Movie Theater Industry’s Top Lobbyist Knocks Trump-Style Economic Policies

John Fithian CinemaCon
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

John Fithian, the top lobbyist for the movie theater industry, hit back at rising populism around the globe in an address to studio executives and distributors on Tuesday.

The film business is a globalized one, dependent on the free flow of talent and goods, the National Association of Theatre Owners head said at CinemaCon. His comments came in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, and a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping across Europe and the United States.

All of these political changes signal a growing feeling in certain segments that their societies should become more insular. In turn, these movements, particularly in the case of Trump, have often been married to an economic protectionism that is openly flirting with enacting tariffs on imports.

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Without naming Trump, Fithian said the exhibition community should embrace a world is flat view.

“Open and diverse societies can drive movie attendance,” said Fithian, noting that Hispanics represent a disproportionate amount of ticket buyers and that Asian and African-American audiences are on the rise.

He cautioned that any sweeping trade legislation could imperil the exhibition business. He noted that Mexican-based Cinepolis buys corn for its popcorn from Iowa and Indiana, and cheese for its snacks from Wisconsin. If free trade policies between Mexico and the United States are swept away, the company would have to buy more expensive corn from Argentina and find another source for its cheese, he said. Higher duties will also contribute to rising costs on projectors and other equipment, hurting the industry, Fithian argued.

Piracy has been a major issue for the movie business. Trade agreements have been used to slow the spread of illegal copies of films, Fithian argued.

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“Exhibitors around the world lose billions of dollars each year to movie theft, and the losses would be much greater if not for a coordinated war on piracy,” Fithian said.

Fithian wasn’t just concerned with the movement of goods. He stressed that greater openness was an essential component for the creative health of the industry.

“The global nature of our industry encourages directors from around the world to bring their unique visions to major productions,” Fithian said.

The NATO chief didn’t just take on Trump-ism and its ilk. He also took issue with claims that millennials are fleeing the multiplexes for streaming services, gaming, and other forms of digital disruption. Changes in consumer behavior have roiled the home entertainment market, with revenues dropping 7% in 2016 to $12 billion. Yet Fithian noted that the domestic box office hit record levels last year and the global box office also eked out a new high-water mark. He stressed that millennials represented more than half of frequent moviegoers and that their percentage of ticket sales is growing.

“There has been disruption in the industry — just not in the movie theater industry,” Fithian said.

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  1. tjchurch2001 says:

    He discusses how we keep the popcorn less expensive, yet I have to watch for when it is less-expensive (once was free, but no more) at my local theater, as it is the only food diagnosed Diabetics like me are allowed to buy & consume at their concession stands, yet costs often more than the candies that could negatively affect my health….

    See how much they care when Diabetic complications kill me, & I don’t survive to buy tickets to any Summer blockbusters!!

  2. Angry Asian Man says:

    To hell with racist Hollywood.

  3. sean kennedy says:

    Mr. John Fithian, I’m resenting an important comment below which I sent to Mr. Lang and Mr. Steadman previously. As the top lobbyist for the movie theater industry and have direct contacts with theaters owners, please speak with Mr. Wang Jianlin, Chairman of Wanda Group, owner of the AMC theaters in Century City in Los Angeles; regarding my meditative comments below to Mr. Alex Stedman and Mr. Brent Lang regarding the Wanda Group’s heedless and incautious disregard and concern for the impaired hearing in their AMC theaters in Century City. Thank you.

    Please Mr. Alex Stedman and Mr. Brent Lang; with both of your power influence in the press by being in the same room with the powerful Wanda Group who owns the AMC theaters in Century City; PLEASE, PLEASE!! ask the Chairman of Wanda Group, Mr. Wang Jianlin, to spend some of his billions in fixing the Assistive listening device (ALD) systems in the AMC theaters in Century City! The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which was enactment of the ADA in 1990 made accessibility mandatory for the deaf and hearing impaired to enjoy a night at the movies in all theaters with fixed seating for 50 patrons or more are required to provide an ALD system. The sound system in the AMC theaters in Century City are horrible, including the embarrassing dirty rest rooms! The special receivers that are available at the AMC theaters in Century City have never worked!
    The Wanda Group have turned a deaf ear (pardon the pun) to their customers at the AMC theaters in Century City, ask the managers about the constant and numerous complaints from the impaired of hearing at the AMC theaters in Century City! It’s obvious with all the new technology available in all other movie theaters, the Wanda Group have not utilized all the new technology available in their AMC theaters in Century City; irrespective of complying with federal regulations requiring them to provide hearing assistive services for their hearing impaired customers. Mr. Stedman/Mr. Lang, please visit and interview the managers at the AMC theaters in Century City and help the impaired of hearing to enjoy the movies that were once a pleasure at the AMC theaters in Century City. Thank you both!!

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