Along with the U.S. operations of Regal, Cineworld currently operates in the UK, Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Israel. And it’s overseas that Greidinger believes overwhelmingly holds “almost unlimited” potential for the theatrical industry.
Theatrical is something of which he’s clearly very protective. In January, Regal barred Netflix’s Roma from its Oscar Best Picture showcase, and in February pulled its support from BAFTA after Roma won the top prize there. Below, he elaborates on how the industry should be looking for the “right way to define where the best movie of the year award belongs” and his hopes for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, as well as the overall impact of streamers on theatrical and the future of a combined Disney/Fox world.
DEADLINE: How are your renovation plans going in the U.S. since you took over Regal?
MOOKY GREIDINGER: The first year really was mainly dedicated to planning, gaining understandings with landlords and for finalizing plans, designs and budgets. Further to the six new cinemas we opened in the U.S., we already started renovations on two sites. We believe that by the end of April we will reach the schedule that we need, which is working in parallel at any time on between seven and 10 cinemas.
We have agreements with landlords in place and have already submitted building permits for almost 50 cinemas. Within the next two- to two-and-a-half years, we intend to refurbish approximately 50 cinemas and we will be opening anywhere between six to 10 new cinemas every year. We believe that we are on track, and according to the reactions that we get and market surveys that we undertake, the refurbishment plan in the U.S. will be at least as successful as the one that we did in the UK.
DEADLINE: What areas are you looking at? Are you focusing on major markets domestically?
GREIDINGER: There’s not necessarily a rule in this. As examples, we are about to open our new cinema in Manhattan, after many years that no new multiplex cinema of this kind has been opened in the area. We’ve also opened two other cinemas in the New York area. On the other hand, we are currently building the biggest cinema Regal has built to date, which is located in Benders Landing in Spring Texas, just outside of Houston. So, we are really doing all sorts of projects. We are emphasizing two main things: One is that it will be a good location, and second that technically we will have the flexibility to build the cinemas that we believe we need to build with the right height, the right screen size and also great facilities outside of the halls for our customers to enjoy their time before and after the show.
DEADLINE: Are there new innovations for customers before and after films?
GREIDINGER: We are beginning to add coffee shops inside some our cinemas; not in all of them as it depends on the size. We are also working on some new food offerings and making room for video games, playgrounds for kids and nice areas with sofas so that people can sit comfortably and relax if they arrive half an hour before or they want to have a coffee after the movie.
This is one thing, but most important really, is our great belief in technology. We have already opened more than 10 4DXs in the U.S., which have been so successful for us in Europe and now very successful for us in the U.S. Also, this year we signed a deal with CJ for ScreenX. We have opened a few across our 10 territories. We are of course expanding our IMAX presence and our RPX (Superscreen) presence and we are working on different concepts of VIP and food offerings combined with the movies. So, all this really stands behind our strategy, which is in the big multiplexes, we want the customer to not only be able to choose which movies they want to watch, but also choose how they want to watch them.
DEADLINE: Have there been any closings in the U.S.?
GREIDINGER: There are some old cinemas that are reaching their end of term, and if we do not see any potential for refurbishment and the site is not operating well, we will close them. It’s very few – it was four or five cinemas last year across the States, so it’s not really influential. However, we are closing the cinemas which are underperforming. Rarely does it happen that we have to close a relatively good cinema due to a landlord’s decision regarding their plans for the real estate development. To the contrary, in most cases when we are at end of term on sites, we negotiate for more space and more height in order to really improve the cinema. There is no secret in me saying to you that shopping malls and all the power centers with regards to development in commercial activity, now see cinemas as a far more important anchor than in the past. Not that we weren’t in the past, but this is a growing importance because people come to see movies and then they are not only eating in the fast food chains or restaurants, they are also going shopping. If they were classic anchors for shopping malls through history, today I can confidently say that a strong cinema — not a small one, but a strong, big cinema — is the most important anchor for any commercial center.
DEADLINE: Regal has a great rewards programming. The more you go to the movies, the more chances you have to see free movies. You also have a successful subscription business overseas. Are you thinking of launching a U.S. monthly movie ticket subscription program that has one price for a certain number of movies in any format to see a month?
GREIDINGER: As you know, Cineworld in the UK is running one of the most successful monthly offerings which is called Unlimited. We are analyzing the situation in the U.S., where there has been some turbulence with monthly services and we are currently in internal discussions of how we want to address it, where we want to address it and how we are going to cooperate with our partners – the studios. It is very important to have the studios on board with us in this. We are great believers in subscription programs and I believe that not long from now, we will be coming to our customers with a new offering in addition to the rewards program.
DEADLINE: You just mentioned your partners, the studios. Do you think that the Disney/Fox merger is going to make it more difficult to negotiate terms with that as one entity? Is major studio consolidation a nightmare for exhibitors?
