Rochester ankling Reading for top spot at Oz’s Cinimagic

Exhib head becoming exec chair for Showscan licensee

SYDNEY — John Rochester is ankling as CEO of Reading Australia at the end of May, after fighting for three years to build a circuit for the U.S.-owned exhib in the face of united opposition from the three dominant loops: Greater Union, Village and Hoyts.

But Rochester, who is seguing to exec chairman of Showscan licensee Cinimagic, starting in July, insists his departure in no way signals a retreat by Reading.

The upstart exhib, which currently operates four cinemas, has six multiplexes under construction and has secured an additional six sites, Rochester told Daily Variety. That means Reading will have 71 screens operating by the end of this year, and it’s on track to expand to its goal of 150 screens, although that will take several years longer than planned.

Rochester said Reading is facing court challenges from competitors on only two sites — Melbourne’s Moonee Ponds and Penrith, west of Sydney.

However, a running sore for Reading is its Market City fiveplex in Sydney, which has struggled to sell tickets since it opened last November, after distribs (under pressure from the major exhibs) decided to withhold first-run product.

Rochester has been preparing a case to present to the exhib/distrib industry’s conciliator, which will now be an issue for his successor, who has not yet been named.

“It was mission accomplished” in securing a critical mass of screens, Rochester said, and a good time to take the opportunity offered by Cinimagic, where he was appointed non-exec chairman a month ago.

It’s been a rough ride for Cinimagic and its predecessor, sell-through video distrib Network Entertainment, until it was rescued from voluntary administration in 1997 by a capital injection from the Waterhouse horse racing family.

The sole Showscan attraction in Sydney’s Darling Harbor opened 14 months ago, but has been hampered by construction in the surrounding mall. Despite that, the facility has attracted 200,000 visitors, and it’s being relaunched in June or July.

Karl O’Farrell, who continues as managing director of Cinimagic, says he’s lining up two or three Showscan sites, which would be in entertainment/tourist destinations, not in malls, after the U.S. experience proved that wasn’t successful.

Cinimagic has the Showscan license for Southeast Asia, and O’Farrell aims to build as many as 20-30 motion picture simulation theaters in the region in the next five years, in league with local partners.