When the annual ShoWest convention opens in Las Vegas today [March14], the vast floors and ballrooms of the Paris and Bally's hotels will bebuzzing with talk of the standard issues that have beset the industry in recentyears - piracy and digital cinema roll-out.
Yet there is another key element that distinguishes this year'sexpo: for the first time in ShoWest history, the annual address by the head ofthe Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) will not come from Jack Valentibut his successor Dan Glickman.
Glickman, a Democrat and former agriculture secretary who servedunder Clinton, may lack the oratorical flourishes of his showmanlikepredecessor, but he will win many admirers with his urbane demeanour, wit andintelligence.
He's wasted little time in rolling up his sleeves, throwinghimself into a string of meetings with trade delegates from Latin America andother regions.
Crucially, his experience in international trade negotiations willbe a huge asset in the ongoing fight against piracy, the industry's 800lb gorillathat will surely remain a major disruption for years to come.
2004 saw sustained growth in domestic and internationalexhibition. John Fithian, who heads up the National Association of TheatreOwners (NATO), reports there were more than 1.5bn admissions in North Americawhile box office was slightly down.
"You have to look back to 1959 when there was that kind of level,"Fithian told Screen. "Admissions overseas in many territories are going nuts.In the EU, 25 countries combined for more than 1bn admissions for the firsttime ever. There are big growth markets in process like Russia and LatinAmerica." Overall global screen count is approximately 150,000.
However there is a downside. "One area of concern for me is thedomestic screen count. It started to creep up again and by the end of 2004 wewere on 36,652 screens in slightly more than 6,000 complexes, a net increase of700 screens over the year before. Too much screen growth in the late 1990s gotsome of our theatre companies into trouble and we may be seeing a beginning oftoo much growth again."
"We had a good breadth of genres playing across the demographics,"Fithian continued. "We were pleased to see the depth of the family film slate.We always welcome movies of different points of view - and bring on thecontroversy as far as we're concerned - with movies like The Passion Of TheChrist and Fahrenheit9/11. We love films thatstimulate debate. Our members do very well with the idea that theatres aretemples of free speech."
Fithian is encouraged by theextent of state laws banning the use of camcorders in theatres, and is watchingclosely the progress of a federal bill that has passed the Senate and currentlysits before the House of Representatives.
"Clearly it's the most ominous problem facing the industry as awhole. The new pirates have gotten really sophisticated. The pace at which theysteal movies and get them on to the street or present them as downloadablefiles is stunning.
"For theatre owners in the early days of piracy it wasn't such apressing issue, because the pirate copies came out weeks or months after they'dplayed in theatres. Today you can find pirate copies the same day they go outin theatres."
ShoWest will be bursting at the seams with digital presentationsfrom various technology firms, manufacturers and high profile filmmakers likeGeorge Lucas and James Cameron.
There has been lots of noise by the studio-led Digital CinemaInitiative and others about digital roll-out, but little coordinated action asall involved continue to thrash out a set of standardised guidelines.
However the wordis that the industry standard is nearly ready, and ShoWest this year offersperhaps more presentations and panel discussions on the subject than everbefore.