It is more than official. At ShoWest - the North American cinema convention which has traditionally sidetracked international concerns to a pre-show ‘International Day’ - Motion Picture Association Of America (Mpaa) president Dan Glickman declared international box office revenues now accounted for 65% of the studios’ theatrical pie.
Given that international’s share of global box office was 64% in the preceding two years and has remained in the 60% range for the last five years, the latest figure was more symbolic than anything else, but it demonstrated the inevitable march of overseas theatrical revenues.
Last year the combined international box office from Hollywood releases, films made outside the studio system and local-language product earned a record $18.3bn, which combined with the $9.8bn record North American receipts to set a new global mark of $28.1bn.
International box office climbed 7.1% on the $17.1bn 2007 tally, while North American theatrical revenues gained just 1.7% on the previous year’s $9.6bn, and worldwide grosses exceeded the $26.7bn tally from 2007 by 5.2%. Growth overseas is still outstripping the stagnant domestic market.
‘I’m not surprised,’ Paramount Pictures International president Andrew Cripps said when asked about the 65% market share and the prospects for the year ahead. ‘Box office is buoyant this year so far and it’s going to be a very, very strong summer. It’s very encouraging to see films like Monsters Vs Aliens (which Paramount Pictures International is distributing overseas) and Fast & Furious (UPI) opening the way they are. Obviously the wild card is the exchange rate.’
Looking ahead, Cripps did not rule out a $20bn international box office result this year and said the key drivers for the future were wider releases, great content, the potential for exhibition growth in Australia and other territories, and the impact of 3D.
Glickman’s presentation was unprecedentedly incomplete. He declined to reveal production and marketing costs for studio pictures - presumably because they are rising apace - for the first time in two decades of MPAA data announcements.
Meet the middlemen
Meanwhile, both domestic and international markets were focused on the potential for building the audience through theatrical enhancements such as 3D, which was the talk of Las Vegas even while studios, theatre owners and technology leaders discussed the relatively slow pace of the digital conversion that will accelerate the 3D revival. Hollywood executives and their global counterparts in distribution and exhibition have watched in dismay as the credit freeze has halted digital roll-out, which is the necessary foundation for 3D.
But while tensions remain between distributors and exhibitors over the thorny subject of how to finance digital conversion, the consensus is that it will happen sooner rather than later. Studios and theatre owners are aligning themselves with third party ‘integrator’ deals involving middlemen like the Digital Cinemas Implementation Partners. The other model is the direct-to-exhibitor arrangement like the one championed by Paramount and Paramount Pictures International, whereby the distributor, which is saving money by shipping digital rather than 35mm prints, contributes up front to the cost of the equipment. Now it is a question of waiting for the banks to resume lending.
Rise of IMAX
Nobody embodies the spirit of 3D more than DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, who flew into Las Vegas on the back of a solid $59.3m launch for Monsters Vs Aliens over the preceding weekend.
Katzenberg confidently predicted the eventual credit market thaw would boost the North American 3D screen count from 2,100 to 7,000-8,000 by the end of 2010. By the time he arrived in Las Vegas, the most commonly heard statistic on the trade floor and hangar-sized ballrooms of the Paris and Bally’s hotels was that the 2,080 3D-ready screens comprised 28% of the overall 7,300 screen count for Monsters Vs Aliens’ opening weekend and accounted for roughly 56% of the overall box office.
IMAX’s growing presence in the arena is a notable trend, too. The anecdotal evidence in favour of the large screen format, allied to Monsters Vs Aliens’ record Imax debut of $5.2m - which accounted for approximately 9% of the film’s $59.3m opening weekend - speaks for itself.