Confab gets under way in Vegas

As exhibitors gather for the final ShoWest starting today in Las Vegas, the National Assn. of Theater Owners has remonikered next year’s exhib confab as CinemaCon.

With NATO preparing to take over ShoWest next year in an effort to boost studio participation, Warner Bros. is the only major skedded to do a slate presentation this year, though Disney, Sony, Lionsgate, Summit and CBS will screen upcoming titles.

Converting theaters to digital to handle the flood of 3D releases is likely to be the top talking point for exhibitors and studio reps at the convention. Other issues confronting exhibs, such as the controversial shortening of theatrical windows for titles such as “Alice in Wonderland,” could also draw discussion.

ShoWest, which runs through Thursday, is jointly produced by NATO and the Sunshine Group, part of Nielsen Business Media’s for-profit tradeshow group.

NATO’s board voted last year to break away and begin hosting the annual convention on its own beginning in 2011. By making it a nonprofit event, NATO believes it can keep costs down and entice studios and indie distribs to once again be a bigger part of the show.

Convention also will move from the Paris and Bally hotels to Caesars Palace. Studios and other distribs will get to show their movies at the 4,000-seat Colosseum Theater, instead of splitting auds between the two theaters at the Paris and Bally’s.

CinemaCon will be held in late March or early April.

“Bob Sunshine’s group has done an amazing job with ShoWest over the years, and has been a great partner. But there is only so much we can do within the confines of being a for-profit show,” NATO prexy-CEO John Fithian said.

“CinemaCon will have a new look and a new face and, hopefully, pump more value back into the show,” Fithian said.

Over the last several years, the majors have done fewer and fewer official presentations at ShoWest, citing rising prices.

This year is particularly lean. While Warners has the only official presentation of its upcoming slate on Thursday, DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg is fond of swooping into ShoWest for a surprise visit (there’s word that will be the case again this year).

Fithian said CinemaCon will remain an industry-centric show, providing distributors early looks at spring and summer pics and a chance to discuss marketing plans.

Several other studios will screen select titles over the course of the week, in the absence of more elaborate presentations.

Disney will screen both “Toy Story 3″ and the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” while Sony will screen “The Karate Kid.” Other screenings include Lionsgate’s “Kick-Ass,” Summit Entertainment’s “Letter to Juliet” and CBS Films’ “The Back-Up Plan.”

Monday night is devoted to indies, including Focus Features’ Sundance acquisition “The Kids Are All Right,” Apparition’s “The Square” and Sony Pictures Classics’ “Get Low.”

On Tuesday, outgoing Motion Picture Assn. of America CEO Dan Glickman is expected to give a retrospective of his tenure when debriefing exhibs on the MPAA’s annual state-of-the-industry report. He’ll be flanked by Fithian and MPAA prexy and interim CEO Bob Pisano.

Monday, Sony Pictures Entertainment chair-CEO Michael Lynton is skedded to deliver the confab’s keynote address.

ShoWest organizers say attendance is expected to be up from last year after a low during the heart of the recession.

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