NATO to start own convention in 2011

The National Assn. of Theater Owners is breaking away from exhib confab ShoWest and will begin hosting its own convention beginning in 2011 after winning the blessing of exhibitors — and studios.

Theater owners decided it no longer made economic sense to partner with Nielsen Business Media Film Group, a for-profit tradeshow company. NATO believes it can keep costs down by operating the annual convention, held in Las Vegas, on a nonprofit basis.

Over the past few years, studios have scaled back in terms of the money they spend to showcase their summer product at ShoWest, citing rising costs. Exhibitors also have grown increasingly frustrated.

And — at the suggestion of studios — NATO will hold the convention somewhat later in the spring, so that more summer and fall films will be finished and ready for exhibitors to see.

Pact with Nielsen ends after the 2010 ShoWest. Nielsen also operates ShowEast — which is under way this week in Orlando — but NATO is not a partner on that event. ShoWest, held in the spring, is by far the bigger of the two gatherings in terms of attendance and revenues.

NATO said it is throwing its full weight behind the 2009 and 2010 ShoWest confabs, which are managed for Nielsen by Bob Sunshine and Mitch Neuhauser.

“Our members believe we can derive better value at a lower cost with a convention that’s not operated for profit,” NATO prexy John Fithian said. “We have enjoyed our partnership with Bob, Mitch and their teams and will continue to support the show through 2010.”

The exact fate of ShoWest isn’t known, although it’s doubtful whether it would get much traffic once the NATO show is up and running.

NATO is keeping the convention in Las Vegas, but will relocate it from Paris/Bally’s to Caesars Palace, which has more room and state-of-the-art screening facilities.

To some degree, ShoWest became a victim of consolidation. In 2000, NATO sold the convention to the Sunshine Group, which in turn went through a series of changes, culminating with its sale to Nielsen’s tradeshow group. Sunshine and Neuhauser stayed on with Nielsen and have continued to organize ShoWest and ShowEast, among other duties.

A NATO task force has been working for nearly a year on the plan to throw its own bash. Phil Harris of Signature Theaters and Bill Stembler of Georgia Theater Co. co-chair the task force, whose other members are Cinemark’s Leroy Mitchell, AMC’s Peter Brown and Regal Entertainment’s Rob Del Moro.

Task force negotiated the deal with Caesars, as well as got studios onboard. At some point, the task force will hire a management team to run the convention.

The final two ShoWest shows will be held March 30-April 2 and March 15-18, 2010.

The first NATO-only confab will run March 28-31, 2011. The following year, it will run April 23-26 and in 2013, April 15-18.

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