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Netflix is the elephant in the room at CinemaCon 2017

Guests at the CinemaCon 2017 opening night watched Sony Pictures' highlights of its 2017 Summer slate.
Guests at the CinemaCon 2017 opening night watched Sony Pictures' highlights of its 2017 Summer slate.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for CinemaCon

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Movie theater owners and studio executives have descended on Las Vegas to preview upcoming films and examine the fate of the movie business at CinemaCon 2017.

Brent Lang, senior film and media editor at Variety, describes CinemaCon as "ComiCon for the people who own the major theater chains in the country."

Studios roll out first looks of their major summer blockbusters, Lang says, as a way to "dazzle" exhibitors and "reassure them that people still love going to the movies." And with the rise of streaming services like Netflix, it's reassurance that's badly needed.

"Theater owners really do view Netflix as a potentially existential threat to their business," Lang says. "The amount of movies that they have available, and just the ease of use — the fact that you can see content whenever and however you want and on whichever device you'd like to have it, is really upending the theatrical movie business."

In response to the streaming-service threat, studios and theater owners are considering various plans that would allow people to watch certain new releases, within weeks of their theatrical debut, for a price of about $30-$50. 

Theater chains are also looking at ways of enhancing the theater-going experience — everything from fancy reclining chairs to 4DX, which uses seats that move and vibrate, and blasts of air and water to immerse audiences in a film. 

Lang says it's a strategy that's akin to what studios did in the 1950s and early '60s as a response to the advent of television. 

"That's when you saw a lot of biblical epics, you saw a lot of huge musicals like 'Hello Dolly' and 'The Sound of Music,'" Lang says. "The whole sense was that this was a new form of popular entertainment and it needed to be combatted by going bigger."

Will "going bigger" help combat the popularity of Netflix and other streaming services? Only time will tell. 

To hear the full interview with Brent Lang, click the blue player above.


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