Global Perspective: Miguel Rivera programs for Cinépolis’ many territories

Cinemas Features

In the great Hollywood tradition of surprise endings, we’ll wait till the close of this article to reveal the movie that Cinépolis VP of global programming Miguel Rivera, this year’s ShowEast “International Exhibitor of the Year” Award winner, names as his all-time favorite. First, the setting, background and some narrative for so impressive a career high.

Reporting to the chain’s global chief operating officer Miguel Mier, Rivera is based in Mexico City (Cinépolis is headquartered in Morelia, about 200 miles west), so he can “be close to Mexico’s distributors” and because of his frequent air travel. “I travel a lot to all our offices in the 14 countries where we operate and I oversee our programming teams,” he explains.

It’s a lot of travel. Cinépolis’ theatres are worldwide and number about 647 but are mainly concentrated in Mexico, where the company was founded in 1971. “Mexico is our biggest, most lucrative territory and where we’ve been in business for more than 45 years.”

The company went international about 15 years ago and now has a footprint stretching to Brazil, Spain, India, the U.S., Argentina, Chile and places in between.

Rivera describes his job as “supervisor of the programming teams, assuring that our weekly content offerings are aligned with reactions we expect from our audiences. So it’s helpful to be in so many territories, because that [the staggered release schedules] allows us to often gather information early on how films perform. Also critical to my work are the relationships we have either on the regional or global level with studios, not just Hollywood but with all the regional and locals distributors we deal with.”

He also oversees supervision of alternative content, which, as with other circuits, Rivera clarifies as “programs with content that’s attractive during off-hours of demand like weekdays or early on weekends. This is mostly niche content and we’ve been successful with all sorts—from anime to opera to sports reruns to the classics.”

Additionally in his purview are Cinépolis’s film distribution initiatives, which he describes as “a distribution operation in Mexico and Central America for mostly documentaries that couldn’t find other distribution. We started working as a distributor for them and realized we could be quite successful with this. We began the effort in 2015 in Mexico with mostly Mexican films and expanded it to Central America.”

Rivera also keeps a close eye on amenities related to presentations like 4D and maintains relationships with companies like IMAX (Cinépolis has about 15 screens) and with Korean exhibitor, distribution and tech giant CJ CGV.

But for the vast majority of its more than 5,000 screens across 14 territories, Rivera says, Cinépolis programs both studio and art-house films. “We look at all that’s available for our market. Most of our theatres are in shopping centers and urban areas, so families and couples are important to consider. But art-house films also work well for us.”

Rivera is also involved in the circuit’s ongoing digital deployment, anti-piracy initiatives and its film festival exhibition partnerships. (In New York, for instance, Cinépolis participates in the Tribeca Film Festival with its Chelsea multiplex.) Festival participation is important, he believes, because “festivals are integral to programming, not just because of the obviously commercial films they might offer, but for those less so that keep us very much aware of the more sophisticated audiences who are out there.”

Cinépolis itself has festival roots: In Morelia, the beautiful colonial city where the chain is headquartered, it began its own festival 16 years ago, which “influenced our decision to work further with festivals, including our involvement with Tribeca and at Cannes,” where Morelia has a presence at the Fest’s important Critics Week sidebar.

As for the wide spectrum of markets Rivera covers, he says predicting how films will perform is a tricky business everywhere. “Every now and then there are interesting surprises in every territory, but Mexico, of course, may be easiest for us. Yet no territory or even film is really predictable. We knew Disney’s Coco would be successful in Mexico, but never imagined how great this success would be.”

He does, however, cite some telling clues. “In the case of Coco, it’s a film about family and that so often works; also, the film really captured the spirit of our ‘Day of the Dead’ tradition and I believe that was key.”

In the art-house realm, he mentions how well the emotionally strong French hit The Intouchables worked, as did Presumed Guilty, the 2011 Emmy-winning documentary that Cinépolis distributed about the justice system. It did the festival circuit, built an audience and was a hit.

Asked about programming challenges for audiences across so many different markets, Rivera responds, “Hollywood has that figured out quite well and maybe Disney does the best, in the sense that they have the strongest superhero franchises and the audiences for them in every territory. Horror is another strong genre, especially in Latin America; the response to horror is great and has grown over time as an audience favorite.”

Depending on the need, Cinépolis shows both subtitled and dubbed films. “We do ask distributors to provide both, so we can program each version depending on demand. Sometimes the theatres like dubbed and others the subtitled versions.”

Like the entire exhibition community, Rivera keeps an eye on getting audiences to theatres and making sure they return. “We’ve been successful with our VIP format, reclining seats and with our in-theatre food and beverage offerings. Our luxury theatres work well and we keep refining the model because we plan to export them to other territories.”

As an example, he cites Manhattan’s Chelsea-area Cinépolis multiplex. “Our first plans with the multiplex were to create a luxury theatre there, but these things are challenging in Manhattan. But we are revisiting this opportunity because the concept works and our patrons, once they can enjoy the luxury experience, don’t want to go back.”

Also challenging for Rivera is the exploding trend of streaming and its impact on in-home viewing.  But programming for him has not yet been impacted: “We’re waiting to see what happens, as it’s too early to say anything with certainty.”

What is certain is that Rivera brings a lot of experience to his job. He joined Cinépolis in 2005 as strategic planning director, then served as director of film programming for Mexico from 2009 to 2015 before stepping into his current position. Prior to Cinépolis, he worked at the Mexican Embassy with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, France, as an analyst for the Technical Secretariat of the Social Cabinet in the Executive Office of the President of Mexico, and as a financial consultant with McKinsey and Co. He earned a B.S. in Economics from ITAM and a Master’s in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. While at Cambridge, he became familiar with the city’s iconic Brattle Theatre art house.

So when immediately asked to name his favorite film of all time, Rivera doesn’t lose a second responding with A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick! England! Anarchy! Aggression!) and revealing that the Mexican global programming VP is indeed very global. He will be an international exhibitor to watch for years to come.