"Let's look at things in thelong term" emerged as the mantra for addresses given by Motion PictureAssociation of America (MPAA) chairman Dan Glickman and National Association ofTheater Owners (NATO) president John Fithian at the opening ceremonies of theShoWest convention for theatrical exhibition today in Las Vegas.
Glickman broke from thelong-standing tradition of presenting statistical data about such basics as boxoffice, production and marketing costs and average ticket prices to focus oncurrent concerns and future initiatives. He referenced the report issued withthat data last week by acknowledging that box office and attendance was downwhile the cost of making and promoting movies by MPAA member companies was flatfrom the prior year.
He emerged as a fast learnerand evinced more confidence as a speaker in his second ShoWest appearanceunderlying that the situation "could and should be better." Glickman pointed tosuch areas as comfort, safety, convenience and courtesy as areas that need to beaddressed by the industry to effect a reversal of slow, steady declines in theAmerican marketplace. Quality movies with compelling stories were in hisopinion the bedrock of the industry but he stressed the importance of findingout more about who goes to the movies and why and announced a first timeinitiative with NATO that will explore these areas.
The MPAA chair alsosuggested that theatre owners might, as other industries have done, mount anawareness campaign in the manner of the "Got Milk" ads that serve to remindpotential consumers of the "quality of the product." Also announced was aninitiative with the American Film Institute to launch a National Movie Weektargeted to occur in March, a period that's traditionally seen audiences at lowebb.
The address also made noteof recent anti-piracy efforts and court rulings that have bolstered issuesconcerning intellectual property as well as anti-camcorder legislation that arenow on the books in 28 US states. The tenor was aggressive rather than reactiveand certainly gave the crowd an impression that the industry was notindifferent to the nervousness experienced within the theatre owning community.
Fithian chose to concentratehis remarks in the areas of conversion to digital projection and the hot buttonissue of availability windows. Though d-cinema has been discussed at the pastseven conventions, he later noted that this year marked the first instance thathe addressed it as a reality about to occur.
"Most objectives that werepart of our discussion have now been met," he observed referring to suchfactors as the quality of the image, industry-wide standards, security and thethorny matter of price sharing with the studios. On the last point he said thebusiness model would require the studios to pay a virtual print fee that wouldallow theater circuits to pay off equipment costs over a period of years.
The NATO president madereference to "radical, misguided experiments" that forced discussion onsimultaneous release of films in theaters, pay-cable and DVD but it was clearhe was talking about the release of Steven Soderbergh's Bubble. He said thetrial balloon worked to exhibition's benefit because it proved such things asthe preservation of the theatrical experience, the preservation of the artisticmedium and its presence in the process as being vital to the entire industry.He noted that extensive research by organization staff concluded that thewindow between theatrical and DVD exposure shrank by only four days in 2005 tofour months and 16 days on average.
He concluded with anemphasis on continued growth in attendance in each of the past four decadeswith reference to cyclic ebbs in attendance. At a press session following theopening ceremonies he became pricklier about news coverage that tilted towardthe negative and failed to look at a longer historical perspective. Severalexecutives at major theatre chains speaking on background told Screen that theNATO board has expressed unhappiness with its officer's limited rebuttal tostories about eroding box office.
Another issue brought up atthe press conference was the extent of "rude" movie audience. Fithianacknowledged it as a serious issue that had to be confronted with more thanon-screen reminders to turn off cellular phones.
Conventioneers were alsotreated to a sneak preview of Mission: Impossible III, slated for worldwide release in May. Producer PaulaWagner and director J.J. Abrams introduced two scenes that gave a taste of thedramatic and visceral in the new chapter of the franchise. The few minutes didmore to energize the crowd about the future than any other element of themorning's programme.