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INTERVIEW - Chris Dammann, Director of Communications for the National Association of Concessionaries on May 19, 2014

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Can you describe what NAC’s role and organization are?

The National Association of Concessionaires (NAC) is celebrating its 70th anniversary as a trade association this year. The international organization is comprised of trading partners dedicated to the concessions, hospitality, and leisure-time food industry, in not only the movie exhibition business, but also in venues such as professional and college sports arenas, amusement parks, racetracks, family entertainment centers, performing art centers, convention centers, and many more.

NAC members come in all shapes and sizes. The membership consists of people who operate concessions and food service, companies who supply food products and services enjoyed at these operations, and manufacturers who make equipment used in both the preparation and serving of these offerings.

As far as programing, NAC provides a networking platform, tools and education programs that help our members succeed in meeting and surpassing the expectations of the increasingly diverse and demanding patrons who frequent our venues.

The association has over 500 members, which is a high-water mark in recent history. Pardon the brief promotion, but there has never been a better time to be a member of NAC and to prove it, we are offering a very attractive first-time membership rate that more than pays for itself.

NAC has an annual event called the Concession & Hospitality Expo that is slated for July 15–18 at the Denver Marriott City Center in Denver, Colorado. It’s an education conference covering a wide range of topics and a highly successful trade show that is already very close to a sellout. We invite all to attend, and you can find out more by visiting www.naconline.org

You were at CinemaCon last week. What were your key takeaways from the trade show?

The big picture is that the movie exhibition industry is as strong as ever. The show set an attendance record and the trade show floor was jam-packed to the delight of the companies who made a significant investment to display their goods and services. Everywhere you turned, there were substantive conversations and meetings between buyers and sellers. Hats off to CinemaCon and NATO for setting the bar high. We are looking forward to a continuing partnership with CinemaCon.

I am proud to say that NAC members were strongly represented at the show. As an association, we had many great conversations with current and future members. One particular highlight was the NAC educational session, “Concession Confessions: Lessons Learned and Future Opportunities.” It was a panel discussion led by Kathi Gillman of Starplex Cinemas. The content and interaction between the panel and the large audience was impressive and brought some key issues and trends to light.

What are currently the main trends you are observing in the movie theater concession business?

According to the panel of experts that I just referred to, there seem to be three areas that continue to jump out, and they are: quality, convenience, and access to alcoholic beverages. Just about every question and discussion during the session seemed to address one of these topics. Theater patrons reflect current society, meaning they have diverse and demanding expectations.

Food offerings are trending more toward café style, in addition to the traditional fare, which necessitates greater equipment and training.

The design of the concession stand is changing to be more flexible to serve patrons efficiently in both high- and low-demand periods. In-show short-order capabilities and on-premises bars and restaurants for before and after the show are gaining traction.

The inclusion of alcohol service has been highly effective for our theater operator members. They have been able to incorporate this feature in an efficient and responsible manner, and it has opened up new streams of revenue and promotional partnership opportunities with suppliers.

How much of an impact do you foresee for luxury theaters?

The luxury theater is a niche market, but it is growing every year. Many of our theater circuit members are operating a luxury banner or are in the process of piloting the concept. It is a way to cater to the moviegoer that is looking for a all-inclusive, quality experience and a way for theater owners to stay unique and relevant during a time when entertainment is readily available at home. Experiencing a motion picture in a theater with others is still the best way to enjoy the movies, so it makes sense to provide this heightened level of service.

Your organization has an international footprint, which gives you some visibility in the overall industry. What are the elements that set the U.S. market apart from other international markets?

In talking and interacting with several international members, a common thread seems to be the dichotomy of large and small theaters in the United States versus the large circuits internationally. The difference is a constant factor to take into account when providing service to our members.

There are certainly differences that we see between our U.S. and international members. Another element that comes to mind is the current rash of government and regulatory issues and restrictions being placed on operators. Although the particulars of those restrictions may vary, there is some concern that it is open season on the movie exhibition industry around the globe.

Not to diminish the topic, but NAC tends to focus on the trends and issues that are common to all of our members, both foreign and domestic. In our experience, there are many more that unite us than divide us, and one of our key functions is to make sure that we learn from one another.

