John Fithian, the cinema business’ top lobbyist, didn’t say the names MoviePass or Screening Room during his annual remarks to exhibitors Tuesday morning. He didn’t need to.
Instead of singling out some of the industry’s most notorious disruptors, the National Association of Theatre Owners chief talked in broader terms, rejecting the idea that the business he advocates on behalf of needs to fundamentally alter its approach.
“I can’t begin to tell you how often reporters have asked me if the movie theater industry is dying,” said Fithian, a 26-year veteran of the business. “Every downturn in admissions is a sign of secular decline, every innovation or improvement is intended to ‘save’ the movie theater business.”
His remarks came at CinemaCon, an exhibition industry conference that’s unfolding this week in Las Vegas. Fithian took the stage as MoviePass has successfully introduced the concept of low-cost subscriptions to the public, while facing questions about its long-term financial health. He also was addressing an industry that has seen domestic attendance decline in recent years, while box office revenues have been bolstered by higher ticket prices.
“There has been a lot of hype about the next ‘disruption,’ he added. “VHS. DVD. Streaming. Shortened windows. PVOD. Subscriptions and simultaneous release. Yet we never die but remain a strong business in the face of disruption everywhere else in the entertainment landscape.”
Fithian used to data to suggest that new forms of media aren’t necessarily cannibalizing the old. The NATO chief said the group recently conducted a study with Ernst & Young of over 1,400 people who watched at least one movie in theatres in 2017 and used streaming services like Netflix for at least an hour per week. The research found that 33% of moviegoers who see 9 or more movies a year also spend 15 or more hours every week on streaming platforms.
“People who consume a lot of content do so across multiple platforms,” he said, adding, “The movie industry is not a zero-sum game. The more movie lovers we can create, the better off we all are. And it starts with movie theaters.”
Fithian posited that recent hits that tapped the zeitgeist such as “Black Panther” and “Get Out” wouldn’t have been as culturally relevant if they’d debuted on digital platforms and had eschewed a theatrical run.
“Their impact is a direct result of people experiencing them in a communal way,” he said.