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Studio Execs On What Will Bring Global Audiences Back

The global box office saw some encouraging rebound in 2023, and is off to a better than expected start in the first quarter of this year, but there’s been concern about a downward trend in per capita admissions, and not just because of the strikes’ disruption to the Hollywood theatrical pipeline, but audiences’ moviegoing tendencies have changed coming out of Covid. How to solve?

It takes two to tango, specifically between exhibitors and studios in order to rally moviegoing back to pre-pandemic heyday levels; last year’s near $34 billion global box office was still 15% behind the 2017-2019 average.

It all comes down to both studios and theater chains “working together to share information” said Paramount SVP, International Distribution, Helen Moss, “to elevate something new you can’t get at home.”

Moss’ remarks were made today during the CinemaCon Las Vegas session “Changing Tastes and Changing Landscapes” moderated by Deadline International Box Office Editor Nancy Tartaglione. Also on the panel were Rebecca Kearey, EVP/Head of Business Operations & International, Searchlight Pictures; Miguel Mier, COO, Cinépolis and Toshi Yamasaki, CEO & President, Toho-Towa Co., Ltd.

Moss exclaimed that the theatrical experience needs to be sold on the onus of, “What is it that money can’t buy? ‘I’m part of this event and you’re not.’”

She recalled a combined offshore Paramount Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning overseas studio and exhibitor initiative called “Mission Possible” — to create the best theatrical experience possible.

Kearey said, “There are touchpoints which don’t cost that much money to get potential repeat customers.” The exec specifically cited the knowledgeable ushers that Arclight Cinemas in Southern California used to employ during pre-Covid operations, eg: a theater employee would introduce the movie, educate the audience on some facts about the filmmaker or the film, and ensure them that their sound and visual experience would be under their care.

“You don’t have to put a lot of espresso machines in the lobby, there are little things to draw people back in,” added Kearey.

Moss praised those exhibitors who leaned into selling the 4DX of it all on Paramount’s summer hit, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem ($180.5M WW) with “pizza smells for different parts of the movie. It was something new and inventive.” It’s differences such as that which take the moviegoing experience to another stratosphere. Other big exhibitor tie-ins for studio movies of late include a five song karaoke at multiplexes for the release of Paramount’s Bob Marley: One Love.

While studios have access to exhibitors’ presales Stateside to assist with their film campaigns, Moss said that having that access on offshore territories “is sketchy.” Knowledge is power and having the access to such data share “would help studios in amending their marketing campaigns.”

In the States, for example, it’s not unheard of for a studio to double down on pushing a movie digitally in zip codes where pre-bookings are lagging. Sometimes that last-minute drive makes all the difference.

Other topics explored in today’s session included Yamasaki explaining that while Japan is back to 85% of 2019 pre-pandemic box office levels, a lot of that stems from a consistent flow of local Japanese films — a stream that didn’t falter during the pandemic as Japan’s cinemas only closed for two months in 2020. At present that 15% missing from Japan’s box office could be backfilled with more Hollywood movies, which many anticipate will come in 2025.

As far as markets that rebounded last year, many gave a shoutout to Italy with its black and white local feminist comedy hit, There’s Still Tomorrow, which made close to $43M. Kearey pointed out that “it takes Italy one or two local films to push its percentage up hugely.” Italy has been a sluggish moviegoing market even by pre-Covid standards; its last box office hight point being in 2010. The exec believed that movie “was an anomaly not something that indicates a trend” in Italy. However, thanks to the title “a lot of people went back to theaters, saw trailers and posters and went two or three times.”

Mier for his part urged all areas of the business, starting with production, to focus more on the importance and weight of the international box office.

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