Chris Dammann is the director of communications for the National Association of Concessionaires.

New Research by Harkness Leads to Theatrical Breakthroughs on May 18, 2014

harknessscreens.pngBy Phil Contrino

Have you ever arrived at a movie 20 minutes early in order to secure a seat? If so, then you’ve probably noticed that there is a thought process that goes into how each and every patron picks a seat in an auditorium. Teenagers sit near their friends, families sit near the exits in order to make appeasing restless kids easier, film enthusiasts find a seat as close to the middle as they can get, and so on. Technological concerns also play a huge role in this decision: arrive late to a 3D showing and you’ll notice that most seats in the middle of the auditorium are taken. Now, thanks to a fascinating new report by Harkness, a U.K.-based manufacturer and designer of projection screens, those observations have been transformed into solid data that can be used to improve the moviegoing experience.

Released in March, Harkness’s Project Clarus dissected and compared the behavior of customers who watched a film on a traditional Spectral silver screen versus their new Clarus XC screen. The goal is a simple one: to ensure that everyone in the theater experiences the same level of technical quality. An even experience leads to happier customers and more box office receipts.

BoxOffice recently caught up with Richard Mitchell, Harkness’s global head of marketing, to discuss the main points of this report.

Was there one conclusion in Harkness’s research that really surprised you? If so, why?

The main thing that surprised us was how aware of brightness-level issues the viewing public is. The issues we talk about as an industry and seek to find solutions to are felt by the viewing public. They might not be able to explain at a technical level why something either looks too dark or isn’t as good as they’d expect, but they do see and feel it. They’re also incredibly in tune with where the best places are to sit in an auditorium in order to get the best presentation, and some surprisingly stated that they actively avoid going to see the movie or go to another theater if they can’t pre-book their seat online or if that seat isn’t available.

It’s clear from the report that many moviegoers know what they want to see when it comes to the theatrical experience. Do you think audiences are more tech savvy today than ever before, and do you think they are being underestimated?

I think that’s absolutely clear from the research that they are. The viewing public feels that the cost to go to the movies is high, and they’re rightly or wrongly demanding a premium experience to match that price. They want to feel like they’re a part of the movie, be it from immersive sound or bright and clear 2D and 3D presentation. The exhibitor business is facing an interesting challenge as there are other entertainment alternatives available through the likes of large televisions, home theaters, even on-demand content from the likes of Netflix, so making that cinema experience significantly better and different from other media is vital to preserving the future of big-screen movie presentation.

A lot of people are saying that 3D has reached its maturity. Do you agree or do you think there’s room to grow?

I think there’s definitely room to grow. Modern first-generation 3D might have reached its maturity, but the next wave of innovation is coming through. We’re in an industry that never sits still and is constantly innovating, and we’re already seeing a lot of new product development and improvement not just in terms of screens, but also in 3D technology and sound. Ultimately if the offering is strong, the premium price point is acceptable, and the quality, both in terms of content and presentation, is sufficiently different from either 2D or home 3D, then the viewing public will buy in, Gravity is a fine example of that principle.

Do you think Clarus XC has the ability to reverse negative opinions of 3D?

Most definitely. The group we worked with indicated that although they wouldn’t necessarily be prepared to pay a premium to watch a 3D film on a Clarus XC screen, it would make them more inclined to go to the cinema to watch a 3D movie. That’s a key indicator of the power of Clarus XC in our opinion, particularly when you consider their thoughts and feelings on 3D presentation in general. It’s that added depth, sharpness, and color accuracy along with the uniformity that really distinguishes Clarus XC and makes the difference on the eye. The feedback we gained from those that saw the screenings on Clarus XC screens at CinemaCon echoed what we’d seen during the trial, so there’s no doubt that the difference is both noticeable and received extremely positively by the audience. Of course there are other elements such as high efficiency 3D systems (like RealD’s XL unit) or laser projection that will enable that negative opinion to be reshaped, but Clarus XC is, in our opinion, definitely a big part of that mix.

How important do you think proper auditorium construction is to enjoying quality screens? How does Clarus XC help an auditorium that may not be optimized for 3D?

