In the first half of 2020, the Greidinger family's Cineworld will become the world's largest cinema chain when it completes the $2.1 billion acquisition of Canada's Cineplex, giving it over 11,000 cinema screens worldwide. Cineworld's CEO Moshe (Mooky) Greidinger and his brother Deputy CEO Israel Greidinger hold a 29% stake in the company, which is traded on the London Stock Exchange and has a market cap of £3 billion.
The remarkable rise of the Greidinger family began in Haifa where the family still lives modestly. In 1930, Moshe Greidinger, grandfather of the current Moshe Greidinger, invested in the Ein Dor cinema in the Hadar neighborhood of Haifa. An immigrant from Romania, Moshe Greidinger senior, had business interests in food, shipping and real estate and identified a business opportunity in the Haifa cinema. In 1935 he opened Haifa's Armon cinema.
Moshe Greidinger senior died in 1946 and his son Kalman expanded the cinema part of his later father's business portfolio by buying the Chen cinema in Tel Aviv, which became the flagship cinema of the Rav Chen multi-screen cinema chain in Israel.
"Kalman built the infrastructure for the family's cinema business in Israel and abroad," says Haifa City Museum curator Inbar Dror Lax. "He was a member of Haifa's high society. I met with him when he was already at an advanced age and found a man who sat in his office and worked the entire time. He had incredible energy and remembered everything."
Today the business is led by his son Mooky, 66. He is a quiet, introverted man who dresses simply, without a tie, even for important press conferences and formal events. His 58 year old brother Israel serves as his deputy.
The Greidinger brothers' power began in Israel, where they own Israel Theaters and its Rav Chen and Yes Planet cinema chains, and the Forum Films distribution company, which has agreements with the likes of MGM, Disney and Sony. Mooky serves as chairman of the Israel Cinema Industry Association and is well connected to other wealthy Israelis and politicians. Israel Greidinger serves chairman of the Israel Cinema Owners Associations and the family is active philanthropically. Israel is chairman of the Friends of Rambam Hospital and both brothers are active with Variety and are trustees of Maccabi Haifa soccer club.
The push abroad began in 1997 when the Greidingers established Cinema City International N.V. (CCI) and opened their first overseas cinema in Budapest, Hungary. By December 2006 when Cinema City held its IPO in Poland, the company had dozens of multi-screen cinemas in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania and soon after the company owned a flourishing movie distribution firm. Despite the name, the Greidingers have no connection to the Cinema City chain in Israel.
The really big change came in January 2014 when the Greidinger's Cinema City merged with the UK chain's Cineworld to form a business with an enterprise value of £503 million. Cineworld had 1,500 cinema screens in the UK and the Greidingers had a 29% stake in the merged company and assumed the senior management positions.
Those who know the Greidingers say they are not so much consumed with making money as becoming the world's number one cinema chain. In 2017, Cineworld became the world's number two chain with the acquisition of the Regal chain in the US for $3.6 billion. The acquisition added 550 cinemas with 7,300 screens to the Greidinger's fast growing empire. Then last month, the Greidingers made the move, which is about to make them the world's number one cinema chain, with the announcement that it is buying Canada's Cineplex.
Yet Cineworld's major North American expansion and aggressive leverage comes at a time when many question the future of the cinema in the face of competition from online streaming services like Netflix. But people have eulogized the cinema before, starting with the advent of television.
Israeli cinema researcher David Shalit once saw the DVD as a threat to cinemas. "I spoke several times with Mooky. I said to him listen, they're about to destroy your sector, people won't go to the cinema to see a movie, if they can watch it at home at the same time on a DVD (there was talk in the movie industry at the time of releasing a DVD home cinema version at the same time as the release in the cinemas). Then he said to me a sentence that teaches you about his philosophy on the sector. 'Cinema is not a warship but rather an aircraft carrier - it doesn't change direction very quickly or very easily."
Now comes Netflix and other online streaming services. Mooky Greidinger has said, "I don't think Netflix is a threat because ultimately this is a home viewing service."
Greidinger said a few weeks ago after announcing the acquisition of the Canadian cinema chain. "There will be a big battle in the streaming arena because of these huge players that are entering now. The theatrical business is not home entertainment. People will never stay seven days at home. We are competing for their free time outside of the house."
Time and again Mooky Greidinger has stressed in interviews the advantages of the cinema as a viewing experience and that his company puts major emphasis on advanced technologies including 3D movies and sensory-friendly movies. Another point Greidinger makes in his belief in the cinema experience is about the social nature of it. He has said, "One of the things that people most love about cinema is that people can laugh together. It's a different experience to laugh with 150 or 200 people around you than to laugh almost alone at home."
However, Mooky Greidinger is clearly concerned about the challenge posed by Netflix. He recently complained about Netflix's decision to release Martin Scorcese's movie the Irishman just three weeks after it was released in the cinema. He said the early release rendered income from the movie "meaningless," and that major cinema box-office income was lost.
The Greidingers now seem to be moving onto the fourth generation with Mooky's son Idan and many of his childhood friends in Haifa taking up management positions in the company. It's 90 years since Idan's great grandfather opened his first cinema. In the age of the Internet and streaming, the Greidingers are clearly betting on the cinema lasting for many more decades to come.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 5, 2020
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