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Streaming threat looms as CinemaCon returns to Las Vegas

When it comes to Las Vegas convention attendance, CinemaCon is eclipsed by the World Tea Expo and is absolutely dwarfed by the Association of Woodworking & Furnishing Suppliers Fair.

What it lacks in numbers, though, the annual gathering of the National Association of Theatre Owners makes up for in star power. Some of the biggest names in Hollywood are expected to converge on Caesars Palace for the four-day convention — part trade show, part pep rally — that kicks off Monday.

The approximately 5,000 attendees from more than 80 countries probably will need every bit of the gathering’s glitz and old-school razzle-dazzle to distract them from the ever-growing threat presented by streaming services.

The escalating ambition of Netflix and its rivals, including looming services from Disney and Apple, is the sort of thing that keeps many in the exhibition industry awake at night. Streamers threaten not only the standard 90-day exhibition window — the time frame between a movie’s theatrical debut and its availability on any other platform, long considered the lifeblood of theater owners — but the exhibition process as a whole.

After all, if Netflix is going to keep churning out high-profile movies like the Oscar-winning “Roma,” Martin Scorsese’s upcoming Mob drama “The Irishman” starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, or even the recent action-heist drama “Triple Frontier” with Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac and Charlie Hunnam, it could be easier than ever for consumers to fall out of the habit of visiting cinemas.

This isn’t an immediate problem.

Box office grosses hit $11.9 billion last year, eclipsing the previous record of $11.4 billion set in 2016.

Moviegoers won’t avoid some of 2019’s biggest releases. Disney alone has “Avengers: Endgame,” “Toy Story 4,” “Frozen II” and whatever they end up calling the next “Star Wars.”

But any movie that doesn’t register as an event could suffer — and soon.

Conceived as a time for the owners and employees of movie theaters to attend seminars and shop for everything from snacks for their concession stands to bulbs for their projectors, CinemaCon has evolved into one of the biggest marketing opportunities on the studios’ calendars.

Last year, Bradley Cooper took to the Colosseum stage to introduce the first trailer for “A Star Is Born.” Eventual Oscar winner Rami Malek delivered a tribute to Freddie Mercury before showing off early footage from “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And Sony debuted some of the cutting-edge animation from the Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse.”

Some of the spectacle, no doubt, will be missing from this year’s event. Sony, which normally would be promoting its slate of upcoming movies including “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” “Men in Black International” and the “Jumanji” sequel, is skipping the confab for the first time in several years. Fox, traditionally one of the flashiest presenters, was just swallowed mostly whole by Disney and no longer exists as a separate entity.

That still leaves Disney, Lionsgate, Paramount, Universal and Warner Bros. to trot out A-listers, along with scenes from their upcoming films.

Many of those celebrities will wax poetic about the joys and virtues of seeing their projects in theaters.

It’s all part of an effort to get theater owners excited about the future — something that, no doubt, is becoming more difficult with each passing year.

— Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch.

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