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ShoWest’s growing obsolescence

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The annual ShoWest confab is wrapping up in Vegas today. Begun as a trade show for NATO, the National Association of Theatre Owners, the show became, at its height, a place for studios to hype the year’s biggest film releases to an audience of appreciative theater owners — think a retailer trade show, only with lots more movie goodies.

Vulture wraps up some of the buzz from this year’s show — bizarre shirtless boxing in Sherlock Holmes, empty shenanigans for GI Joe — and explains what the show is supposed to do:

Whereas most film festivals tend to focus their efforts on catering to potential distributors, the annual ShoWest gathering in Las Vegas differs in that major Hollywood studios use the occasion to wine and dine what many would argue are their most important customers: movie-theater owners. After all, without first drumming up the support of exhibitors, where would upstanding citizens like ourselves go to see our favorite first-run movies each and every weekend (besides our home computers, that is)? At this year’s ShoWest, some of the tentpoles being previewed for the nation’s popcorn pushers include Sherlock Holmes, GI Joe, and Terminator: Salvation; follow along as we round up some of the early reactions.


However, the NY Times has a more gloomy outlook for the show, which seems to have fallen victim to economic downsizing on lavish spending, and a changing business model — a few studios didn’t even show up:

ShoWest may have reached its tipping point, many Hollywood executives say. The once-splashy event has been in slow decline for a decade, hurt by consolidation among theater chains and cost cutting by studios. But now that some corners of moviedom have decided to sit it out — 20th Century Fox didn’t present an elaborate “product reel” this year — other film companies may finally have the cover to do the same.

“It’s a remnant from another age that no longer has anything to do with getting business done,” said Terry Press, a veteran marketer whose clients include DreamWorks Studios, MGM and Sony. “It’s a word-of-mouth opportunity for studios, and that’s about all.”

For ShoWest part of the problem is a changing Hollywood. While other industries long ago grew up into more buttoned-down businesses, film companies have clung to old habits even as they have become embedded in huge corporations. The reason is, largely, that they could: years of huge DVD profits and an expanding cable-television universe meant studio bosses could operate on autopilot, to a degree.


Unmentioned in the Times story is Comic-Con, but the decline of ShoWest is surely tied in with the rise of SDCC as THE movie show of the year, as far as studios are concerned. Whereas in pre-Internet days, just getting theater owners excited about Indiana Krueger Returns was a reasonable enough goal, now, with the same kind of expenditure, you can get the entire WORLD buzzing about your pic, via the movie-focused internet and a 125,000 person focus group.

ShoWest does come earlier in the year so they can promote more of THIS year’s movies with splashy public displays like the giant Bumblebee seen above. And as we’ve pointed out before, it does answer the question of what would happen if the movie studios moved their big yearly promo fest to Las Vegas…it would dwindle away.

Meanwhile, this year’s San Diego Comic-Con shows few signs of doing that. It will be interesting to see whether the studio frugality that affected ShoWest will also affect this year’s Comic-Con.

Above image of a Transformers display on the Strip via deltaMike’s photostream.

  1. For the last three years I’ve attended the regional / seasonal NATO events (Spring, Summer, Winter) and I can tell you just by the “goodie bag” they give you at the end of the event that money spent on promotional materials are way down. In fact, I’ll be at a NATO event this month – which comes right off the heels of ShoWest. If there’s any buzz from that show I should see it.

    I wonder what the Fox reps will say about the Wolverine leaks?

  2. “bizarre shirtless boxing in Sherlock Holmes”

    Holmes is a skilled boxer. What’s so bizarre about that?

    I’ve always wanted to go to ShoWest. Apparently it’s not worth it anymore.

  3. You give short shift to the fact of consolidation, but the truth is Hollywood no longer needs to convince an owner of a few theaters in Texas to play their latest film. If a small theater chain owner is still around, they don’t matter much in the age of the multiplex. And if studios are looking to make sure a certain movie gets on a large number of screens, it’s not that big a problem. It’s not like theaters aren’t going to put something like “Transformers” on enough screens…

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