CinemaCon 2018 Narratives

Amidst all the reports that came out of CinemaCon, the annual gathering where studios show off what’s coming soon to exhibition industry executives as well as the press, there were a few common or otherwise notable themes that emerged. These show where everyone’s head is at and how they are (or aren’t) planning for the future in various ways.

Diversity and Inclusion

It would seem that movie studios have finally realized the ticket-buying public is made up of more than just young white men. Presentations from both Sony and Warner Bros. focused on how their upcoming movie lineups were filled with casts much more diverse and inclusive than what might have been seen (reviews notes) last year.

These pitches are obviously based on recent box-office wins like Black Panther, Get Out and other films that have shown there’s success to be had with films that feature casts that include a number of non-white males in roles that aren’t quite so stereotypical. The top movies of 2018 so far are still pretty white and straight, but there’s more diversity here than usual, which is good.

It’s also in response to overall demographic trends, such as those highlighted in a recent MPAA study showing per capita whites were the least likely ethnic group to be among frequent moviegoers. That tracks to Pew projections showing that within not that many years Asians will be the largest immigrant group in the U.S. while the Hispanic population keeps growing to maintain its status as the largest non-white group in the country. Studios see the future and it looks like one where a more diverse slate is necessary to appeal to the general audience.

Nothing To See Here, We’re Fine…Thanks

I already called out how theater chains are floating the idea of creating their own MoviePass-like service and enumerated some of the ways that’s not really going to happen. What was shocking was to see NATO chief John Fithian actually say out loud that his industry doesn’t need disrupting and that everything is going fine. John…buddy…not only is everything not going fine for the theatrical exhibition industry but you don’t actually get to decide whether or not you’re disrupted. While it might be true that overall media consumption is up, nothing else about the theatrical distribution model is doing well.

Yes, as pointed out by the incoming MPAA head, global box-office revenue is up, but ticket sales are down. That means, by any count, that fewer people are going to the theater. And the only reason revenue is up is because ticket prices keep rising as theaters add more and more amenities, which a survey released at the shows Baby Boom-aged audiences are largely unaware of and uninterested in. In short, if you’re not building “going to the movies” as a habit and make that choice one only the well-off can afford, the industry will not survive long-term because it’s not building a solid consumer base.

That makes it kind of funny that Fithian would call out MoviePass’ business model as not being sustainable. I agree with that, but it would appear that neither is the “make people spend $15 each on an experience surrounded by strangers who won’t be quiet or turn off their phones and where I can’t bring my own snacks” business model. NATO better *hope* MoviePass (or something like it) turns out to be sustainable because it’s substantively changed people’s expectations as to what a movie should cost that the industry may not survive without that kind of deep innovation.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.