This week, the Motion Picture Association of America (Mpaa) sent out a press release under the triumphal headline: '2006 box office rebounds'.

The cause of this elation, according to the Mpaa, was the fact theatrical revenues in the US for the year - spearheaded by Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest's $423m take - had increased by 5.5% to $9.49bn, and that global box-office climbed 11% to an unprecedented $25.8bn.

Additionally, admissions rose, again, per their research, by 3.3%; reversing a three-year trend of declining audiences.

For those so inclined, the Mpaa website has an additional 100 pages of charts that break down such things as attendance by age and race.

One can peruse graphs showing the number of films released annually, average ticket prices, current production and marketing costs, international data and a survey that concludes 80% of the population find the movie-going experience to be of good economic and entertainment value.

The Sho goes on

This onslaught of info arrives six days in advance of ShoWest, the annual global movie exhibition conference in Las Vegas. In the past, this tsunami of data was announced at the event, but it was decided last year to unveil it in advance.

The party line was that the devil was in the details and by presenting it early, weightier issues can be more fully presented and discussed.

The Mpaa and the National Association of Theatre Owners (Nato) that host ShoWest have a dilemma not unlike the Academy Awards.

Just as more than 100 movie award shows prefigure the Oscars, there are between the trades and tracking services about a dozen outlets that announce annual box-office figures during the first 10 days of the new year. Screen International calculated 2006 domestic revenues (US and Canada) at $9.23bn, a 3.7% boost from the previous year. Admissions were less than 1% improved.

The differences are not the result of methodology or monetary conversions. There is no transparency in the 'official' industry figures. The cynic might invoke the age-old observation that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Judgment call

Nato and the Mpaa will present figures next week as a sign of the vitality of movie-going and the multiplex experience. But it is difficult to ascertain their value. For instance, how can one judge the value of the Mpaa movie survey that concludes an 80% satisfaction rating without knowing the questions'

While hardly scientific, it was eye-opening to read a recent blog on Toronto's Globe And Mail newspaper website about cinema-going. Respondents complained about the physical condition of theatres, the quality of image and sound, the superiority of the home-entertainment experience, the cost of concessions, noisy patrons and the like. Are their views worth noting'

There are obviously other issues that exist and persist, whether box office is up or down 5% in any given year. Theatre owners in Europe recently pulled movies as a result of DVD release dates they felt encroached on their turf and the overall fragility of their business has resulted in a barely cordial relationship between exhibition and distribution.

The conversion to digital cinema is another thorny area, not simply because of cost and who pays but who ultimately benefits.

The future is unknowable other than the certainty that the movie-going landscape will change and, while the signs are indeed positive for the suppliers, there are unquestionably bumps in the road for the buyer.