ShowEast confab keeps stiff upper lip

About 1,100 attendees expected for this year's event starting Oct. 31

ORLANDO — Two years ago, ShowEast moved to this central Florida vacation mecca from Atlantic City, N.J., to stoke attendance of the exhibition confab, but 2001’s projected 12% drop in showgoers and 8% slide in booth space are being touted as hopeful signs — all things considered.

“We’re proud of our industry,” says Bob Sunshine of organizer Sunshine Group Worldwide. “We think they’re trying to show people that the nation is getting back to normal by coming out and supporting a show like this.”

About 1,100 attendees are expected to be on hand when ShowEast kicks off here Oct. 31 at the Marriott World Center. (International attendance reps 14% of the total.)

Exhibition booth numbers and floor space are also down — at 304 booths and 29,000 square feet, respectively — but the number of individual companies participating on the show floor is up one to 163.

Among the offerings from the studios: Sony Pictures Classics’ “Crush,” Warner Bros.’ “Ocean’s Eleven,” Miramax’s “Kate & Leopold” and “40 Days and 40 Nights, New Line’s “I Am Sam” and Disney’s “The Count of Monte Cristo.” New Line also will screen a 26-minute clip of “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” and will hold a “Rings”-themed party. Specialty-pic screenings will feature Sony Classics’ “The Devil’s Backbone,” Paramount Classics’ “Sidewalks of New York” and IFC’s “The Business of Strangers.”

Much of the attendance and floor-space slippage is attributable to industry consolidation and downsizing, with the balance traceable to reduced air travel in the wake of recent terrorist attacks, Sunshine says.

Yet less than 3% of registrants bowed out after the Sept. 11 tragedies, organizers estimate. “We’ve had fewer than 30 people cancel,” Sunshine says. “We are totally amazed at how well things are going in light of consolidation and all the terrible things that have happened.”

U.S. exhibition has been roiled by an industrywide financial crisis that’s sent a dozen circuits seeking bankruptcy court protection, spurred closings of thousands of older theaters nationwide, and prompted ownership turnover at several chains.

Last year, organizers cited industry retrenchment as the chief reason for a more modest than expected jump in attendance at last year’s ShowEast, the first in Orlando. This year, they are counting their blessings that backsliding was relatively moderate.

Among exhibs, only digital-sound vendor DTS has canceled a booth, though the company still will sponsor a Nov. 2 luncheon.

“Our company has decided that it is in the best interest of our employees that we do not travel at this delicate time,” DTS said in a recent letter to “valued customers, partners and friends.”

The decision to sit out the show was “made with great difficulty,” according to DTS business development director Michael Archer.

“All that aside, most people are pretty upbeat about this show,” Sunshine says. “There is a tremendous spirit in this industry, and they’ve come through the recent tragedies really well.”

To bolster that sense of recovery, organizers recently skedded a Nov. 1 keynote address by Hollywood cheerleader Jack Valenti, repping the first time in several years the Motion Picture Assn. of America boss has addressed ShowEast.

Valenti, who annually gives a state-of-the-industry address to exhibs attending ShoWest in Las Vegas, will be joined on the podium by Natl. Assn. of Theater Owners prexy John Fithian in remarks billed as “Hollywood and the Unification of America.”

“I’m looking at it as a little bit of a pep rally, from which people will come out feeling good about their industry,” Sunshine says.

Meanwhile, for all the anomalies of its timing this year, ShowEast 2001 will feature the usual array of the topic discussions, screenings and exhibit floor demos.

Though exhibs seem as resistant as ever to overtures from proponents of digital distribution and projection systems, “Crush,” Ocean’s Eleven” and “Kate & Leopold” will unspool digitally.

“It’s the most films we’ve ever shown in digital at a convention,” Sunshine notes.

Boeing Digital Cinema will beam “Kate & Leopold” via satellite, but the other two pics will be stored in advance on a file server located at the local AMC Entertainment multiplex being used for the screenings.

“We will be using actual hardware (that’s) representative of what can be put into theaters,” says Frank Stirling, exec director of Boeing Digital Cinema.

Components include a turnkey package of a satellite downlink, decryption and decompression technology plus file server for storing downloaded movies. Boeing hasn’t priced its system yet, but will also be demonstrating the hardware at its ShowEast booth, Stirling says.

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