Published by www.filmjournal.com, Dec. 2, 2014
Our Concession Spotlight this month expands beyond just theatre concessions, as we introduce you to Phil Zacheretti, president and CEO of Phoenix Big Cinemas Management (PBCM) in Knoxville, TN. Phil has a long, vibrant history in the theatre industry and has experienced the last 10 years of consolidation and digital revolution through the lens of his own company. The players within the industry have moved around and landed in various places of success, and Phil is no exception to this. Let’s start at the beginning of his career.
Phil started in the theatre business in June 1975 in Murray, KY, at the Cine Central single-screen theatre as an usher at age 15, and was promoted to assistant manager at age 16. He also worked as films chairperson while attending Murray State University in Murray. Asked if he had a mentor, he replies, “My first employer, Mr. John Hopkins, who still runs the Cheri Theatres in Murray. He has over 40 years in the business and taught (and still teaches) me about our industry. He even hired me despite my large Afro at the time of my interview!”
Phil joined AMC Theatres in the early 1980s and traveled as a manager. He then worked for Associated Theatres of Kentucky in the mid-1980s. That circuit was sold to Mike Campbell’s Premiere Cinemas in 1987. Phil then moved to Knoxville, TN, in 1988 to work at the corporate office as marketing director. Cinemark bought Premiere Cinemas in 1989. Phil worked with Cinemark as director of marketing until 1996, with his final two years based in Dallas, Texas. In 1997 he moved back to Knoxville as director of marketing for Campbell’s Regal Cinemas.
Phil left Regal as senior VP of marketing and advertising in 2000 to start Phoenix Theatres, a management and ownership exhibition company in Knoxville, with his wife and a partner. He grew Phoenix Theatres and in 2008 sold half-interest to Reliance MediaWorks of Mumbai, India. They managed all of Reliance’s theatre sites and helped make Hindi and other South Asian films recognized as a viable source of film revenue. In 2013 Reliance closed all its theatres, as they decided to exit the U.S. exhibition arena.
This is a wide range of cinema chains to be associated with, three of them now the top chains in the country. What’s been the most rewarding part of this varied career? Phil responds, “Working with so many great people over the years, such as other exhibitors, distributors, vendors, and my own employees.”
PBCM is a full-range management company. They perform feasibility studies to determine if a market can support a new or existing theatre. They help architects with the design of new builds or the retrofit of existing sites and oversee construction or remodels of all sizes of theatres. They specialize in the management of either new or older theatres for the owners. They have managed as many as 20 theatres at one time in 15 states. Currently, PBCM manages 10 theatres with 97 screens in eight states, with a few new projects in final negotiations. Phil manages all operational aspects of the company, including concessions contracts and distribution.
As for trends in the industry, Phil believes “improvements in our facilities, such as seating, food selections and expanded alternative content, along with great customer service, will keep us ahead of the other methods of watching films such as Netflix and online. This is important, to address declining attendance of the youngest generation. Films are made to appeal to their ages, yet many have reduced their attendance or stopped coming altogether. We must find ways to interest and entice them, as their attendance is essential for the longevity of our industry. This attendance also drives concession revenue and we need to have that profitability. The other major issue is shrinking windows. We must keep fighting to show the movies first and delay their release to VOD or Internet streaming.”
Thinking about those last statements, and knowing Phil has experienced several decades of growth and change in this industry, I asked if he sees a long-range future for the industry. His answer: “Yes, I do. You cannot replicate the communal feeling of watching a first-run film in a quality theatre. No one can duplicate the size of the screen, the immersive sound system or the delicious treats we offer at our theatres. That may sound old-school, but a billion and a half patrons can’t be wrong!”
Phil married his high-school sweetheart, Tammie Bell, and they are celebrating their 35th anniversary this December. They have three children, Courtney Hammett, Kathryn Spottswood and Nick Zacheretti, who now works with Phil at PBCM. They also have eight grandchildren, with number nine due next March. So it’s easy to see that his personal hobbies include visiting or babysitting his grandkids. Phil also likes traveling with Tammie and collecting signed celebrity books and other movie memorabilia. He is an avid supporter of the industry and another example of what makes us great.