Business

Bill Warren is a ‘happy camper’ despite the movie industry’s down year

Bill Warren said summer sales were a particular struggle, in part because of a lot of sequels, which often make less money than their original shows.
Bill Warren said summer sales were a particular struggle, in part because of a lot of sequels, which often make less money than their original shows. File photo

If there were a movie about what happened in the cinema business in 2014, it wouldn’t get many positive reviews.

It’s been universally bemoaned that movie quantity and quality were down. Viewership sunk to levels not seen for a couple of decades.

The industry faced increasing competition from just about everywhere.

Still, Bill Warren enjoyed the show.

“We’re pretty happy campers about 2014,” said Warren, whose Warren Theatres has eight locations in Wichita, Oklahoma and Missouri.

“Do I think the quality of movies was as good in 2014? No, it wasn’t.”

Trade publications report that the industry is down about 5 or 6 percent, but Warren said that’s not his experience. He said his theaters are down 1.5 percent from last year.

“And 2013 was a hell of a year, so I’m not complaining,” he said. “To put it in perspective … 2013 was a record-breaking year. Huge year.”

He attributes that to “just the number of movies and the quality of movies.”

“This business is product driven,” Warren said. “It sounds silly, but it’s kind of like the crops if you’re a farmer. Sometimes the crops are better than another.”

According to the Hollywood Reporter, early estimates show that about 1.26 billion cinema tickets were sold in 2014, which is the lowest since 1995, when 1.21 billion were sold.

Warren said summer sales were a particular struggle, in part because of a lot of sequels, which often make less money than their original shows.

“This summer was the most disappointing on a nationwide basis,” he said.

Christmas sales were hurt some by “The Interview” being released online and through streaming in addition to limited theater sales – Warren Theatres didn’t show it – but Warren said overall sales during the season were still great.

“I’m surprised that this Christmas has done as well as it has,” he said.

Though 2014 may not have been a banner year for movies, Warren said he doesn’t necessarily believe the bad reviews he’s hearing.

“Some of that’s overexaggerated,” he said. “It always is.”

Warren said the same thing happens in good times when the industry brags its year is “the best thing since sliced bread, ice cream and the return of Christ.”

He said some larger circuits may be struggling, though.

“Who knows what’s going on internally with those different companies.”

Warren said he thinks some theaters aren’t clean or kept up like they should be or that they have off-putting screen advertising that discourages some moviegoers.

“There’s a lot of sins in the business,” he said.

Warren said most theater owners don’t own their own real estate, which can make a difference in upkeep. Also, he said, investment groups own a lot of theaters, which he thinks leads to concern over quarterly profits ahead of the concern of moviegoers.

“The public is becoming more and more discriminating,” Warren said.

He said theaters that aren’t well-run are “probably heading for an unpleasant conclusion.”

Movies that viewers watch at home — however they get them — don’t scare him, he said.

“There’s always been competition in this business,” he said. “Remember when Blockbuster was going to put all the theaters out of business? Now, last time I looked, I didn’t see any Blockbusters left anymore. … Is there some hiding someplace?”

Big-screen TVs and home theaters also don’t scare Warren – he said he has his own, in fact – because it’s not the same social experience that people crave.

“I mean, we all have kitchens, and yet we all go out to eat quite a bit,” he said. “Theaters are still doing well, and it’s because there’s still that desire to socialize.”

Warren has been in the theater business since the 1960s and started this company in 1989 with the Palace West theater. He opened a theater in Springfield, Mo., in 1995 and his first Warren Theatre on the west side in 1996 followed by the east side in 2002.

He also has the Movie Machine, which he opened in 2003 at Towne West Square. He opened a Warren Theatre in Old Town Square in 2003 and one in Moore, Okla., in 2008. He opened IMAX theaters here in 2010 and in Oklahoma in 2011.

In late 2014, Warren opened a theater in Broken Arrow, Okla.

“I wouldn’t have been building Broken Arrow if I thought the movie business was bad,” Warren said. “They’ve been predicting the end of the theater business ever since TV came out. Actually, ever since radio came out. …The industry keeps on improving.”

Warren said he feels so good about the industry, he may have some more projects to announce in the next year or two. He said the business isn’t keeping him up at night.

“If I’m doing a business deal that’s going to keep me up at night, I don’t do it,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

Reach Carrie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or crengers@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @CarrieRengers.

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