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Monday, May 29, 2023

The List

The List/cw1st BY JOAN OSTERWALDER Staff Reporter Three new multiplex cinemas make their debut on the San Fernando Valley Business Journal’s ranking of movie theater complexes, as developers cash in on the popularity of plush theaters with all the bells and whistles. “There’s been a trend toward stadium seating, love seats, cup holders, new amenities and sound quality,” said Chan Wood, executive vice president of Pacific Theatres Corp. “There’s been an influx of these new theaters.” Wood’s company opened Pacific Theatres Winnetka 20 last year, a venue in Chatsworth with 20 screens and 5,900 seats. Based on seating, it ranked No. 2 on the list. Wood’s company also opened Pacific Theatres Northridge Fashion Center 10, a cineplex with 2,900 seats and 10 screens, placing it in the No. 5 spot on the list. The last of the three new cinemas is the Mann Plant 16 in Van Nuys. It is fourth on the list and has 16 screens and a seating capacity of 3,522 people. The Mann Plant 16 will officially open its doors Jan. 15. Topping this year’s list is the Universal City Cinemas at Universal CityWalk. Although it has two fewer screens than the Winnetka 20, it has 6,000 seats, slightly more than the No. 2 movie theater. The bigger-is-better philosophy is certainly in vogue in the theater business, and there’s a reason, industry officials agree. “The largest reason is (studios) are releasing more films each year than in the past,” said Len Westenberg, vice president of operations with Loews Cineplex Entertainment, which manages the Universal City Cinemas for owner Universal Studios. “And then there’s such a wide variety of films also. If you have large plexes, you can play art films, family films and action films.” With movie attendance at the highest levels since the ’50s, people want to see more films on the big screen rather than on their television sets at home. So more screens offer consumers a wider range of movies to choose from, said Brian Callaghan, head of communications for General Cinema Theatres. “We try to give people as many options as we can,” he said. Another advantage of large cineplexes is that people who haven’t seen a hot movie can still see it on the big screen a couple of weeks after its release date because the larger venues can afford to keep them running, said Westenberg. “Where you have 500-, 600- and 700-seat houses, you have your big blockbusters, then you can move them down (to the smaller rooms),” he said. “Having more screens gives you the opportunity to hold on to movies longer.” However, Callaghan added that the size of the venue doesn’t always guarantee success. The West Hills’ General Cinema Fallbrook, which is No. 7 on the list with 10 screens and 2,700 seats, and the General Cinema Sherman Oaks, the last cineplex on the list with seven screens and seating for 1,910 people, have been lucrative, Callaghan said. “They’re in well-located areas,” he said. “It is based on location, parking and factors such as service and concessions. The theater is clean, the presentation is good. A 20- or 30-screen cinema is not a guarantee that it will be profitable.” Wood agreed that it’s important to make it convenient for people to go to the movies. Locating new multiplexes in malls is convenient for customers and it helps provide all-important foot traffic. “You have a lot of foot traffic in the mall that goes to restaurants and bookstores and then to entertainment,” he said. Callaghan said another big plus with shopping centers is the parking. At malls, you just have to park your car once and you can go to a restaurant or do some shopping and afterwards see a movie. Even the smaller cineplexes are most of the time not free-standing buildings, but located in a mall or near a center somewhere, Westenberg said. Otherwise, “it would become an inconvenience” he added. Like others, Westenberg said customer service is key to staying competitive. “We work with local parking services to get the best deal possible at the best economic rate,” he said. Universal also has a policy to ease customers’ nerves when they are waiting to buy tickets or lining up at the concession stands. “If you have to wait in line for longer than three minutes, you get a free Coke and it’s on us,” he said. “We have supervisors or managers within yelling distance.”

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