GREIDINGER: Not at all. I think there’s always new players coming on board. I believe it will not affect the balance between Disney and Fox and us. Some people see the relationships between studios and exhibitors as a kind of rivalry, but I see it as a partnership. I think we have our task, and our task is to create and give the end-user the best experience possible and the studios’ task is to create and bring us the best movies possible. There is a balance between the two sides. I don’t believe there’s going to be any dramatic changes in view of this deal, and I think it is important that studios strongly support exhibition and on the point of windows. There will also be new players; this is business and players are coming and going – we don’t know yet what the exact plans are for Disney with regard to Fox but we are sure that most of the movies that Fox were producing and delivering to the market will be continuously produced and delivered by Disney – although we haven’t heard anything official yet.
DEADLINE: Talking about new players. Do you feel quite threatened by streaming? Do you believe that it steals potential moviegoers?
GREIDINGER: No. I don’t think that streaming in the current situation is a threat to the theatrical business. I believe that the window is extremely important for the theatrical business, especially in the way it’s being dealt with today in regard to terms; to the long-term commitment that we have to landlords and the studios, etc. I think that the phenomenon of this business is that the more movies that are being seen in the cinemas, the more these movies are producing income in the ancillary markets. It’s very sustainable.
I am not happy with the fact that Netflix are trying to create the kind of reality of day-and-date releases. I don’t believe that this is right, nor is the right way to maximize income from a movie. Yet other streaming companies are working with the windows and respecting the window. I cannot call it a threat, but I will be frank and say we are alerted to the changes, and we still believe that the best way and best platform for a movie is to start the cycle with a successful theatrical release and then go on to the other directions which a movie can go. We very well know that big and successful movies are then being seen for decades in all of the auxiliary markets wherever you are – at home, on a train, a plane, a phone and more.
Our task is to create the best experience to watch a movie. If the cinemas are of a high standard in all aspects, then this will be the primary place to show a movie.
DEADLINE: Regal left Roma out of its Academy Awards showcase. If Netflix behaved more like Amazon with a clear window, you would be happier with that, right?
GREIDINGER: Exactly. Of course – we are happy to show any movie that is being offered to us, as long as we believe that it has some basic chances — we like to give our audiences the chance to judge. There are some movies that nobody will come to see in the first weekend, and it may be that these movies will stay in the cinemas for a week or two. Yet, some of the movies will be playing for two or three months.
When I look at a movies like Roma, I would love to show them, as long as they respect the same window that all of our other distributors do. I think this is the right way to go. Everyone who respects the window will have a space in Cineworld Group.
DEADLINE: In the UK, Cineworld pulled its support for BAFTA after Roma won Best Picture. What is your current position with BAFTA? Do you expect to take up the same position with AMPAS?
GREIDINGER: I think that these awards have an amazing reputation, longstanding tradition and awareness with cinema lovers and viewers. By taking into consideration movies that have not been through a meaningful theatrical release, they are shooting themselves in the foot. For example, I find it very difficult to understand how an organization like BAFTA announce that Roma is the best movie of the year when 98% of the moviegoers in the UK didn’t have any chance to see it in the cinemas, on the big screen where the best movie of the year belongs.
Also, if we look at the Academy in the U.S., I think that there are a lot of other awards and recognition given to the TV industry and to the movies that are going directly or almost directly to the small screen. The Oscars is an institution that we all grew up with and it should really consider the movies that are getting full theatrical releases. It doesn’t matter if the movie is huge budget-wise or small budget-wise, but it should at least have had a proper and meaningful theatrical release where people that love to go to the cinemas can see it.
Otherwise in a way, these awards will be in no time disconnected from the audiences. There are so many playgrounds; BAFTA itself has awards for best TV program of the year.
I believe that as all of these things are new, these can be discussed and the industry should find the right way to define where the BEST MOVIE of the year award belongs.
DEADLINE: Do you anticipate that we’re going to be having this conversation in about six months because of The Irishman?
GREIDINGER: I think it has a lot to do with what the Academy, BAFTA and others decide to do. The Irishman is no doubt an intriguing project and I still wish that Martin Scorsese will either be successful in persuading Netflix to release the movie through the regular theatrical way, or that Netflix will change their mind. I think it would be a pity that a movie with such a budget and such talent would not get a proper theatrical release, and would instead be released in a small number and size cinemas. Without a meaningful theatrical release, the movie should not qualify for best movie of the year.
DEADLINE: Turning to lighter fare, are U.S. comedies going through a recession and bound to return? So many continue to struggle overseas outside certain markets. It would be nice to see a homerun again…
GREIDINGER: I think that one of the things that people enjoy the most in cinemas is to laugh. It’s a different experience to laugh together with 150 or 200 people around you, than to laugh almost alone at home. You can have both, but it’s a different experience. I think it’s a matter of a trend or maybe just coincidence that there is more attention on different kinds of movies. Some of the biggest hits ever are comedies and I see no reason why we won’t have more back in the cinema. People like to laugh.
