National Association of Theatre Owners

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) is a United States-based trade organization whose members are the owners of movie theaters. Most of the worldwide major theater chains' operators are members, as are many independent theater operators; collectively, they account for the operation of over 32,000 motion picture screens in all 50 U.S. states and 81 other countries.

NATO (not to be confused with the international military alliance) was founded in 1965 by the merger of the largest movie theater trade organizations, the Theater Owners of America and the Allied States Association of Motion Picture Exhibitors.[1]

The long-running official magazine of NATO is Boxoffice; between 2001 and 2007, they also published In Focus.[2]


As the motion picture industry became larger, movie production companies began consolidating and controlling distribution.[3] The largest producer, Famous Players-Lasky, joined and later merged with the largest distributor, Paramount (eventually becoming Paramount Pictures), and together they began block-booking in 1917, forcing theaters to buy mediocre films to get the good ones. Theaters banded together to bargain for better pricing, with 26 of the largest combining into First National Exhibitors Circuit—which went on to become a producer and distributor in its own right, before being bought by Warner Bros. By 1921, Paramount already owned 300 theaters, and other producers were catching up. Studios soon contracted with each other to keep first-runs inside the affiliated network, using this access to coerce independents into selling out.

In 1921, the first predecessor of NATO was founded, the largely affiliated Motion Picture Theater Owners of America (MPTOA), soon followed by the independent Allied States Association of Motion Picture Exhibitors (Allied), Unaffiliated Independent Motion Picture Exhibitors of America, National Independent Theatre Exhibitors, and more, to demand better pricing and access to first-runs. Unlike the others, the MPTOA embraced affiliated theaters, and soon became the largest organization.

During World War II, many theaters joined the new War Activities Committee, after the war becoming the Theatre Activities Committee and soon American Theatre Association (ATA), which strongly supported United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., the antitrust case against all of the major studios. A plan to merge with MPTOA, which strongly supported the studios, ran into friction, with many affiliated theaters leaving the ATA over its stance; conversely Allied, the largest purely-independent group, refused to join over the presence of affiliates. The merger went ahead in 1947, minus affiliates of Loews, RKO, and Warner Bros., and they became the Theater Owners of America (TOA) with about 10,000 theaters.[3]

After divestiture in the fallout of the 1948 Paramount decision, many formerly-affiliated theaters ended up joining either TOA or Allied. During the post-war period, theater revenue collapsed as television became widespread, even as film rental became more expensive, and thousands of theaters closed, particularly in city centers hard hit by suburban flight.[4] Finally, in 1966 TOA and Allied merged into the National Association of Theatre Owners, largely based on TOA's structure but headed by Marshall Fine, former Allied chairman.

The 1970s were difficult for NATO; although the blockbuster The Godfather revitalized theater-going and revenue, in 1975 a new National Independent Theatre Exhibitors (NITE) came together to challenge NATO,[5][6] eventually numbering almost a thousand theaters, and governance reforms were pushed by members as well. When the reforms stalled, the entire California and Illinois chapters pulled out in 1977, along with many small chains around the nation. After 1980, many of the requested reforms were finally implemented, including a full-time president and a full-time lobbyist in Washington, as well as moving its headquarters from New York to Los Angeles; by the end of the decade, NITE had folded back into NATO, leaving only one dominant organization.[5]

The 1980s saw a relaxation of antitrust regulation and subsequent purchasing of many chains by distributors and large conglomerates, including 120 theaters by Paramount and Warner;[7] by the end of the decade, consolidation left the top 10 owners in control of 55 percent of the industry. In the 1990s, theater growth exploded, and by 1999, movie screens peaked at 36,448, the vast majority of which were affiliated with NATO.[4]


CinemaCon (formerly ShoWest)

As ShoWest, the convention was formerly one of four major worldwide annual events owned by the Film Group unit of Nielsen Business Media before being sold in 2011 to e5 Global Media and operated exclusively by NATO.