That really depends on the type of screen you’ve put in there. A low-gain screen makes the geometry of an auditorium a little less important than a high-gain equivalent from a light distribution perspective. Traditional silver screens like our Spectral range set a benchmark in terms of 3D presentation, but they were a necessity in the midst of the 3D boom we saw a few years ago. That retrofit silver screen program meant that although 3D performance was possible, there were implications on brightness uniformity, and these had varying levels of impact across the auditorium, particularly at the most oblique angles. Screen technology has moved on significantly since then, and one of the key advantages of Clarus XC technology, aside from the improvement in optical performance, is its ability to distribute light in a much more uniform way than before, so you instantly see a significant reduction in hot-spotting and a better picture from everywhere in the auditorium, even in the front corners, which is shown by the feedback in the report. So realistically Clarus XC technology is taking us back a bit more in the direction of white screens and making auditorium geometry a little less, although still very, important.

What’s the main lesson you hope the exhibition industry takes away from your report?

That there’s more that’s being done to help improve presentation quality and that there’s practical solutions available to exhibitors today that will help them retain and potentially drive incremental revenue at the box office. The group were clear in explaining about seating choice and the implication if they can’t get the seat they want. The research suggests that when watching a movie on a Clarus XC screen, the viewing public would be a lot less choosy given the light distribution and uniformity both in 2D and 3D. Clarus XC could be a significant solution to issues felt by exhibitors today.

What’s the main lesson you hope the distribution industry takes away from your report?

Hopefully that we’re taking the issues of brightness and uniformity extremely seriously and that we’re constantly looking at ways to improve the overall viewing experience. We want to ensure that content is shown on the best possible screen, that the audience buys in fully to cinema, and that it remains sufficiently different from other viewing media.

Can you tell me a little bit about the Clarus XC roll out? How many screens do you have in place? How many are committed?

To date we’ve had significant success with Clarus XC 170 mainly in Europe with some early adoption in the USA. There are already over 200 screens installed and an increasing number on order. Aligned to the sales we’ve also seen Clarus XC technology deployed at major film festivals, premieres, trials with major Hollywood studios and that interest and, indeed, adoption is growing daily. There’s no doubt in Clarus we have something extremely impressive, and we’re delighted the industry is behind the product.

NORTH AMERICA: Studio Estimates: 'Godzilla' Demolishes Expectations with $93.2M Debut on May 18, 2014

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Sunday Update: Warner's Godzilla was off to a huge start this weekend with an estimated first place debut of $93.2 million. The highly anticipated and well received sci-fi action remake outpaced expectations (which had ranged anywhere from $65 million to $80 million) in a very big way this weekend. Godzilla delivered the second largest opening weekend of 2014 to date, as it debuted just below the $95.02 million start of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and just ahead of the $91.61 million start of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The film opened an impressive 18 percent stronger than the $79.20 million debut of fellow sci-fi re-launch Star Trek back in May of 2009. In addition to a very effective marketing campaign and strong critical reviews, Godzilla was also likely aided from the performance of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 having left a lot left to be desired his month.

Godzilla opened with $38.53 million on Friday (which included an estimated $9.3 million from Thursday evening), fell 16.5 percent on Saturday to take in $32.17 million and is estimated to decline 30 percent on Sunday to gross $22.52 million. That places the film's estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio at 2.42 to 1. While that ratio does indicate early front-loading, this weekend's front-loading was understandable given the film's over-performance and it is still very possible the film will stabilize going forward given its strong critical reviews. The film received a solid B+ rating on CinemaScore. The audience breakdown for the film skewed towards moviegoers over the age of 25 (60 percent) and towards male moviegoers (58 percent).

Godzilla grossed an estimated $14.1 million from 352 IMAX locations this weekend. That represented 15.1 percent of the film's overall gross this weekend. 3D grosses represented 51 percent of the film's overall gross.

