Top execs discuss SAG impact at ShoWest

If the threat of an actors strike lingers much longer, studios will be facing holes in their fall and winter 2009 slates.

That was the message as top marketing and distribution studio execs gathered for a luncheon panel at exhib confab ShoWest in Las Vegas.

“That could be the outcome if the actors strike issue isn’t resolved quickly,” Paramount vice chair Rob Moore said.

Other panelists were Sony vice chair Jeff Blake, Universal prexy of worldwide marketing and distribution Adam Fogelson and Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group prexy Mark Zoradi.

Once the writers strike ended, all the majors went into production on dozens of films that need to finish shooting by mid-June, in advance of the June 30 expiration of the Screen Actors Guild contract.

Fogelson and others tried to reassure exhibitors that studios are well prepared for the possibility of a SAG walkout and that the overall release calendar is in strong shape through summer 2009.

But even Fogelson admitted that there could be gaps in the production pipeline if there’s not a speedy resolution and a de facto actors strike avoided.

Moore said studios may have to shift their release skeds and push movies back.

The possibility of a Screen Actors Guild contract was just one of several topics covered during the panel.

If there’s an overriding theme to this year’s ShoWest, it is digital 3-D. The box office successes of 3-D titles “Beowulf” and “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour” may have finally provided the incentive for theater owners to make the costly conversion to digital and thus digital 3-D.

The beauty of 3-D? Higher ticket prices.

Next year, there are no fewer than nine digital 3-D releases, including James Cameron’s “Avatar.” Studios are pressuring theater owners to convert more screens, and quickly. Theater owners who don’t have digital screens won’t be able to partake and risk losing business to the competish.

“These next 24 months are really the tipping point. There are 1,000 3-D screens today. By the end of 2010, there could be 4,000-5,000,” said Zoradi, whose studio has been at the front of the 3-D movement, releasing “Hannah Montana.”

Studio execs also touched on the increasing importance of the Internet in building buzz for a movie.

Theater owners are also re-evaluating where they put their ad dollars. Regal Entertainment CEO Mike Campbell said earlier this week at ShoWest that Regal is considering pulling their movie listings from newspapers, saying people get the information for free from the Internet. Regal is the country’s largest theater circuit.

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