ShoWest, the annualconvention of film exhibition, got underway today in Las Vegas with itstraditional Monday emphasis on the international marketplace. Since 2000, theevent has sought to erase global borders in its participation and this yearattracted delegates from 50 nations with major increases in participation fromRussia and Asian countries. Korea's Lotte Cinema was given the award ofinternational distinction during the curtain raiser.

Motion Picture Associationof America (MPAA) chairman Dan Glickman gave the opening luncheon address thatdownplayed decreases in most foreign markets in 2005. His organisation peggedglobal box office at slightly more than $23 billion that would translate intoan overall drop of 9%. "We have to look at the longer term," he said. "Newopportunities bring with them new challenges." Glickman then proceeded to turnback the clock and delineate radical increases in movie attendance in the pastfive years and singled out such nations as Russia, Brazil, Vietnam and China asexhibiting major growth potential.

He also cited the Koreangovernment's decision to rollback its annual quota for indigenous film byroughly 50% as an encouraging development. However, for the American filmindustry recent bumps in movie going in major territories have had minorityeffect on its product and largely been reflected in popular local productions.

The brunt of Glickman'sremarks focused on film piracy that he characterised as "insidious andpervasive." He said that, while there is no simple, foolproof solution, exhibitorsprovide the first line of defense for the problem.

While far from the chiefissue at an earlier panel on the international marketplace that involved mostof the major US companies, piracy and the difficulty of addressing it wasdistilled in separate, unconnected remarks by two panelists.

Andrew Cripps of UIP notedthat Russia was one nation that despite having experienced great strides in boxoffice remained a major leakage point for high quality, illegal DVD trade. Hefelt a delayed theatrical release would diminish the problem. However, BuenaVista International president Mark Zoradi later segued from discussion ofAmerica's increasing involvement in foreign film production to an observationthat simultaneous day-and-date releases of US movies in Asia and Russia was aneffective way to limit film piracy.

If the panel is anindication of an emerging theme, the primary concern among participants is thefear that the shrinking theatrical audience is not an anomaly. Cripps madereference to changing cultural habits but no one was willing to take on theissue head on. An Irish exhibitor raised concern that shrinking windows was asignificant threat to the dominance of the theatrical experience. And whileSony Pictures' Mark Zucker was emphatic about his company's belief in a healthytheatrical window, Zoradi and Paul Hanneman of Fox both noted that on aterritory-by-territory basis they were experimenting with a variety oftheatrical and ancillary exploitation to determine appropriate windows.

The spotlight on Korea wasalso given a seminar slot that attracted that nation's majorexhibition/production entities. One country that has seen consistent growth inthe past five years, Korea also has evolved into a market whose local films aredominant. Though various presentations had statistics that varied by +/- 5%, itwas evident that most movies generate as much as 80% of their revenues fromdomestic theatrical exhibition with DVD sales accounting for a figure in thelow teens. A fiercely competitive theatrical market, its recent in-fightinghas caused a rift between Lotte and market share leader CJ Entertainment withthe former company accusing CJ of keeping its production Holiday in limited release.

Though panelists made nomention of legislation that would reduce quotas from 162 to 72 days annuallyfor local product, MK Productions Paul Yi told Screen that he remainedskeptical of its implementation, noting that a similar effort in 1999galvanized local filmmakers into soliciting public support that quashed themove. Warren Chey took a slightly different stance, suggesting that even withquotas, the popularity of local movies was likely to keep them in theatres at alevel well above the reduced quota level but characterised the government'smove for a 5% sales tax to be plowed back into production as inconsequential.