CinemaCon, which wrapped up a four-day run Thursday at Caesars Palace, was supposed to be a nonstop, star-studded celebration of moviegoing.
But four Hollywood studios rained on theater owners' parade when exhibitors learned, on the convention's closing day, that they planned to launch a premium video-on-demand service enabling audiences to see movies at home 60 days after their theatrical runs.
"It's particularly disappointing to confront this issue today, while we are celebrating our industry partnerships at our annual convention," according to a statement from CinemaCon's host organization, the National Association of Theater Owners.
Formerly known as ShoWest, the annual convention and trade show brought more than 6,000 delegates from the United States and around the world to Caesars, where studios touted their upcoming releases and thanked exhibitors for their past box-office successes.
But the thanks rang a bit hollow for some theater officials after word leaked of the on-demand deal between Warner Bros., Fox, Sony and Universal with DirecTV, Comcast and VUDU.
"NATO has repeatedly, publicly and privately, raised concerns about the wisdom of shortening the theatrical release to address the studios' difficulties in the home market," the NATO statement continued, noting that theater owners might opt not to play trailers or display posters for movies headed to video-on-demand in two months' time.
"These studios have made their decision in what they no doubt perceive to be their best interests," the statement concluded. "Theater owners will do the same."
NATO president John Fithian declined to comment further Thursday, saying the CinemaCon spotlight should remain on movies -- and the theaters that show them.
To that end, studios previewed this summer's coming battle of the blockbusters, with the "Harry Potter" finale, sequels to "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Transformers" and new comic-book heroes from "Green Lantern" to "Thor" battling for box-office dollars.
Both Green Lantern and Thor -- or, more precisely, Ryan Reynolds and Chris Hemsworth -- were among performers receiving CinemaCon "Big Screen Achievement Awards" Thursday night.
Reynolds, named CinemaCon's Male Star of the Year, acknowledged "a bit of pressure" entering the summer box-office fray. "There always is, but you also realize film is a collaboration -- it's nice to know it's not just me" taking responsibility for the success of a high-budget, high-tech production, he said during a pre-awards press conference.
For "Thor's" Hemsworth, CinemaCon's Male Star of Tomorrow, "it's a dream for me to play a superhero in a film this size."
Their movies -- and numerous others -- will be in 3-D, enabling theater owners to charge premium ticket prices for the enhanced technology.
Not that theatergoers mind. According to NATO, ticket sales for 3-D movies doubled to $2.2 billion last year while revenues for conventional 2-D movies dropped 11 percent to $8.4 billion.
A premium moviegoing experience remains a goal for moviegoers and filmmakers alike -- as "Star Wars" creator George Lucas and James Cameron, director of "Avatar" and "Titanic," asserted during a panel discussion on how technology is changing the movies.
"Digital technology allowed the creation of worlds imagined," said Cameron. "As filmmakers, if we can imagine it, we can create it. There are no limitations."
And there's no place like a movie theater to experience that filmmaking creativity, Lucas maintained.
"I make my movies to be seen in theaters. If you want to see it the best way possible, you've got to see it in a movie theater," he said -- to a rousing round of applause from the assembled theater officials. "Movies represent a social art form. You can't get that on an iPhone and you can't get that on TV."
Contact reporter Carol Cling at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0272.