Cinépolis has quickly risen to become one of the biggest exhibition circuits in the world. The Mexican circuit is now present in 14 territories worldwide, and will soon add Saudi Arabia to that list. Miguel Rivera joined the company as strategic planning director in 2005, serving as the director of programming in its Mexican operations from 2009 to 2015. In his current role, Rivera oversees the circuit’s programming teams around the world—including all event cinema and distribution initiatives. During his tenure, Rivera has led company efforts in digital deployment, anti-piracy measure, and film festival activities. Boxoffice spoke with Rivera ahead of ShowEast to get the latest on Cinépolis’s growing stature as a multinational circuit.
Cinépolis has been in the U.S. market for several years already. How would you describe the company’s experience in the market?
The U.S. market is one of the most challenging in the world. We knew how competitive it would be since we entered the market in 2011, and how important it would be to have a clear differentiation from other players. Our first theaters in California were quite successful with our Luxury brand, targeting high-income pockets of the population. Over the years, we have expanded not only geographically but also to other theater models in order to accommodate our offering to the relevant market. Even though this has been a great year in terms of box office and attendance, there are still challenges ahead, like the need to excel at customer satisfaction, continue to innovate around the experience of going to the movies, seek more productive ways of collaboration with distributors, and continue to look for relevant content that appeals to niche audiences.
Cinépolis was recently granted one of the coveted licenses to operate a cinema in Saudi Arabia. What are your plans for the market, both in the next year and in the long term?
We started exploring the Middle East market a couple of years back as an extension of our operation in India. We actually decided to enter the region before the ban on cinemas was lifted in Saudi Arabia, though we were hoping it would open soon as it was an important part of our strategy for the region. We set up an office in Dubai in early 2017 and started signing deals for the region. For instance, we will open our first cinema this December in Bahrain. By the end of 2019, we’ll have more than 50 screens operating in the UAE, Bahrain, and Oman. With our presence in the region, it was important for us to take the Saudi opportunity. Even before the reopening of cinemas became official in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we started working with Al Tayer, our regional partner, and Al Hokair, our Saudi partner. Al Hokair has been able to secure a license to operate, and we worked hard in the setting up of the company and the team on the ground. We plan to open our first cinema there next year and hope to become an important player in the kingdom in the years to come.
What are the challenges of programming for a global circuit like Cinépolis? Are there any specific regions that demand more attention to detail than others?
Cinépolis has become an international circuit in a relatively short amount of time. Ten years ago, our only international presence was in Central America; now we are in more than 14 countries and we are entering the GCC market at the end of the year. It was only three years ago that my position as VP of global programming was created in order to look for efficiencies and opportunities. Some of the most interesting challenges of programming for a global circuit have to do with managing teams in very different time zones, implementing a standard set of processes to operate, defining reports and using analytic tools for better decision making, learning the specifics of every territory in terms of film suppliers, audience tastes, traditional practices, legislation nuances, and business intricacies. No specific region requires more attention—all of them demand attention and dedication.
We are in the midst of big political changes in two of Latin America’s biggest markets—Mexico and Brazil—changes that could have a lasting impact on those economies. Have these changes reverberated in the exhibition business in those markets?
In our experience, the exhibition business is generally quite resilient to political changes and even to economic crises. Of course, there have been specific instances where an economy may be so affected that there is a short-term impact on cinema attendance. But, in general, cinema-going remains the cheapest form of out-of-home entertainment, and it continues to be a great value-for-money proposition in our territories in Latin America, including Mexico and Brazil. Our expectation is that Mexico and Brazil will continue to be growth markets despite the political changes that are taking place at the moment.
We’re living through an age of transformation for cinemas around the world. Cinépolis has been a pioneer—a trendsetter—when it comes to adopting and expanding new concepts and cinema technologies. What do you believe is the next stage in this transformation?
One concept that I believe will be relevant for the future is the customization or individualization of our communication with each of our patrons. The possibility of targeting our messages down to the individual level and providing him or her with relevant information may result in a powerful new way to nurture our customers and create a special bond. We already see in other companies how the information that a customer provides to a business via his or her consuming habits is then used to develop a relationship with that customer in the form of relevant messages. In our business, whether it is information on the next movie or a promotion that was relevant the previous year or a film festival that he or she attended, we can use data and the direct relationship for the benefit of maintaining a healthy frequency of attendance.