The combined box officegrosses from all pictures released in international markets in 2004 faroutstripped the domestic revenue from MPAA-affiliated releases according tofigures released at ShoWest earlier today [15], as the global box office passed$25bn for the first time.

MPAA president Dan Glickman, who has been addressing delegates in Las Vegasthis week in his inaugural year as the organisation's president, said the totalgross from all pictures released internationally through all sources amountedto $14.9bn.

Last year's domestic tally of 483 releases grossed $9.54bn, but does notinclude non-MPAA affiliates, limited releases, acquisitions or even picturesreleased by the studios' specialty divisions. The worldwide total gross for2004 amounted to $25.24bn.

International admissions were also on the rise, climbing by 13.7% overall to anunspecified number. The 25 EU member countries passed 1billion for the firsttime ever, rising 5.87% across the EU region from 950.2million in 2003 to1.006billion in 2004.

While international revenues have been running ahead of domestic for severalyears, last year's considerable discrepancy was welcomed by the studios'international chiefs.

"If you look at the top 50 films released in the international market last yearthere are some significant entries from overseas such as Les Choristes and a number of Korean and German titles," FoxInternational president Stephen Moore told Screendaily.

"The universal appeal of so many of these titles has a big impact on the overallnumber. Then you've got strong growth in a number of markets over the past twoor three years, notably Russia. Things are looking healthy."

Moore said that the top 10 international titles last year, led by Warner Bros' HarryPotter And The Prisoner Of Azkabanon more than $500m, each grossed more than $200m and represented an approximate$3.6bn chunk of the international box office.

Favourable exchange rates against the US dollar also played a major role, a keydriver that was echoed by Sony Pictures Releasing International's seniorexecutive vice president Mark Zucker and UIP's Andrew Cripps.

Both pointed to strong growth markets, with Zucker highlighting exhibitionconstruction in Russia and more aggressive marketing across the board.

Cripps stressed admissions, stating: "In our top 10 markets we've seenincreased admissions in nine [Holland dropped last year]. Admissions has to bethe real measure of progress, despite the tendency to look at grosses in USdollars.

"We spend a lot of time talking about new markets, but the bulk of our revenuesis in the key markets where admissions were up."

"We're extremely pleased to see the growth in the international box office numbers," Warner Bros Pictures International's president of distribution Veronika Kwan-Rubinek said. "It certainly gives a lot of credence to our studio's long-term decision to invest in event movies with global appeal.

"In 2004, the US and local product was particularly appealing to the respective international markets, which is reflected in the fact that admissions were up in most European and many international markets."

Kwan-Rubinek also pointed to the weak US dollar, anti-piracy measures, and increased screen count as key factors, as well as Warner Bros' day-and-date releases and culture-specific marketing campaigns.

The average cost to make and market an MPAA release in 2004 dropped 5% from 2003 to $98m. The figure comprises average negative cost of $63.6m, whichstayed roughly the same as the 2003 amount, and $34.4m in marketing costs, a12% drop from the previous year.

MPAA sources said there were a number of reasons for the drop in marketing costs, including a desire by the studios to cut back on their spend. Another factor may well be growing contributions from outside companies through promotional tie-ins.

The average $98m figure only represents the investment portion by MPAAcompanies, however, For example this year's best film Oscar winner MillionDollar Baby was jointly funded byWarner Bros and Lakeshore Entertainment and only the MPAA-affiliated WarnerBros' budget investment would have been factored into the calculation, notLakeshore's portion.

The average cost for a ticket price in the US came to $6.21 according tofigures released by the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), andincreased at a slower rate than inflation. Over the last 10 years ticket priceshave risen 48.6%. Average cost of a US ticket in 2003 was $6.03.

NATO president John Fithian told reporters at a press conference that cinematickets continued to represent great entertainment value, compared to anaverage price in 2004 of $66.40 for a Broadway show, $45.28 for an NBAbasketball ticket, $52.39 for a concert, and $54.75 for an NFL football game.

Theatrical admissions in the US in 2004 amounted to 1.536bn, a 2.4% drop from2003 due to the rise of home entertainment and alternative entertainmentoptions. Fithian pointed out this was the third successive year that theadmissions level had exceeded 1.5bn.

Fithian also noted that for the first time in 20 years PG rated pictures including thelikes of Shrek 2 outgrossed Rrated titles [The Passion of The Christ was the only R rated picture to make the top 10 last year] in the US,taking $2.3bn and $2.1bn respectively. PG-13 rated titles featuring the likesof Spider-Man 2 enjoyed thelion's share of the US market on $4.4bn.

Overall PG rated titles accounted for five of the top 10 grossing pictures inthe US last year, while R rated titles accounted for four out of the top 25.

NATO and its exhibitor members like PG rated pictures because they appeal to awider demographic and children are big consumers at the all-importantconcessions stands. However Fithian stressed that NATO champions all types ofrated pictures, going so far in a recent interview with Screendaily to describetheatres as "temples of free speech."

The number of frequent film-goers in the US (those who visit theatres at least once a month) climbed three points to 28%; infrequent visitors (at least once every six months) climbed two points to 13%; and the number of people who never visit theatres dropped by three points to 24%.

As reported earlier this week on Screendaily, Fithian cited last year's 36,652US screen count following a 657 net gain as cause for moderate concern. Thefigure rose from 35,995 in 2003, prompting Fithian to recall the exhibitionboom in the late 1990s that contributed to a raft of subsequent bankruptcies.

Both Fithian and Glickman made the usual noises about the ongoing fight againstglobal piracy, however there was no update on the oft-repeated statistic thatHollywood loses in the region of $3.5bn in potential lost profits around theworld each year.