A Merry Time in Maryland: Mid-Atlantic NATO’s Cinema Show & Tell Changes Its Location, Keeps Its Quality

This year marked a change for Cinema Show & Tell, the annual convention of the Mid-Atlantic NATO. For the first time, the show skipped a bit north from its usual venue in Virginia to the Live! Casino and Hotel in Hanover, Maryland. The venue might have been different, but the show—taking place over a day and a half on May 15 and 16—gave attendees the same quality experience they’ve come to expect. 

Mid-Atlantic NATO caters mostly to exhibition professionals throughout Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, including international circuits—Regal and Cinemark locations, for example, were well represented at this year’s show—regional exhibitors, and independent outfits. 

In prior years, executive director Doug Murdoch explains, the logistics of the show meant that attendees would have to shuttle back and forth between Cinema Show & Tell’s event space, partner theater, and hotel, with all-important networking carried out in whatever nooks and crannies people could find. 

This spread-out footprint hasn’t impeded Cinema Show & Tell’s ability to build a reputation as one of the premier regional trade shows. At the scholarship awards luncheon that closed out the show, NATO president and CEO John Fithian feted Mid-Atlantic NATO as “one of the better conferences in the country,” in part because Mid-Atlantic NATO has “a tremendous regional leader in Doug Murdoch.”

Doug Murdoch

Still—the new venue has only helped Cinema Show & Tell do what it does best: facilitate relationships between professionals from all corners of this industry, whether they’re theater managers, vendors, or studio representatives. Taking place as it does on the heels of CinemaCon, Mid-Atlantic NATO provides a necessary opportunity for its attendees to have leisurely one-on-one conversations that can lead to concrete deals. With the move to the Live! Hotel & Casino, those conversations were able to take place a few floors down from attendees’ hotel rooms, late into the night, no shuttles required.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The “late-night deal-making” portion of any show comes after its programming, which in Cinema Show & Tell’s case included information on a number of issues affecting the exhibition industry. Late Monday morning, NATO’s director of government relations Esther Baruh led a wide-ranging presentation that covered everything from music licensing (check out Fithian’s piece in our May issue for details about how changes in that area can affect your theater’s bottom line) to minimum wage increases to regulations on predictable scheduling and paid leave. 

These issues, Baruh noted, are holdovers from previous years. The wheels of government do not turn quickly. But two new issues got stage time as well: the increasing pressure from advocacy groups to ban single-use plastics and a proposed “automation tax.” The latter hasn’t gathered the amount of steam that the plastic ban has, but it’s potentially very significant for the industry, proposing as it does a tax on businesses that (for example) install ticketing kiosks when they would have otherwise hired employees. None of these proposed regulatory changes is cut-and-dried. None of them has a simple solution. And that’s why gatherings like Cinema Show & Tell, where people from the exhibition industry can gather and share experiences and proposed solutions, are so essential.

Other topics addressed at this year’s Cinema Show & Tell were accessibility regulations and the Cinema Buying Alliance, the latter a component of the Independent Cinema Alliance (ICA), which hosted an indies-only session. From there, it was on to the trade show, where everyone from theater managers to NATO officials and major vendors could have discussions about their shared needs and how to meet them over the coming year. 

Said Danny Martinez of augmented-reality app Fuze Viewer, one of Cinema Show & Tell’s vendors and sponsors, “We met a lot of new theater owners. The experience was amazing. It was very well put-together. … My takeaway is that it’s a very tight-knit group and to be invited to be part of it was very exciting.”

(It may not be the most glamorous compliment, but Martinez’s observation about Cinema Show & Tell being “well put-together” echoes one of the most common sentiments expressed by attendees this year. To paraphrase: “Wow, everything’s running on time.”)

The Cinemark Egyptian 24

When attendees weren’t gathering relevant info during presentations, chatting with trade show vendors, or networking at one of the Live! Casino and Hotel’s bars, they were over at the Cinemark Egyptian 24 and HD theater—which, incidentally, is right next door to the Live!, just a few minutes’ walk away. It was there that attendees got to check out two screenings (Amazon Studios’ Late Night and Sony’s Brightburn), presentations from studio partners, and a series of “speed dating” (Murdoch’s term) presentations from Fuze Viewer; “Ask the Audience” survey findings from National CineMedia; GDC Technology, introducing their new series of media servers; and advice from the Federal Trade Commission on how to combat cybersecurity threats. Those who got there early could lounge in one of the Cinemark Egyptian recliners while watching National CineMedia’s Noovie pre-show.

Cinema Show & Tell closed out on Thursday with the aforementioned scholarship luncheon, where 14 young of Mid-Atlantic NATO member theaters were given scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. Though suffused with Cinema Show & Tell’s trademark congeniality, the luncheon had its bittersweet elements, too. Two individuals key to Mid-Atlantic NATO—Betty Cohen, wife of the late R/C Theatres founder Irwin R. Cohen, and Regal Cinemas’ Lee Milstead, Cinema Show & Tell’s long-standing “official photographer”—had passed away during the previous year. To honor them, Mid-Atlantic NATO introduced the Lee Milstead Memorial Scholarship and altered the Irwin R. Memorial Scholarship to include Betty.

The Mid-Atlantic NATO family continues to grow; in the general membership meeting on Wednesday morning, Ted Pedras (emeritus), David Phillips of R/C Theaters, Rick Novak of Royal Cinemas, and Jennifer Abney of Cinemark were officially named new or returning members of the board. 

With all the goody bags given out and the hotel rooms turned over to other visitors, Murdoch reflected on another year’s Cinema Show & Tell: “Everybody said they loved it. They loved the location. I’ve already heard from several vendors that have asked about the dates for next year and stated that they can’t wait to come back. I’ve had a lot of very positive reactions.”