CinemaCon: From MoviePass to Saudi Arabia, 5 Things to Look For

CinemaCon, the annual theater industry love fest, is kicking off in Las Vegas.

Exhibitors and studios will be descending to Sin City on Monday with the goal of reassuring one another that end times aren’t nigh for the movie business. To bolster their case, the likes of Warner Bros., Disney, and Universal will be unspooling previews from potential summer blockbusters such as “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “Ocean’s 8.” But questions remain about the overall health of the business at a time when streaming services are on the rise and domestic attendance is struggling. Here are five things to look for at CinemaCon.

1.) The Fate of Early VOD

Previous CinemaCons have threatened to unravel over the specter of premium video-on-demand. Studios such as Universal and Warner Bros. have been pushing hard to release movies in homes within weeks of their big screen debuts and have floated the idea of cutting in theater owners on a taste of the profits. However, talks appear to have flatlined for one major reason. Fox, one of the big boosters of early VOD, is selling most of its film and television assets to Disney, one of the proposal’s critics. Disney, with films from Marvel, Pixar, and LucasFilm, makes lots of money on theatrical distribution. It doesn’t want to rock that boat. Of course, that stance could soften once it unveils its own in-house streaming service. If Disney is serious about challenging Netflix, those theatrical windows may have to shrink. Stay tuned for next CinemaCon?

2.) Saudi Arabia Rising

The Middle Eastern country just opened its first theater in more than three decades and more cinemas are expected to open in the coming weeks and months. With the ban lifted, Hollywood is salivating at the prospect of getting its movies in front of the country’s 30 million citizens. Some analysts project that Saudi Arabia could be among the top ten markets for film within a matter of years.

Still, Saudi Arabia is a culturally conservative country, so it’s unclear how easily Hollywood blockbusters will translate in a world where women only recently were allowed to drive. Expect “Riyadh fever” to be on full display at this year’s CinemaCon, where exhibitors are likely to talk up the big box office to be generated from the desert kingdom.

3.) MoviePass Crashes the Party

The Netflix-like subscription service has disrupted theater-going, but questions remain about its financial health following a skeptical auditor’s report. If MoviePass is able to keep itself afloat and can keep adding to its millions of subscribers, exhibitors may have no choice but to make a deal with the start-up. If its practice of buying tickets at full price and then heavily subsidizing them for its customers yields to laws of conventional arithmetic, it may rank as a noble, but failed, attempt to revolutionize an industry in need of fresh ideas. Whatever the outcome, attention will be paid by CinemaCon attendees.

4.) Can the Holiday Box Office Compete?

The summer box office is expected to be massive. Sequels and spin-offs to “Mission: Impossible,” “The Incredibles,” “Jurassic World,” and “Star Wars” are all on tap and several films, such as “Crazy Rich Asians,” have the potential to break out in a big way. However, 2018 seems likely to close with a whimper. Disney’s decision to release “Solo: A Star Wars Story” in the height of summer instead of the end of the year robs the yuletide season of its annual box office feast of the Jedi. Will “Mary Poppins Returns” and “Aquaman” be able to make up the difference? Theater owners are hoping that the studios that come to CinemaCon can convince them that they’ll be able to deliver the goods.

5.) A New Set of Hollywood Overlords

A wave of media consolidation is sweeping aside an old order and refashioning the movie business in its wake. By the time CinemaCon 2019 rolls around, the companies taking the stage in Caesars Palace, where studio presentations are held, will be radically different. Disney is buying much of Fox, Paramount’s parent company Viacom is trying to recombine with CBS, and AT&T is struggling to get government approval to purchase Warner Bros.’ parent company Time Warner. This froth of change could impact studios such as Sony and Lionsgate, who might feel like they need to find new corporate kingdoms to be a part of or risk being outgunned. The more things change, the less they stay the same.

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