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Theater Owners Chief John Fithian’s Parting Shot at CinemaCon: “We Are Not in the Widget Business”


All good things must come to an end.

After serving as president of the National Association of Theater Owners for more than two decades, John Fithian will leave his position May 1 when he turns the job over to Michael P. O’Leary. He leaves with a good feeling as the box office shows signs of moving past the COVID-19 crisis after several fits and starts.

“One of the main themes that will emerge this week is optimism. Our industry is off to an incredible start in 2023. And why did we get off to such a good start? Well, the explanation is simple: we have more movies to play,” Fithian said in his latest stand-of-the-industry speech at CinemaCon, the marquee hosted by NATO. “By 2022, we had 71 movies open on more than 2,000 screens. This year we will have over 100 and new titles are added regularly.”

James Cameron beamed from New Zealand via video to give a special thank you to Fithian for his years of service and preserving the theatrical experience. “I am delighted to be taking part in a momentum and bittersweet week as this marks the final part of our collaboration with our great friend John Fithian. I thank John on behalf of the global creative community,” Cameron said before introducing a tribute video of famous movie clips.

Fithian, who has long said that streaming services can never replace the theater experience, returned to that theme. “It is now more irrefutable than ever that theatrical is the cornerstone of the film industry. Releasing big movies with huge budgets directly on streaming platforms is not a sustainable business model. There is no return on investment,” he noted.

According to The Cinema Foundation’s first annual report, nine out of ten people know when a movie has been released in theaters, and 50 percent are more likely to watch theatrically released titles when considering their options on streaming platforms.

Fithian said that’s why NATO is so encouraged by Apple and Amazon’s renewed commitment to theatre. On Monday night, Sony praised Apple’s Ridley Scott epic Napoleon, which will have an exclusive theatrical release later this year in cinemas around the world. Ditto for Apple’s Martin Scorsese Western crime drama Killers of the flower moon, which Paramount and Apple are opening this fall. Both movies will eventually launch on Apple TV+.

He also praised Amazon for giving Ben Affleck’s Sky an exclusive berth in theaters before it heads to Prime Video.

“The words product and content are still overused and they diminish the value this industry offers. We are not in the widget business. We’re in the movie business and we bring movies to our audiences,” Fithian said. “Product is something you use to style your hair. Content makes something disposable; the contents may have shifted during transport. Movies are about fun, and cinema stands for staying power and cultural relevance.”

Fithian has led NATO through profound changes, including the digital transition, the rise of streamers and the devastating COVID-19 crisis, which resulted in unprecedented theater closures. NATO enlisted top filmmakers and talent to push lawmakers to provide more than $2 billion in aid to theater circuits and theater workers.

He spent a total of 30 years with NATO, first as an external adviser before becoming President-CEO in early 2000.

“One of our greatest allies in this mission, and such an integral part of this global family, has been my friend John Fithian, whose impact and influence in the industry has been truly immeasurable,” said Charles Rivkin, president of the Motion Picture Association. from Fithian in his CinemaCon speech.

“Under his leadership for nearly a quarter of a century, NATO has worked side by side with the MPA through critical challenges such as the industry’s transition to digital cinema, a pandemic that closed cinemas around the world, and our ongoing fight against piracy” Rivkin continued. . “And during my time at the MPA I have regularly relied on John Fithian’s advice and his unwavering belief in the theater experience.”

Both Fithian and Rikvin welcomed O’Leary – who previously worked at the MPA – into the fold. And in his speech, Rivkin reassured that the MPA is committed to releasing films for both the big and small screens (Netflix is ​​a member of the MPA along with the five major studios).

All week long, the major studios and Lionsgate will showcase their upcoming slates. On the eve of CinemaCon, leading analytics firm Gower Street boosted its 2023 global box office revenue from $29 billion to $32 billion following the blockbuster performance of The Super Movie Bros. movie and other titles.

The mood at this year’s show is expected to be generally good. No one expects cinema attendance to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 or beyond, when there will be roughly the same number of releases as before, but there is steady progress. Global sales hovered around $26 billion in 2022, up 23 percent from the $21.3 billion in 2021 (and if Gower is right, this year will see another 23 percent increase).

More to come.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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