Relaxing import restrictions on Hollywood films will accelerate China’s ascendency to the number one market in the world, attendees at the inaugural CinemaCon heard during opening remarks on International Day [28].

“How quickly China becomes the number two market and eventually the number one market is up to the government,” Warner Bros International Cinemas president Millard Ochs said during his keynote speech at the Las Vegas event.

Ochs was referring to China’s tight control over access to foreign features – currently set at 20 films a year – and repeated what has been said before, namely that the country would overtake North America to become the biggest market within 10 years, maybe sooner.

Chinese box office from 6,500 screens amounted to $1.5bn in 2010, compared to $2.5bn from 3,500 screens in Japan, currently the number two market behind North America.

In a tub-thumping speech that stressed the strength of the international marketplace, Ochs urged attendees to embrace alternative programming as a way of compensating for admissions in North America, which dropped 5% in 2009 according to recent data from the National Association Of Theatre Owners, backers of CinemaCon. “Admissions really is the number that matters,” Ochs said. “What happens if you get the customer to go to your theatre one more time per year?”

The executive concluded by saying: “Digital is the future and social media is the only way to reach your audience… the over-50s can text just as much as Generation Z.”

Paramount Pictures International president Andrew Cripps delivered the second keynote and addressed the notion of tipping points. He said that by mid-2011 the UK would reach the point where there will be more digital screens than traditional 35mm screens.

Cripps advised attendees to make use of international talent and noted that two-thirds of the top 20 global hits in 2010 featured international cast and filmmakers. “Local stars and directors are great assets and will create interest not only for the media but for the audiences in their countries.”

He reminded attendees of data that reflected the growing dominance of the international box office. Approximately 67% or $21.2bn of 2010’s global box office of $31.8bn came from international markets compared to 33% or $10.6bn from North America.

Cripps added that there are currently 122,133 screens in the world and 80% are situated outside North America. The growth potential overseas is illustrated by the fact that whereas each screen in North America serves roughly 8,750 people, an international screen caters to around 80,000 customers.

In other CinemaCon news:

  • Global licensor of 3D technologies RealD has exceeded 15,000 installations of its 3D Cinema System in global theatres. Of this number, roughly 8,600 are situated in North America. The total represents a 182% increase over a year ago.
  • The Cinema Advertising Council said that total advertising industry revenues of its members climbed 13.7% in 2010 to $658.3m compared to $584.1m in 2009.
  • Cinedigm has deployed 142 certified screens in 11 Guzzo Cinema sites in Canada.
  • Harkness Screens said it was investing $5m to expand operations in Canada, China and France.
  • Cinema City International, the third-largest multiplex theatre operator in Europe, has chosen MasterImage 3D as its new 3D systems provider.
  • Dolby announced its Dolby Surround Sound 7.1 audio format will enhance Cars 2, Transformers 3, Pirates Of The Caribbean 4 and Kung Fu Panda 2 this summer.
  • THX has added the following partners to its 2,000-strong list of certified partners: The State Kremlin Palace, Moscow; Labodigital Screening Room, Mexico City; the Indiana University Cinema, Bloomington, USA; Cinemark Theaters in Brazil and Kitag Cinemas in Switzerland.
  • Qube Cinema demonstrated its second generation, DCI-compliant XP-D Digital Cinema server.