March 12, 2008 / 8:30 PM / 12 years ago

Regal questions paying for newspaper film listings

LOS ANGELES, March 12 (Reuters) - U.S. movie theater company Regal Entertainment Group RGC.N is seeing diminishing returns from the millions of dollars it spends on movie listings in newspapers as people turn to the Internet for the information, Chief Executive Officer Michael Campbell said.

Theaters pay for listing their schedules in newspaper entertainment sections, but the largest U.S. theater chain has begun questioning the value.

“Personally, I think that theater listings in newspapers should be free to us and also free as a service to the public, just like TV listings are. I don’t see a lot of difference there,” Campbell said late on Tuesday at the ShoWest convention for theater operators.

Regal has in some cases over the last five years dropped out of certain newspapers, he said.

“The reality is that it had no impact on our attendance and truthfully it angers the (newspaper) subscribers not to have it in there,” he said. “We think listings are a sales tool to sell more newspapers, why should we pay for it?” he said.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) last week said that a forthcoming study by Yahoo Inc YHOO.O and the MPAA found that 73 percent of U.S. moviegoers use the Web to research films before going to the theater.

Moviegoers who use the Web are more likely to see a movie on the opening weekend, go to the theater more often, and see some movies more than once, the MPAA said.

Some newspapers do list movie times for free, Campbell said, but most do charge and increase their rates annually. He declined to say how much Regal spends on movie listings other than it was “several millions” of dollars per year.

Regal, along with other movie exhibitors and studios are hoping an industry-wide upgrade to digital projection will enable theaters to add on 3-D capabilities and boost both ticket prices and attendance.

Several studios and the Digital Cinema Implementation Partners — wholly owned by Regal, Cinemark Holdings Inc (CNK.N) and AMC Entertainment Inc (AC.N) are close to a $1.1 billion financing deal to deploy digital technology in cinemas.

Campbell said he hopes to ultimately have 1,200 to 1,500 3-D screens in his theater chain. Regal operates about 6,388 screens nationwide.

He reiterated that for the current first quarter, Regal would be happy if it matches the year-ago period, which had revenues of $625 million, and was boosted by the blockbuster film, “300.” Analysts, on average, expect Regal to report 18 cents a share for the quarter, according to Reuters Estimates.

“January and February were very good, but we’ve lost some of that ground in March as we suspected because the comparisons were tougher,” he said. “For first quarter, if we’re flattish with last year, we’d be happy,” he said.

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