Vista, the Auckland-based company that dominates cinema management and marketing software worldwide – reported a narrower first-half loss today, operating earnings that had moved into the black, and higher recurring revenue over the Covid-flattened year-ago period.

Vista shares jumped 8.4 per cent to $2.46 in trading after the result. The stock is up 38 per cent for the year, if still only half its pre-pandemic value.

With cinema-goers returning in stronger than expected numbers, and Hollywood production getting back into gear, the company was also able to provide guidance – or at least limited guidance – for the first time since the pandemic began.

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It said that if the current level of cinema openings is sustained, then full-year revenue will come in between $95 million and $100m (in FY2020, revenue fell 39 per cent to $97.5m), and Vista would be “ebitda positive” and “modestly cashflow positive” in the second half after the cash-burning past 18 months.

Crucially, the company said Hollywood’s enthusiasm for instantly streaming movies, or shortening theatrical release times, had waned. Theatrical windows had stabilised at 35 to 45 days – a period that had no impact on box office revenue.

Talking to the Herald after the result was filed, Vista Group CEO Kimbal Riley said the
theatrical window had been 90 days pre-pandemic, with neither exhibitors nor content creators being willing to budge. “The pandemic has forced change” he said – and he saw it as a positive for everyone because most releases tailed off after two to four weeks in cinemas, then the hype fell away in the weeks before they hit other channels.

Riley said 84 per cent of US cinemas were open and 91 per cent in the EU.

While NZ had entered a tight lockdown, it only represented a tiny part of Vista’s revenue.

Patronage levels have varied, with arthouse titles booming, but Hollywood’s slate was still relatively thin. Riley noted that Vista’s revenue was not tied to patronage levels, but regardless he said he was encouraged by the pipeline of content previewed by the big four Hollywood studios at the CinemaCon trade event in the US this week. It appeared that Hollywood had put pandemic production issues behind it.

Vista also released a new cloud-based service today – a key element as the firm is trying to increase its percentage of recurring revenue as it pitches the pandemic recovery period as a time when multiplex owners need to make more intensive use of its software, and subscribe to more of its services, as they carefully manage reopenings and seek to lure punters back into cinema seats.

Riley said there was potential to get two and a half times the revenue from existing customers as the cloud-based platform made it easier for them to access more of Vista’s services. The platform would also speed development of new products, and allow Vista to release them to customers more efficiently.

For the six months to June 30, 2021, Vista reported a net loss of $2.6m vs the year-ago period’s $43m in red ink.

While overall revenue was flat at $45m, recurring revenue was up 13 per cent to $37m. Software-as-a-service (SaaS or cloud-based) revenue was up 5 per cent to $13m.

Ebitda was $6m vs the year-ago first-half ebitda loss of $7m.

Vista – which shored up its balance sheet early in the pandemic to give it the ability to withstand at least two years of cinema closures – finished the first half with $58m vs $96m in December 2020. It said cash burn had reduced to $1.5m per month.

Riley said it was still “early days” for the white-label streaming service Vista developed (with Hamilton’s Shift72), which allows theatre owners to set up their own pay-per-view offerings for people to watch movies at home.

With the major studios’ 2020 shift to immediate streaming now looking more like a pandemic response than a strategic shift, the project is less pressing.

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