In now-renamed CinemaCon in 2011, the convention is NATO's only official convention of theater owners controlled by the organization itself. The first gathering took place March 2011 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, with the second held April 23–26, 2012, at the same venue.[8]

CinemaCon is now a standalone movie theater industry trade show or exposition originally established by NATO in 1975, usually held in Las Vegas in March.[9]

ShoWest Convention 1976

ShoWest Convention 1978

ShoWest Convention 1978

ShoWest Convention 1981

ShoWest Convention 1982

ShoWest Convention 1983

ShoWest Convention 1984

ShoWest Convention 1985

ShoWest Convention 1986

ShoWest Convention 1987

ShoWest Convention 1988

ShoWest Convention 1989

ShoWest Convention 1990

ShoWest Convention 1991

ShoWest Convention 1992

ShoWest Convention 1993

ShoWest Convention 1994

ShoWest Convention 1995

ShoWest Convention 1996

ShoWest Convention 1997

ShoWest Convention 1998

ShoWest Convention 1999

ShoWest Convention 2000

ShoWest Convention 2001

ShoWest Convention 2002

ShoWest Convention 2003

ShoWest Convention 2004

ShoWest Convention 2005

ShoWest Convention 2006

ShoWest Convention 2007

ShoWest Convention 2008

ShoWest Convention 2009

ShoWest Convention 2010

ShoWest Convention 2011

ShoWest Convention 2014

Other conventions

The remaining Nielsen Media event properties include CineEurope held in Barcelona, Spain in June, CineAsia held in early December in varying locations throughout Southeast Asia, and ShowEast, held in late October or early November in the Southeastern United States, usually somewhere in the Miami-Dade area.

Apart from CinemaCon, as presented on the website for the Nielsen Media Film Group, hosted by Nielsen Business Media,

The Nielsen Film Group events — CineEurope, ShowEast and CineAsia — are the only conventions and tradeshows dedicated to the needs of the movie theatre industry worldwide. Our events bring together the key decision makers from every major, regional and independent theatre circuit with the major International Film Distributors, as well as the manufacturers of products, services and technologies for the movie theatre industry. All of our events include screenings of upcoming films, product reel presentations, educational seminars, special events and awards galas.[9]

According to Rick Lyman, of The New York Times, all four events are "the largest and most important gathering of theatre operators" in the world, at which "the theatrical distribution business takes stock of its problems, which have been legion, and assesses its future, always through the rosiest glasses available."[10]

American Movie Awards

In 1980, NATO initiated the American Movie Awards, held at the Wilshire Theater, Beverly Hills, California, and broadcast on NBC, with the winners selected based on voting by theater patrons.[11] Various legal difficulties prevented the awards from being presented in 1981, and the event was discontinued after the 1982 awards due to competition from other awards shows.

CinemaCon Awards 2011[12]

CinemaCon Awards 2012[12]

See also


  1. "Merger Approved by Theater Owners". The New York Times (print)|format= requires |url= (help). The New York Times Company. September 9, 1965. p. 15.
  2. "In Focus Magazine Archive". National Association of Theater Owners. Archived from the original on 2013-03-02.
  3. "Register of the National Association of Theatre Owners, 1946-1978". Brigham Young University.
  4. "SIC 7832 MOTION PICTURE THEATERS, EXCEPT DRIVE-IN". Reference for Business: Encyclopedia of American Industries.
  5. Overpeck, Deron (2007). Out of the Dark: American Film Exhibition, Political Action and Industrial Change, 1966-1986. ProQuest. ISBN 9780549407348.
  6. "NITE slates Sept 23-24 Confab in Kansas City". Boxoffice. Vol. 107 no. 18. August 11, 1975.
  7. United States of America v. Loew's Incorporated, et al., 882 F.2d 29 (2d Cir. 1989).
  8. CinemaCon (official site). Retrieved May 3, 2012. Archived from the original on May 3, 2012
  9. "Nielsen Film Group". Retrieved 2008-08-17.
  10. Rick Lyman (2001-03-12). "Media: A Partly Cloudy Forecast for Theater Owners". The New York Times, Business. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
  11. "American MovieAwards: Awards Summary: Marquee". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
  12. "2011 Press Releases", Archived from the original on May 23, 2012
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