Universal's Neighbors placed in second with an estimated $26.0 million. The break-out comedy starring Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Rose Byrne was down a significant, but understandable 47 percent from last weekend's stronger than expected start. The rush-out of Efron fans and Rogen fans last weekend and the larger than expected debut of Godzilla both affected Neighbors this weekend. In the bigger picture Neighbors continues to impress in a very big way, especially with both cost and expectations in mind. Neighbors has grossed $91.53 million through ten days of release. That leaves the film just $8.47 million away from reaching the $100 million domestic milestone and places it 39 percent ahead of the $65.87 million ten-day start of 2007's Knocked Up. Neighbors will soon face new direct competition from the release of fellow comedies Blended (this coming Friday) and A Million Ways to Die in the West (on May 30).

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 claimed third place this weekend with an estimated $16.8 million. Sony's expensive superhero sequel was down a sharp 53 percent from last weekend, as continued underwhelming word of mouth and the stronger than expected launch of Godzilla both took a toll this weekend. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has grossed $172.17 million in 17 days, as it continues to perform on the very low end of pre-release expectations. The film is currently running 2.5 percent ahead of the $167.92 million 17-day take of last year's Thor: The Dark World and 16 perecnt behind the $200.50 million 17-day take of Captain America: The Winter Soldier earlier this year. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is likely to take another significant hit next weekend with Fox's highly anticipated superhero film X-Men: Days of Future Past entering the marketplace on Friday.

Disney's Million Dollar Arm debuted in fourth place with an estimated $10.51 million. Despite growing buzz in the weeks leading up to its release, the baseball drama starring Jon Hamm debuted on the very low end of expectations. Potential for Million Dollar Arm appears to have been limited both by opening against Godzilla and from the film's critical reviews being mixed. The opening weekend performance of Million Dollar Arm was quite similar to the recent $9.78 million debut of Draft Day. Going forward, Million Dollar Arm will hope to hold up significantly better than Draft Day has.

Million Dollar Arm opened with $3.46 million on Friday, increased 24.5 percent on Saturday to gross $4.31 million and is estimated to fall 36 percent on Sunday to gross $2.74 million. That places the film's estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio at 3.04 to 1. Million Dollar Arm received an encouraging A- rating on CinemaScore.  The audience breakdown for Million Dollar Arm skewed heavily towards moviegoers over the age of 25 (73 percent) and towards male moviegoers (54 percent). Family audience made up 28 percent of the film's overall audience.

Fox's The Other Woman rounded out the weekend's top five with an estimated $6.3 million. The comedy starring Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton was down 34 percent. That represented a strong weekend hold, especially since last weekend's performance was inflated a bit my Mother's Day. The Other Woman continues to outpace expectations with a 24-day take of $71.66 million.

Saturday Update: Warner Bros. reports that Godzilla stormed the box office on Friday for $38.53 million, giving it the best opening day of any film so far in 2014. That figure includes $9.3 million from Thursday shows and $6.2 million from IMAX screenings. BoxOffice currently projects a $98 million weekend based on yesterday's business, which would give it the best debut of the year up to this point (Captain America: The Winter Soldier currently holds that title with $95 million).

Early word of mouth looks mostly positive with an 80 percent Flixster score as of Saturday morning, although the film's reported CinemaScore was a modest "B+". Regardless, the opening validates one of the most effective, and impressive, marketing campaigns to come along in awhile. WB wisely sold the film as a character-driven disaster flick rather than a straight-up creature feature, and the dividends are paying huge as mainstream audiences connected with the reboot on a level that few saw coming. Where legs go from here will depend on the aforementioned word of mouth, as well as immediate competition from X-Men: Days of Future Past (opening next week).

Meanwhile, Disney's Million Dollar Arm posted $3.46 million in its debut yesterday. BoxOffice projects a $10.8 million weekend from there. The Jon Hamm-led baseball drama was expected to open modestly well, while staying power is the name of the game as Disney hopes buzz for the film spreads through and beyond Memorial Day weekend. For now, the opening is in line with recent sports-centric flicks Draft Day ($9.8 million opening weekend) and Trouble with the Curve ($12.2 million).

Friday Update #3: Sources tell BoxOffice that Godzilla is heading for an opening somewhere in between $85 million-$90 million. 

Check back tomorrow for official figures. 

Friday Update #2: Sources tell BoxOffice that Godzilla is headed for a debut between $80 million-$85 million based on early data. That's a very healthy start for the monster flick.

