Entertainment The movie-grading company CinemaScore navigated a chaotic year for the theatre business. Now it wants to grow by courting streamers.

20:16  04 february  2021
20:16  04 february  2021 Source:   businessinsider.com.au

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a store front at day: A Regal movie theatre in New York City. A Regal movie theatre in New York City.
  • CinemaScore president Harold Mintz talked with Insider about how the company has adapted to the pandemic.
  • He discussed the state of the movie industry and why he thinks theatres aren't dead.
  • And he said CinemaScore has ambitions to move into the streaming realm.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Warner Bros.' new crime thriller "The Little Things" hit theatres over the weekend at a time when cinemas are in turmoil and few new movies are showing.

Some moviegoers still came out for the Denzel Washington-starring film, though, enough for it to top the US box office with $US4.8 million.

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But did they like it?

That's the question that CinemaScore, which surveys audiences on opening night, has been answering for four decades. "The Little Things" received a B- grade at CinemaScore. It wasn't a total dud, but viewers weren't impressed.

The movie debuted simultaneously on WarnerMedia's streaming service HBO Max, as are all of Warner Bros.' movies this year. It's just one example of the rapidly changing film industry during the coronavirus pandemic. Universal has struck new windowing deals with movie theatres and Disney has debuted some movies on its own streaming service, Disney Plus.

a person standing in a room: 'The Little Things' received a muted B- grade from CinemaScore. 'The Little Things' received a muted B- grade from CinemaScore.

CinemaScore has had to adjust along with Hollywood.

The Las Vegas-based company, founded in 1979 by Edward Mintz, conducts opening-night surveys using poll workers in cities across the US. But movie theatres across the country shut down for five months from March to August.

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"Once 'Tenet' was released [in September] there was hope of normalcy," said Harold Mintz, Edward's son and the CinemaScore president.

But Warner Bros.' "Tenet" experiment didn't return the industry to normalcy. Major chains like Regal and Cineworld soon shut down again and studios are still delaying movies.

But at least, for CinemaScore, it could resume its core service.

CinemaScore provides major studios that subscribe to its research service with a full report of audience data. The only thing made public is the letter grade. Last year, as the major studios delayed tentpole releases, Mintz said that small studios that didn't already pay for CinemaScore's services but were releasing movies hired the company for its research.

"It was enough to keep the doors open," Mintz said.

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But Mintz has bigger ambitions for CinemaScore, which he wants to reach a wider audience. As traditional movie studios embrace streaming, Mintz wants to as well. If a studio releases a movie straight to streaming, even after the pandemic, he wants them to think of CinemaScore.

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And he hopes to form a relationship with Netflix, as well.

"I'd love to be able to reach the consumer via the streaming audience," Mintz said.

Bigger than Rotten Tomatoes

Mintz wants to grow the CinemaScore brand once the pandemic is over, with a goal of becoming bigger than the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

When his father Edward Mintz founded CinemaScore, it was in rebuke to critic reviews. He had no ties to Hollywood, only an appreciation for cinema.

After seeing the 1978 movie "The Cheap Detective," Edward wanted to create a "tool for the consumer," as Harold put it. His father had been excited to see the movie because of positive reviews at the time (and he was a fan of the film's writer, Neil Simon). But he thought it was terrible.

So why not tell consumers what the audience thought of a movie?

Rotten Tomatoes has audience scores, but is primarily considered a critics-focused site. CinemaScore derives its grades from surveying audiences, whereas Rotten Tomatoes users give movies a favourable or unfavourable star rating.

Before the pandemic upended his plans, Harold Mintz was meeting with celebrities like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to get the word out more about CinemaScore and expand on what he and Edward had built. He was also pleased that studios were starting to use positive grades in ad campaigns during last year's awards season, he said.

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In the future, Mintz hopes to connect with streaming services. What if CinemaScore didn't just survey theatre goers, but streaming audiences too?

Until then, CinemaScore is focused on theatres. While theatres in major cities like New York and Los Angeles are still closed, Mintz is optimistic about the future â€" both of the movie industry and CinemaScore.

a smiling man in a blue shirt: Harold Mintz. Harold Mintz.

Movie theatres will survive

Mintz doesn't think Warner Bros.' HBO Max plan is a long-term strategy beyond this year.

"Distributors want to be in theatrical," Mintz said. "What's going on [in the movie industry] right now is an attempt to strengthen theatrical. They don't want to abolish the exhibitor."

But he does think Universal's windowing deals should be the new industry standard. The studio has struck agreements with some major theatre chains like AMC (the world's biggest) to shorten the window from the typical 75 days to, in most cases, just 17. Then Universal can choose to debut a movie on digital-rental platforms.

"I think the old window concept was so outdated," Mintz said. "The pandemic forced it, but it was bound to happen eventually... most movies are played out [in theatres] after three weeks so it just makes sense."

These strategic evolutions in the movie industry reflect Mintz's desire for his own company to evolve. It's all in an effort to reach as many consumers as possible.

"I don't want people to say 'it got an A so it must be good,'" Mintz said. "I want them to say 'it got an A CinemaScore so it must be good.'"

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