2009 edition scales back on blockbusters

LAS VEGAS — ShoWest has always staged major events for major movies.

In 2007, the cast of “Hairspray” shook things up with a surprise live performance, while Michael Bay showed off almost a half-hour of “Transformers.” And last year, auds got an early screening of blockbuster “Kung Fu Panda” and were treated to a huge party for the world premiere of “21.”

But this year, a look at both the event schedule — and the Las Vegas convention landscape at large — shows just how scaled back the 2009 edition is.

Films to be screened this year are smaller in scope and buzz: Sandra Bullock starrer “The Proposal,” Par-DreamWorks’ delayed “The Soloist,” Roadside Attractions’ “Battle for Terra” and Woody Allen’s “Whatever Works” are the marquee titles.

It’s obvious that studios do not have to bring their tentpole titles to ShoWest anymore — that’s been clear for awhile — but none of the current crop of pics seems to be even remotely close to blockbuster territory.

And it’s not just the type of movies screened that prove ShoWest is getting smaller. Attendance will be down 15%, reducing the amount of registered confab-goers to around 2,400.

Booth rentals also are shrinking. “Companies that used to take 20 booths are down to 14,” one source said. “It’s not that there are fewer companies represented … it’s that they are all sending fewer people.”

But that’s the way it’s going in Las Vegas lately, where the economy is putting the squeeze on the city’s core convention business.

A recent New York Times story citing the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said that in the first month of 2009, 30,000 hotel room nights booked for conferences were canceled at an estimated loss of $20 million to the city.

The bureau also said that Las Vegas had experienced a 4% drop in visitors in 2008 from the year before and a decline of 6% in the number of conventions and events held here in that same period.

As for studios, some will be here in full force, while some won’t be here at all. The usual kickoff session, called International Day, has been scrapped. Disney and Sony will be showing off product reels, but Universal execs aren’t even showing up. Warners will be repped by Alan Horn, who speaks Tuesday morning alongside MPAA topper Dan Glickman, and Fox is repped by Jim Gianopulos, who gave Monday’s keynote speech. A late addition was Jeffrey Katzenberg, who also spoke Monday.

The economy is definitely affecting who’s here and who’s not, and it’s also affecting two of the big reasons ShoWest exists: concessions and exhibition technology. While the movie business is doing great, the popcorn-and-soda biz isn’t. And 3-D conversion has had to endure a slow rollout.

Adding to the smaller “feel”: When Glickman took over the MPAA, it decided to put out its state-of-the-industry numbers — everything from marketing costs to ticket price increases — the week before ShoWest, with much fanfare.

This year, there was no such tubthumping, due in large part to politics (Daily Variety, March 25). According to sources, the MPAA didn’t want to call attention to the great year, because several lawmakers were using that to stop any stimulus money coming the industry’s way.

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