Exhibitors from across the Americas once again descended on South Florida for the latest edition of ShowEast, held for the first time at its new home, the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. The convention took place against the backdrop of a turbulent period at the North American box office, in the midst of a year marked by numerous peaks and valleys that brought about both record-breaking hits as well as costly misfires. Nerves were mostly soothed within the Loews hallways thanks to a slate of promising titles scheduled for release in the days following the event. At the heart of ShowEast 2017, however, was a marked commitment to further innovation in the sector, including theater amenities, disruptive technology, and faith in the potential benefits of big data.
The week began with a keynote address from Mark Walukevich, senior vice president of film and event cinema at National Amusements, which addressed the current transformation of cinemas across the country. “Premiums like IMAX, VR, enhanced sound, and restaurant service have revived individual cinemas and given them new life,” said Walukevich, emphasizing exhibition’s efforts to ensure a first-rate moviegoing experience. These changes are most evident when it comes to auditorium seating and the concessions stand. Tellingly, premium seating companies once again represented the biggest presence of any vendor on the ShowEast 2017 trade show floor—a reflection of continued implementation of luxury seating concepts across the Americas.
Remarking on how much the concessions stand has changed for today’s cinemas, Walukevich pointed out how theater designs have had to change in order to include bigger food preparation stations. “Kitchens have been redesigned to accommodate the transition from frozen to fresh to from-scratch menu items.” It was therefore no surprise that the bulk of the week’s panel sessions at ShowEast were devoted to educational seminars conducted with the assistance the National Association of Concessionaires, and tackling topics such as promotions, inventory turnover, alcohol service, kitchen design, and the different ways theaters can implement cinema dining concepts.
The premiums arms race in exhibition isn’t merely limited to seating and concessions, however. A raft of new technology was on display at ShowEast 2017, showcasing what’s in store for 2018. While screen companies like Harkness and Severtson have benefitted from the surge of new builds overseas, business in the U.S. continues to progress. Severtson arrived on the ShowEast trade floor with their next generation folded SAT-4K cinema screen. Harkness, meanwhile, entered the show on the heels of the opening of their new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Virginia. A renewed focus will be placed on cinema screens in 2018 with the arrival of Samsung’s LED screen—now DCI compliant—perhaps the most genuinely disruptive technological innovation to hit the business since the advent of digital projection. For the moment, however, laser projection continues to be the most widely adopted premium for exhibitors looking for best-in-class image quality. Barco has helped several circuits around the world convert to all-laser auditoriums, the most recent being Mexico’s Cinépolis Plaza Satélite—the country’s first complex with a full fleet of laser projectors.
In recent years, ShowEast has proven to be a consistent backdrop for announcements of new technology implementation for Latin American circuits. This year was no exception; apart from the Barco-Cinépolis news, there were several announcements from Muvix, a new player in the Chilean market. Muvix is planning to make a big splash in the Andean region—with plans of expansion in neighboring South American countries like Peru down the line. The team behind Muvix is the same family-run group behind Chile’s Cine Star cinemas; whereas Cine Star locations tend to be limited to no more than four screens in smaller cities, the Muvix concept will bring new multiplexes to metropolitan areas in the country. The new circuit teamed up with Christie to offer digital projection to 40 theaters over the next three years. Muvix also announced that it will be installing MediaMation’s MX4D immersive seating in select locations, beginning with a 108-seat auditorium scheduled to open in 2018.
New screens from Latin American circuits are also popping up in the United States. ShowEast came on the heels of the acquisition of Cobb Theatres by CMX, the U.S. subsidiary of Mexico’s Cinemex circuit. The acquisition catapults the Cinemex group into the top 10 circuits in the U.S. in terms of screen count, reaching 30 locations and 342 screens. It’s a rapid acceleration for the group, which was still preparing to open its first luxury cinema location in Miami this time last year. CMX spared no expense in its Miami flagship cinema, which opened in April and boasts nearly every top-of-the-line premium on the market—including a full-service kitchen and an adjacent sports bar.
The week’s biggest news, however, didn’t come from South Beach, but was instead phoned in from a corporate office. During a call with investors, Regal Entertainment Group CEO Amy Miles brought up the company’s desire to begin exploring dynamic pricing with the help of digital ticketing platform Atom Tickets. The implementation of dynamic pricing in North America’s second-largest exhibition circuit would usher a major shift in current conversations about pricing—potentially the hottest topic in the exhibition sector entering 2018. The consolidation in digital ticketing stemming from Fandango’s acquisition of MovieTickets.com, along with Atom Tickets’ ambitious expansion and the rise of unlimited-ticketing company MoviePass, are setting the stage for what could be a truly revolutionary period in exhibition.
At the end of the day, however, all these innovations hinge on the strength of the 2018 movie slate—and, crucially, the opportunities granted to exhibitors to maximize a film’s theatrical earnings. “Make no mistake: content is the key to our viability,” noted National Amusements’ Walukevich in his keynote address. “No one is coming into our theaters just for our seats and to enjoy the wide range of our concessionary items.”