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CinemaCon 2015 a Lovefest for Studios, Exhibitors Thanks to Upcoming Blockbusters

The prospect of big box office makes for happy bedfellows.

During major studio presentations at CinemaCon this year, metropolises were wracked by earthquakes, dinosaurs treated parkgoers like kibble, and teams of costumed heroes saved the world from annihilation. But offscreen, the exhibition industry confab was characterized by a lack of drama. The four-day event is meant to be a lovefest between theater owners and the six major studios, but some years have spotlighted a more tumultuous relationship.

In 2011, reports broke that four of the majors planned to release a half-dozen films on VOD 60 days after their theatrical releases — rather than the standard 90-day period — leading to a bitter standoff with the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, the exhibition industry’s main lobbying arm.

Last year, it was studios’ turn to be aggrieved, after NATO chief John Fithian put his foot in his mouth by saying he could not bear to see “12 Years a Slave” in a movie theater. Fox, the studio behind the Oscar winner, was not amused.

With “Avengers: Age of Ultron” already putting up monster numbers overseas in advance of its Stateside debut, and some industry analysts predicting 2015 could mark the first time the global box office hits $40 billion, both sides took pains to brush aside hostilities.

Indeed, this year’s gathering was filled with pledges of how the two camps could work together. Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis began a pitch to international exhibitors with a slide that showed two people clasping hands.

And Yelmo Cines CEO Fernando Evole said both sides could drive box office while simultaneously promoting electronic and DVD sales through special SuperTicket promotions.

Bad blood around the windowing issue bubbled to the surface again last winter after terrorist threats prompted Sony to pull “The Interview” from theaters. The studio then backtracked, and launched an impromptu simultaneous on-demand and theatrical release, but at the time, exhibitors were outraged.

However, in a press conference at CinemaCon, Fithian said Sony’s leadership had assured the lobbying group that “The Interview” wasn’t setting a precedent. In his own presentation, newly minted Sony studio chief Tom Rothman thanked theater owners for understanding what he euphemistically dubbed “some difficult circumstances.”

Theater owners believe studios need them too much to aggressively try to shrink windows: The 2015 slate is loaded with tentpoles such as “Jurassic World,” “San Andreas,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Spectre” that need to be shown on thousands of screens in order to put up big numbers and justify their massive budgets. Moreover, Warner Bros. and Disney have announced lineups of comicbook sequels that extend to 2020.

As a sign of the new truce, Fithian speculated in his remarks to the assembled theater owners that as many as six films could top the $1 billion mark this year. But he declined to specify which ones.

Studios might be offended, he reasoned.

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