve seen Byron change his lobby four times, always staying caught up with what the people need. It’s a fun group. I’m glad to be a part of it.
Looking to this year’s panelists and all of this year’s events, what does the upcoming CineShow have in store?
Todd Halstead: When I came on board in 2015, there was concern the digital transition was wrapping up its first phase. How would that impact the trade show? Just to show you how innovative this industry continues to be, it doesn’t rest on its laurels by any means. The concerns that the trade show might start to fall off were certainly unfounded. We’ve grown from 50 trade show booths in 2015 to more than 90 registered last year.
The reason for that is the innovation of the movie theater owner—I can say particularly those exhibitors in our region. You’re now seeing seating companies have kind of replaced the digital aspect of the trade show. The family entertainment center has really come online this year. We have more than three companies who are involved in the family entertainment center or VR sphere.
That’s what you can expect to see at this upcoming trade show: a progression in the disparate types of companies that are coming to meet with their partners in the exhibition industry.
Byron Berkley: You follow those trends; you go back to the start of the digital conversion. That, of course, brought in new exhibitors to the trade show. From digital, it moved to stadium seating. That brought in a lot of new exhibitors promoting stadium-seating products. Then you went to dine-in cinemas. Now you have the family entertainment centers and the recliners. So each one of these developments in the industry has successively brought in new and different exhibitors to the trade show. The trade show has grown as these events have occurred.
Todd Halstead: Digital has not gone away, obviously. One of the panels that we’re going to be doing is a discussion on what’s going to come after this first phase. The panel is on virtual reality and what’s next. We’re going to have a panel with experts in the industry, who are just going to look at what the future of service contracts looks like, contact distribution, and what the current state of the equipment will be in the near to far term. What you can expect next as far as new technologies and equipment coming online.