By Dade Hayes
Cinemark CEO Sean Gamble says a relative shortfall of new films likely will be the biggest headwind his company faces this year.
“Many switched into 2023” for Covid reasons, Gamble explained during the company’s first quarter earnings call, and there is also a larger reconsideration of the theatrical window as major studios get their sea legs in streaming. “We expect that to be a challenge for the entirety of this year – we don’t see those gaps filling in.”
The No. 3 U.S. exhibitor reported first-quarter results ahead of Wall Street’s expectations. Total revenue came in at $460.5 million, compared with $114.4 million in the year-earlier quarter. Analysts’ consensus estimate was for $447 million.
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Losses narrowed to 62 cents per share from $1.75 a year ago, beating estimates by a penny.
Gamble said he expects Cinemark to reach a “normalized level” of box office revenue by 2024. By that point, he predicted, Covid complications will have dissipated, and “streaming platforms will be in a much more mature place. … That’s when the pendulum shifts.”
Asked about whether streaming services might contribute more theatrical releases, which would compensate for studios pulling back or rerouting films to streaming, Gamble said “definitely the potential is there. It’s not a pipe dream. These are real opportunities.”
Cinemark has done a number of test ventures with Netflix, including a weeklong national theatrical engagement for Army of the Dead in 2021.
Smaller or mid-budget features, which have become almost extinct as exclusive theatrical releases, are due to return as the heightened Covid environment eases, Gamble said.
“There clearly is an overall economic and promotional value in releasing these types of films theatrically because they provide a range of lift across those films in terms of how they’re perceived, economically, the brand building, just the creative community, desire to have those films released,” the exec said. “So I tend to think things will shift back.”
Helping turn the tide, Gamble added, is the overall industry stepping back from the one-sacrosanct 72-to-90-day exclusive theatrical window in favor of a more flexible approach. Today, “films have a better financial model. There’s a better economic equation on these titles for the studios by being able to get into homes earlier. So, just by virtue of having less risk and a better financial model, that too, I think, could lead to more of those movies being released theatrically.”
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CFO Melissa Thomas, who joined the company last fall, noted several times during the call that the circuit is contending with the impact of inflation across its business.
She said Cinemark intends to “evolve to more of a dynamic pricing model.” “It’s early days,” she said, but upping ticket prices — whether in selective, data-driven cases or across the board — “is one of the many levers that we have to offset inflation.”
One asset the company has as it looks to marshal data is its Movie Club, which launched at the end of 2017. For $10 a month, members get one ticket and benefits like discounts on concessions. Despite the two-year impact of Covid, Movie Club membership levels are closing in on the 1 million mark, ahead of 2019 levels. In the first quarter, Gamble said, 20% of the company’s box office revenue came from club members.
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