CinemaCon 2018 Passepartout Award

Kurt Rieder’s résumé has taken him around the world. In the more than 26 years that he’s worked in the cinema industry, Rieder has held a variety of roles across distribution and exhibition. Among the highlights of his career in recent years are tenures as vice president at Universal International Pictures (UIP) in 2003, where he oversaw the marketing and distribution of titles from DreamWorks, Paramount, and Universal in Southeast Asia—adding on China, Korea, and Japan after being named senior vice president two years later. In 2009, Rieder was named managing director of Artisan Gateway, an Asia-based film consulting firm with clients such as IMAX, the MPAA, and UIP. 

Rieder then shifted gears to the exhibition side of the business, serving as chief executive officer of Mars Cinema Group, Turkey’s leading exhibition circuit. In 2017, he began his current position at 20th Century Fox International, where he oversees the studio’s Asian regional office in Singapore. Boxoffice spoke with Rieder ahead of CinemaCon to look back on his career and get his insights into the imminent future of the cinema business. 

How did you get your start in the industry?

My first job in the industry was an internship at Universal’s international publicity department. As a student in a graduate film program at USC, I was looking to convert this internship into a full-time job as our second-year courses were shifting to night classes. After discovering that nothing was available at Universal, I spotted an article in Variety on how Warner Bros. had opened an office in Indonesia. I wrote the executive quoted in the article, offering my services given that I spoke Indonesian and had spent two years in that country during college. After a meeting at WB, I was told that no L.A.-based roles were available, but that I could be a trainee in Burbank and Singapore, which would lead to a home office representative position in Jakarta, where WB’s Indonesian licensee was located. I accepted the trainee role, which led to a career in distribution and exhibition that ultimately led me to Fox.

Having worked in both distribution and exhibition, what do you think the industry can do to sustain its place among consumers in the marketplace?

There are so many competing forms of entertainment today that our biggest collective challenge is making the theatrical experience unique and impossible to duplicate at home. The solution is a combination of the studios making films with compelling stories and scale that must be seen on the big screen and exhibitors treating moviegoing as a holistic experience versus relying on content alone to win the day. “Build it and they will come” is dead—we need to make cinema engaging and experiential.

You’ve had a front-row seat to the growth of the Asia Pacific market over the past 10 years. What do you consider to be the biggest catalysts to that growth? Do you believe the region will continue to expand or is it likely to stabilize in the coming years?

Box office growth is driven first and foremost by rising disposable income, without which out-of-home entertainment is an unattainable luxury for much of Asia. Cinemas have multiplied hand-in-hand with complementary retail and food and beverage, which together deliver families, dating couples, and groups of friends the rationale for an outing. Every territory is different—we’re seeing greenfield growth mirroring urbanization and the modernization of traditional agricultural societies (such as China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam) plateauing in territories which have already reached high per-capita attendance rates (Korea and Singapore), and rebirth on the back of new infrastructure in markets that had been assumed to have peaked (Japan and Hong Kong).

As the industry undergoes a period of global consolidation—both at the exhibition and distribution level—what role do you believe international markets will have in the near future?

International growth, in developing markets especially, is subsidizing the static but profitable markets of North America and Western Europe. Consolidation may be a good thing for both distribution and exhibition as they become more efficient and can spend more of their revenue on what’s important: what’s on the screen—the films—and the “screen” itself: well-built auditoriums, cutting-edge technology, and comfort delivered by the best seats, apps, and amenities.

What have been some of the projects in your career that stand out most?

In distribution: 1995 at Warner Bros. We decided to restructure our Malaysian business given that the size of the market, and impending construction of purpose-built multiplexes, pointed to dramatic growth. Based in Singapore, I flew to Kuala Lumpur every two weeks and brought in a team of young executives. For the first time, we were releasing films simultaneously across the country on as many prints as possible and as close to the U.S. release as possible. Against a backdrop of legacy infrastructure, piracy, and onerous censorship, we were lucky that our strategy was successful. Annual box office in Malaysia has increased sevenfold since the mid-’90s, and it’s gratifying to have played a role in that story.

In exhibition: 1999 at Village Cinemas. I was part of the team that opened Village Recoleta, a mixed-use cinema complex in the heart of Buenos Aires’s most exclusive neighborhood. The $100 million complex stretched our company’s funding limits and was complex for both regulatory and technical reasons (35-millimeter projectors were mounted on mechanized elevators in a predecessor of today’s boothless cinema format). The company’s future rested on this flagship location, which thankfully was a big success, propelling Village into the top market-share position in Argentina.

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