New Line ups ShoWest ante

New Line Cinema will take over at next year’s ShoWest as sponsor of the Wednesday luncheon, hosted for more than a decade by Warner Bros.

Warners, whose product reel and star-studded dais had become a fixture at the annual exhibitors confab, chose to sit out this year due to the rising costs of putting on the presentation.

“We’re thinking we’ll go every other year,” said WB distribution president Barry Reardon. “We think it’s a great venue to unveil your product, but it’s prohibitive cost-wise, and the logistics are tough.”

The studio joins a number of others that have opted out of sponsoring events at this year’s convention, which takes place at the Las Vegas Bally’s Hotel March 9-12.

Universal, MGM, Paramount, Polygram, DreamWorks and Fox have no plans to sponsor meals at the next ShoWest. It’s not yet clear whether Buena Vista will host an event.

Distribution execs have complained for years that the convention has become too big, with international exhibitors and hangers-on swelling the registration ranks.

They also say that in a world where a few dozen chains now control the lion’s share of the nation’s screens, ShoWest is no longer a cost-effective way of wooing theater buyers.

Getting out of hand

“The whole convention has gotten out of hand,” said one distribution topper. “We go because exhibition is there, but even exhibition is getting tired of it.”

Indeed, even some theater execs feel the event has gotten too crowded. Last year, about 400 attendees were shut out of 20th Century Fox’s “Anastasia” presentation.

Another distributor griped that as many as half the attendees are not exhibitors, but rather friends or relatives of theater owners who use the four-day convention as a mini-vacation.

But ShoWest president Daniel Wheatcroft noted that registration has remained steady at 3,400 for the past six years and that new programs will be implemented this year to reduce overcrowding.

He also refuted the idea that more than a handful of non-industry people attend the confab. “NATO and ShoWest make every effort to make sure that the individuals who register for the convention are part of the working staff of theater circuits,” said Wheatcroft.

Pricey proposition

While ShoWest picks up the tab for the meals, studios can spend $3 million or more on producing slick product reels and jetting A-list talent to Vegas.

Some studios have decided that the money can be better spent on wining and dining only top execs from the 20 or so major circuits. In recent years, MGM has treated big-time theater honchos to all-expense-paid junkets to London and New York to promote upcoming pictures.

But the expense won’t stop Sony from hosting next year’s lead-off luncheon on March 10.

“Given the year we’ve had and the year we have coming up with ‘Godzilla,’ ‘Zorro’ and ‘The Stepmom,’ we felt it would be appropriate to have a big presence,” said Jeff Blake, Sony Pictures Releasing president.

Blake said the company was trying to come up with “some fun stuff beyond the usual dais and rubber chicken lunch.”

Venue search

Buena Vista traditionally hosts an extravagant event every other year at a venue away from the convention site. But while this should be an “on” year for Disney, the Aladdin Hotel, where the promo has been held in recent years, is slated to be torn down. The studio reportedly is having a hard time finding another suitable location.

In the past, New Line had typically sponsored dinners, but distribution and marketing president Mitch Goldman said he believed the Wednesday luncheon was a better slot.

Publicity value high

Goldman said that while ShoWest may not have a huge effect on film sales, its publicity value more than offsets the costs.

“I’m not sure that exhibitors run out to book pictures after ShoWest,” said Goldman, “but we believe that the entertainment press pays so much attention to those three days, it makes sense for us to be there. We don’t dread it every year like some companies do.”

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