Most importantly, the nation's second-largest theater chain receives a financial infusion that allows for debt restructuring and an accelerated remodeling program (more food and beverage offerings, wider screens, etc.) The $2.6-billion purchase by Dalian Wanda Group would supposedly create the world's largest cinema operator. AMC Chief Executive Gerry Lopez talks to Deadline's David Lieberman about the new owner.
DEADLINE: From [chief executive Jianlin.Wang's] public comments about the need to refurbish your theaters it sounds like he considers AMC to be a fixer-upper.
LOPEZ: That's not quite the plan. We are a fixer upper relative to his own circuit. Their circuit basically did not exist five years ago. Our leases run for 20 years. So many of our assets are older than their exhibition company is. What we are, though, is an opportunity to invest in remodeling the buildings. So it's a question of perspective. The circuit is in great shape. We track very, very closely our guest feedback regarding the state of repair of the buildings, the cleanliness of the building, the service they're receiving, did the show start on time. And the scores on the general repair of the facility and the cleanliness candidly have never been higher than they've been over the last three months. We put a lot of effort into, clean the bathrooms. This is a retail business. The movie may be great. But if the bathroom isn't clean, trust me, I hear about it.
DEADLINE: AMC's financials show that you had problems last year. Was that just due to the movies that studios released or did you have operational problems as well?
LOPEZ: It's all movie quality and quantity. What we had in 2011 was a confluence of fewer movies and each one of the movies grossed less. I've got to pay the rent; I've got to pay whether 30 people show up or 3,000 people show up. We're in the high rent district. When the industry downturns we will suffer more than the other guys. When the industry goes the other way, we tend to do better. For the last 16 weeks in a row we have outperformed the industry and a lot of it has to do with the movies. For the last 10 weeks we seriously outperformed the industry because you have more IMAX and more IMAX that's doing better. When that happens, we will outperform anybody.
By the way, Lopez isn't thrilled with texting during movies, though he doesn't seem prepared to clamp down. "By God, man. We're trying to sell you an experience," he says. "Give me a chance to deliver that experience to you. That's more of a personal statement than a corporate edict at this point."