Some (Hollywood comedies) are traveling amazingly well to other territories and some, I agree with you, are a bit more like U.S. success stories. However, only 10 years ago, superhero movies were not traveling so well internationally. Yet, Captain Marvel is the biggest superhero movie opening in some territories. This is not because it’s bigger than the previous movies, but it’s because the market has developed, people have got used to the characters and they know the stories better. I remember in Israel, superheroes were a moderate success 10 years ago, not to say 15 or 20 years ago.
Just recently, Captain Marvel opened with more than 100,000 people going to see it in the opening weekend. The world is a very small place. Of course, there will be different tastes here and there between nations, but at the end of the day, if you do another Hangover movie today, I believe it will travel better than in the past. Times are changing and I think comedy is a very important part of the choice we should offer our customers.
DEADLINE: What are the key challenges or differences to operating in the U.S. versus the international markets where you are also present?
GREIDINGER: I would say in one word that the challenge is the size. I think we stood up to it very well and we are now fully on board. A cinema is a cinema, and designing a cinema is designing a cinema. Of course there are nuances of what they like more in Poland or what they like less in the UK, or what they want more in Romania or what the preference is in the U.S.
Building the right cinema, with the right offers and the right service, along with a great atmosphere and cleanliness is key. All these things are in place in our cinemas.
The challenge in the U.S. is that it is an extremely huge territory and this is something that from an operational point of view, I believe is a bigger challenge. I think we stood up to it very well and we implemented some good changes. The U.S. is a great market; Americans love to go to the movies. Most of the product is U.S.-oriented, not all of it but most of it, and as we always say, if we give our customers the right experience and the right service, it’s a great territory to be operating in.
DEADLINE: You have cinemas in Poland and in the past year I’ve noticed the market throwing off bigger numbers. Is there something specific that has changed there, or are local movies working better?
GREIDINGER: When we entered the market 20 years ago, we said that the basic condition to grow this market is creating the right infrastructure for the customers. You can say in some areas there is overbuild in the U.S. or in the UK; these areas of Central Europe had a huge lack of infrastructure. So the main reason for the growth in these markets is the growth of infrastructure which is coming. We are still building new cinemas. More cinemas generate more income, so financial chances of investing in a movie are better and there is more and more local product which is really important.
Regarding Poland, the success of Kler [Clergy, the highest grossing Polish movie in 2018], contributed to something like 10% of the yearly admissions. This is a phenomenon; it’s not going to happen every year, but the more local product that is being produced, the higher the chance of more success stories. Kler is of course an outstanding example, but there are many Polish movies that will do a million- to a million-plus admissions, which is rarely being achieved by foreign movies, except for the very top ones.
It takes time. We opened our first cinema in Romania 11 years ago and the ratio of per capita visits was 0.1. Last year the ratio there was close to 0.8. Still some may say, “Mooky, this is nothing compared to the U.S. or to the UK”, but this is from 0.1 to 0.8 in 10 years and I believe Romania is on the way to reaching 1.5, maybe 2 or maybe even one day, 3. This is a part of infrastructure, local product and creating the habit.
DEADLINE: And how do you create that habit?
GREIDINGER: Anyone that thinks that you open the cinema and you are done is mistaken. You need to work very hard in keeping the standard of the cinema, keeping the right promotions and giving benefits in order to create a habit. The habit of going to the cinema, in a way exists in the U.S, the UK and France but does not exist in every country. If a customer comes to a cinema and the cinema is old, shabby and untidy and the service is not good, then it may take a long time before they visit again. However, if they come to see a huge movie that they love and would never miss, like Star Wars, and the cinema is modern, the sound is good, the picture is good, the cinema is clean and the service is service with a smile, then they might ask themselves, why not come here more often instead of only going to see the big movies. This is our aim.
DEADLINE: What about other growth areas?
GREIDINGER: I think the big growth story for this industry, for the studios and for the exhibition community, is in the international markets. Of course, I see a lot of potential in the U.S. and in the UK, I see potential in the mature markets, but the biggest potential lies in the international. If we look back at the development in Central Europe and China markets over the last 10 years, you can understand why, when speaking of markets, by your second sentence, someone will mention China.
We see the huge potential in other countries. Look at Africa – I’m not sure how many, but probably close to a billion people are living there today. What is our industry taking out of Africa? The potential is there and it’s true that it will take time as not all of the population is ready to go to movies. But the potential in my eyes of international markets is almost unlimited.
If someone had said 10 or 15 years ago that there will be a day when China will do well over $150M box office over a weekend, people would think they are crazy and don’t know what they’re talking about!
DEADLINE: What about the future for Cineworld? After this massive acquisition last year, what can we expect in the next year?
GREIDINGER: I would say that we are keeping our eyes open. There are opportunities in different markets. We are strongly focused on the U.S., as you said it’s a huge acquisition, and it’s something we need to invest a lot of management time in. I’m personally in the U.S. every other week.
We have a great management team on the group level and in our territories. With their skills, we will be ready when the right opportunity arises.