While analysts aren’t putting too much stock in digital sales just yet, there’s reason to believe there’s a market for the service. Blockbuster Canada was shut down earlier this year after creditors called in its parent company’s debt, leaving hundreds of neighbourhoods across the country without a nearby video store in which to rent new releases as other, smaller operators also closed their doors in response to cheap online alternatives.
While Mr. Jacob won’t be putting stores back on street corners, he does believe he has something going for him that video-on-demand services and the Internet at large can’t compete with – a relationship with a core group of movie fans who are more interested in quality than they are quantity.
The Motion Picture Association of America has his back – it said in a recent report that frequent movie goers represent only 10 per cent of the population but purchase nearly half of all tickets.
“We can drive you to the hard good in the theatre, to the rental, to a purchase, and then back to the theatre,” Mr. Jacob says. “Nobody else can do that. When you start a business, it’s a scary experience because there are always naysayers who say it won’t work. But you have to stick to your guns. When I started in this business 25 years ago, everyone thought I was nuts. But I tell you – there are so many opportunities in this country, I can’t even believe it.”
There are opportunities in other countries as well. Over the years, Mr. Jacob has been tempted to expand internationally, and once came close to buying an Australian theatre chain only to have the deal fall apart when one of the key owners in that country died of a heart attack
in the midst of negotiations. He’s heading back to the country at the end of December, but that trip was planned as a vacation. Even so, his calendar quickly filled with appointments as it tends to every time he travels.
“The last time I was in Istanbul, I got the idea to name our theatres after companies after meeting a guy,” referring to a partnership that has seen Bank of Nova Scotia brand many of the company’s top-end theatres. “There’s another example of something that analysts said would never work. And you know what? It’s been a success.”
He grabs another French fry and holds it mid-air as he finishes the thought: “I hope in five years, if we are sitting here again, we can say that we managed to create an environment that when you think of movies you think of Cineplex, whether you’re talking bricks or talking clicks.”