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CinemaCon Event Gets Global Attention from The Luminaries

CinemaCon Event

 If you are even a casual watcher of television shows such as Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood or if you read magazines such as People or Entertainment Weekly, you’re quite familiar with the annual movie industry event CinemaCon.

Everyone from astute analysts of and investors in the entertainment industry to giggly teenagers who just like to swoon over video snippets of the top movie stars taking the stage at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace to pitch their upcoming movies knows that CinemaCon is a hugely high-profile event that attracts a who’s who from the world of movies for a few days every spring.

If there is a hot new film in the pipeline, you’ll probably hear about it first through the global media coverage of CinemaCon.

And the group that is made up of both the generators of the worldwide attention focused on CinemaCon and the beneficiaries of that attention is comprised of the biggest-name movie studios: Warner Bros. Pictures, Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate, Walt Disney Studios and companies such as STXfilms, Amazon Studios and Focus Features. All come to CinemaCon each year just as they do to annual rites of film industry celebration such as the Cannes Film Festival.

So for star-gazing on-stage opportunities at The Colosseum such as full-cast gatherings of the movies The Fate of the Furious and Justice League or a chat between Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer to introduce their movie Snatched to the world, there is worldwide television coverage, making CinemaCon a brand with global recognition.

But while most every consumer of popular media feels that they completely get what CinemaCon is all about, they only have a piece of the equation of what makes the annual show so successful for its stakeholders, the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), the International Cinema Technology Association (ICTA) and the National Association of Concessionaires (NAC)

National Association of Theater Owners (NATO)

“What the studios bring to our convention is the true magnet that brings attention to our event. The studios are the engine that drives our car, if you will,” says Mitch Neuhauser, managing director of CinemaCon and leader of a four-member team that plans and executes the event each year.

Neuhauser says that studio presentations not only offer an opportunity for star gazing, but also bring an energy that excites theater owners.

But the display of star power is just one component of CinemaCon, Neuhauser says. It’s also a major theater industry trade show with 504 booths and 290 exhibiting entities in 2017, including companies that manufacture and market everything from high-tech screen projection equipment to popcorn machines. And there are also the makers and suppliers of concessions, including big names such as Coca-Cola, which has been a presenting partner since the show’s inception in 2011.

The trade show aspect offers that classic component that good trade shows have been offering since they first began—face-to-face interaction between the sellers, in this case ranging from equipment manufacturers to concession suppliers—and the buyers and prospective customers, the theater operators.

Also included in the big-picture category of “sellers” are the movie studios themselves, focused on getting their new movies on as many theater screens as possible.

The studios do luncheons, parties and other events during the course of CinemaCon where studio people can interact with theater owners and operators.

“CinemaCon is that rare and maybe once-a-year opportunity for the creative community to connect with the theater ownership and management community,” Neuhauser says. “And it's really an unbelievable experience because filmmakers and talent still remember when they first wanted to be a part of the movie industry. And so much of that started when they first went to the movies, an experience most of them remember vividly. And so when they get out before the exhibition community, they make this unique connection. And personal involvement makes it such a close connection.”

He says that the core attendance at CinemaCon is composed of about 3,900 fully paid delegates, plus another 1,500 business attendees who want to focus exclusively on the trade show.

“So that’s about 5,400 attendees,” Neuhauser says. “And then there are people that just know that this is the place to be for the week so they come to Vegas for the duration of our meeting. So I’m going to say that in all we probably have in excess of 6,500 to 7,000 people who come to Las Vegas for CinemaCon.”

NATO, parent company of CinemaCon, is the largest association of theater exhibition companies in the world, representing the owners and operators of 32,000 U.S. movie screens, as well as cinemas in 92 countries.

The influential entertainment industry newspaper Variety has called CinemaCon “the annual love fest between theater owners and studios.”

A key ingredient in what Neuhauser considers the formula for CinemaCon’s success is the venue where it is held—Caesars Palace.

“What we have at Caesars is fantastic,” he says. “Caesars can rent out its entire conference center—we overtake it for our event. The Colosseum is the jewel of the entertainment world in Las Vegas. It’s incomparable. The success we achieve with CinemaCon at Caesars in Las Vegas is directly attributable to the quality of the team at Caesars.”

As it is with most any good association convention, there are numerous educational sessions running through the four-day event. NATO, ICTA and NAC all hold sessions during CinemaCon. Education sessions focus on topics that will help attendees enhance both their own career skills and the ability of their businesses to evolve in a positive fashion to compete in the 21st-century marketplace. Social media skills and strategies are taught each year in highly popular training sessions. 

“As soon as you attend a session on social media, 10 minutes later chances are the landscape has changed,” Neuhauser says. “So doing sessions on social media and how the theaters need to connect with their consumers has great importance.”

NATO’s association partner, the ICTA, hosts a popular seminar every year on technological aspects of the industry.

Education sessions focused on concessions and snacks are important because of NATO members’ shared philosophy on how theaters will move forward in coming months and years—providing a unique environment in which one can have an inviting culinary experience that could range from the traditional hot dog to restaurant-like dining. Food and concessions are also a major profit center for theaters, so the ability to offer food and drink that theater goers will enjoy becomes of key interest.

So while the appearances of A-list celebrities such as Brad Pitt on the stage at CinemaCon draw the lion’s share of the media attention, they represent a small portion of the activities going on during the conference and trade show.

Take away the studio presentations in The Colosseum and you have a very business-oriented convention and trade show like hundreds of trade associations and corporations around the world have every day, Neuhauser says.

The excitement and fun of the CinemaCon experience is a compelling draw for the event, but at the end of the day, it’s all about a business-to-business interaction experience.

“The movie studios are committed to the future of their movies being seen by audiences who come to the movie theater to see those movies,” Neuhauser says. “And of course our membership (theater owners and operators) is dedicated to that as well.”

Like many conventions and trade shows that are widely known to the general public, CinemaCon is not actually open to the general public. Groups that feel they might benefit from a business standpoint by attending the show can of course inquire about registration, but preference is given to businesses within the category of the movie industry and the live-audience movie theater realm.

But there is a reason that the 1,500 or so people not affiliated with CinemaCon come to Las Vegas during the week (usually in March or April) of the influential event.

Reporters for publications such as Variety have written about running across big-name celebrities shopping in one of the boutiques in Caesars Palace or the area around the hotel during the times that CinemaCon is in town.

CinemaCon is an entity fully owned by NATO, which has been an advocacy group for the movie theater industry for decades, and Neuhauser himself is a strong advocate of the movie theater experience.

As he lays out the case for why he believes theaters will thrive in the years going forward, he describes an element not dissimilar to what the meeting industry offers—live, personal interaction.

“People don’t talk anymore—they text, they email each other,” he says. “But if you go to a movie it becomes a social phenomenon if you will. You’re talking about it, interacting with each other.”

And that is why he thinks the movies—in theaters—have a strong future.

About the Author

Roland Stiteler
Rowland Stiteler

Rowland Stiteler, a veteran meeting industry journalist, is a writer and editor for The Meeting Professional.