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Chinese Exhibitors Pull Out of CinemaCon as Coronavirus Spreads; Trade Show Moving Forward (EXCLUSIVE)

A small group of Chinese move theater owners have cancelled plans to attend this year’s CinemaCon, the annual gathering of global exhibitors in Las Vegas, Variety has learned.

A delegation of roughly 24 people from China have pulled out over travel restrictions in the region, a spokesperson for the National Organization of Theater Owners, which produces the conference, told Variety. The event is scheduled to run March 30 to April 2, and is moving forward as planned. NATO will continue to monitor advisories from the state department and the Center for Disease Control.

Insiders at the major studios — which mount splashy presentations with exclusive footage and appearances from movie stars to woo theater owners — were buzzing on Monday over the possibility of a full-stop cancellation. Top film distribution chiefs worried that exhibitors might voluntarily stay home from a tourist epicenter like Las Vegas, and that the federal government might in turn seek to prohibit the spread of the disease in the gambling capital.

Italy and Korea are the latest regions to see spikes in coronavirus outbreak, which could well mean exhibitors from those regions will stay at home. Italy was not expected to account for a large number of attendees, people with knowledge of the convention said, though the Korean theatrical business is more significant in size.

Other international representative are still confirmed to attend, like Japan’s Kazuhiko Seta, the president of theater chain Toho Cinemas Ltd.. Seta is currently confirmed to a deliver a keynote address on March 30 at Caesar’s Palace, alongside Warner Bros. Pictures international theatrical distribution president Andrew Cripps.

CinemaCon also offers a vast trade show floor offering everything from the latest in luxury theater seats to movie snacks for vegans. Vendor booths are still 99% percent sold and expected to present, said another source.

The convention is only one of a number of major mass gatherings to consider or enact cancellation. Organizers of the annual SXSW conference, set to go up in mid-March, have seen international attendance pull out but will stay the course under the guidance of the CDC. The International Olympic Committee has set a three-week deadline to determine the fate of the Tokyo games, scheduled to begin on July 24, one committee member told the Associated Press on Monday.

With a death toll of over 2,000 to date, the novel virus is also hitting entertainment and media sectors hard. Roughly $2 billion has been lost in box office grosses since the Chinese government shut down movie theaters in late January. Theme parks in Asia have also been padlocked, resulting in a $200 million operating loss for places like Disney Shanghai, the company estimated on a February earnings call. Panicked stock sell-offs are also impacting content-owning tech companies, with the Dow dropping 1900 points in two days.

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