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Cineworld CEO Eduardo Acuna On Exhibition, Revamped Regal Times Square

February 29, 2024 - Culture

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Eduardo Acuna, who’s kept a low profile since taking the top job at Cineworld last summer, took a bow in NYC this week to showcase the world’s largest 4DX auditorium at the renovated Regal Times Square.

The exhibitor partnered with CJ 4DPLEX, a cinema tech innovator of cutting-edge formats like this one that uses immersive audio, motion (the seats move, a lot), environmental effects like water, wind and lightning. It’s the biggest 4DX auditorium in the word with 296 seats, more than double the average, 60-foot screens, fog machines and rainstorm fans.

Renovations to the former flagship started years ago but accelerated over the past six months. “We needed to open this. We had already put so much money into it. I can tell you that it was significantly more than we expected. It was significantly over budget. But I also don’t regret it. I think we needed to go big here,” Acuna told Deadline at the theater ahead of an inaugural 4DX screening of Dune: Part Two.

“Times Square is so perfect for these types of auditoriums. Because you have all these tourists walking around, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve never seen this. We don’t have this in my hometown.’ It’s almost like going to a theme park.”

Regal parent Cineworld filed for bankruptcy in 2022, flattened by Covid and debt, exiting last August. The U.K. public company was delisted, leaving lenders in control, and they tapped Acuna as the new CEO. He previously ran the Americas operations of Mexican theater group Cinépolis.

“It’s a dream job. Regal has always been a storied company. When I joined the industry 20 years ago, Regal was the biggest [exhibitor] in the world. Everybody aspired to work at Regal. And now, being the CEO [of Cineworld], it’s just one of the most exciting things, the most exciting challenge in my career.”

His focus — “our customers and our culture.” Internally, he noted the wear from Covid to Chapter 11 to the strikes. “It’s a pivotal moment for the company … People needed to hear that there are better times ahead of us.”

“I truly believe that our industry is going to be bigger and better in the next few years” he said, “bigger and better than ever.”

With customers, “We need to listen.” Some want plush recliners, others “really cool immersive experiences.” And some may need a break, which is why Regal is looking at price elasticity — lower, not higher. “There are some markets where you can go higher and people will pay. But I believe there are some markets where, if you lower the price a little bit, you may gain in attendance.”

For a family film, “you have to pay for four or five tickets, or whatever. Maybe you’ll bring in more families if the tickets are cheaper.”

“I think we need to do things to bring people out of their house.”

Acuna replaced former CEO Moody Greidinger, who built Cineworld into a giant through a series of acquisitions.

Cineworld is now private so doesn’t report earnings. “We actually made a lot of money last year … We actually did better than we expected.”

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the films, or the results to show in the past couple of months” because of the actors and writers strikes.” But he recalled that 2019 was a record-breaking year. “I don’t think we haven’t recovered. We just haven’t got record- breaking levels. That doesn’t mean we’re losing money.

“I’m an optimist. I want to see the silver lining, where we put our company in order, fix everything that needs to be fixed. And we are set up for success in 2025 and 2026 … and in a couple of years, we’ll be playing offense, not defense.”

One plus, well known, is that streamers like Apple and Amazon are releasing films theatrically. “The streamers have realized that a movie is perceived as a better movie if it was released in theaters. And then it gets more views, more subscriptions and more retention on the streaming service.”

“A couple of studios are even lengthening their theatrical windows,” he said. No names.

Meanwhile, Dune 2 this weekend is a big deal. “You know what it feels like? And I don’t want to make predictions. But you know, when we had no movies, and then we had Top Gun: Maverick? And it feels very similar to that. Because we have had no new movies for the past two months, right? … I don’t know that it’s going to make Top Gun numbers. But it feels like that, where people are like, ‘We just need to go out. We need to go see a movie.’ And this is the perfect move to go out and see.”

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