Disney's Million Dollar Arm looks to be on its way to $11 million or so. The sports flick should go far on word of mouth and it's bound to hold up well in the week's to come. 

Check back tomorrow for official studio estimates and updated weekend projections. 

Friday Update #1: According to Warner Bros., Godzilla snagged an impressive $9.3 million from Thursday evening shows beginning at 7pm. $2.1 million of that haul came from IMAX screenings.

For comparison, that opening figure tops The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug's $8.8 million midnight launch last December (which went on to earn $73.6 million over opening weekend), as well as the $3.6 million haul of Pacific Rim's 10pm shows ($37.3 million weekend) and World War Z's $3.6 million from 8pm shows (onward to a $66.4 million weekend).

The larger-than-expected opening for Godzilla introduces an even wider range of possible outcomes for the weekend as a whole. Gareth Edwards' well-reviewed reboot has tracked particularly well among men, indicating the possibility of a frontloaded Thursday/Friday. However, early word of mouth after a strong marketing campaign suggests the flick could transcend its fan-driven audience early on.

Check back later today for initial Friday projections.

GLOBAL: 'Godzilla' Lands with $196.3M Haul on May 18, 2014

godzilla-poster-back.jpgGodzilla roared its way into screens across the world, stomping through the box office with a $193.3 million global haul for the biggest opening weekend of 2014. The monster movie took $103 million from 64 overseas markets, including $22 million from IMAX screens -claiming the second best IMAX May opening after Iron Man 3's $28.7 million bow last year. Overseas IMAX admissions accounted for $7.5 million of the global figure, averaging $40k for each of the 186 screens in release.

Godzilla posted #1 openings across all its global markets. The United Kingdom led the overseas charge with $10.4 million from 1,229 screens (including previews). Russia brought in $9.1 million from 1,814 screens -taking over the country with 80% market share among the top 5 films. Mexico enjoyed an $8.9 million debut from 2,477 screens. Australia recorded the biggest opening of the year with $6.1 million from 498 screens. The film dethroned local hit Qu'est-ce qu'on a fait au bon dieu as the #! film with a $6.5 million bow from 596 screens. Other top performers include Germany ($5.6M / 685 screens), South Korea ($4.5M / 610 screens), Brazil ($4.1M / 730 screens), Italy ($3.6M /590 screens), and Spain ($1.6M / 427 screens).

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 swung past the $600 million mark worldwide over the weekend. Spidey reached a $633 million global cume following a $31.5 million weekend overseas. The latest Spider-Man sequel has already grossed a total of $461 million overseas. China continues to be the top market for Spider-Man, where it added $13.5 million over its third weekend to continue as the #1 film in the market.

Neighbors welcomed $13.5 million from 2,600 dates in 35 terrirories, bringing its overseas cume up to $54.8 million and its global haul to $146.3 million. The comedy expands to Russia, Peru, Czech Republic and Slovakia on May 29.

The Other Woman earned $8.2 million to raise its overseas total to $79.8 million. The comedy has grossed a strong $151.4 million worldwide, with the overseas share outgrossing North American grosses -a rare feat for original comedies.

Frozen has now grossed more than $1.2 billion worldwide, with $800 million coming from the overseas box office. The film just finished its tenth consecutive weekend as the #1 film in Japan, where it has grossed a total of $179.6 million to become the #6 film of all time in the country.

Rio 2 continues to soar overseas, earning $7.6m this weekend lift its overseas total to $322.4 million. The animated sequel has grossed $440.4 million worldwide.

Noah gathered another $1.6 million from 44 territories, sending its overseas total to $243 million. Noah has grossed $343.2 million worldwide.

The Grand Budapest Hotel grossed $1.48 million to reach an overseas cume of $97 million. The Wes Anderson film crossed the $150 million benchmark at the global box office, currently reporting a $152.5 million worldwide cume.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier crossed the $700 million mark at the global box office with $251 million coming from North America and a $453 million overseas haul. The superhero sequel's global take is nearly twice the lifetime gross of its predecessor. The Winter Soldier is now the third highest grossing Marvel film, following The Avengers and Iron Man 3. The film is the fifth highest foreign release of all time in China with $116 million.


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