'We have to stop dividing the world in two,' said Paramount Pictures International President Andrew Cripps. 'You don't have the same homogeneity internationally that you do in domestic. The sensitivities and logistics require a lot of careful attention.'
When promoted with the suggestion that they face difficult times ahead in a recession marketplace, the panalists largely debunked that perspective but it proved an apt starting point to talk about such issues as the digital future, piracy and the genuine prospects for growth in the international arena.
'I don't think it's quite fair to view Europe as a mature market,' observed Walt Disney International President Anthony Marcoly. 'We tend to look at the potential of Russia, India and China (David Kosse, Universal International President added the Middle East) but each has particular obstacles that are likely to see steady but not dramatic annual increases.'
Also part of the panel were two reps from film exhibition - Paul Heth of the Russian-based Rising Star Media and Tim Richards of UK-based Vue Entertainment. Heth said that in the past decade film going in Russia has increased ten fold to an annual frequency level of one. While noting tremendous strides he also reminded people that piracy accounts for as much as 25% of the current box office.
There was a consistent attitude of vigilance in regard to film piracy and several panelists emphasized the need for education. It was felt that it was not generally viewed as a high crime (and some countries do not have legal recourse). However, when it was noted that DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg cited a 90% piracy origination from camcorders the executives mostly scoffed at the figure, insisting both the quality and internet availability of new films contradicted an amateur crime bias.
The participants appeared to echo variations of targeting audiences and effectively marketing to film goers. Marcoly said Disney struggles to avoid scattergun advertising and most chimed in that in that theatre advertising was likely the most effective means of reaching movie goers. Mark Zucker of Sony International said his company has consciously been working on film trailers that are shorter and hit theaters earlier than past strategies. But Paul Hanneman of Fox International noted that he's seeing a trend of trailer erosion in favor of in-house advertising.
There was consensus that digital and especially 3-D were major factors in future growth. Technically, Richards explained, digital 3-D is not a gimmick but a bona fide enhancement. He also noted that audiences view it as a 'premium experience' that justifies a higher ticket price and that's significant in what has been a slow, costly transition from analog cinema. The execs largely dodged the grim fact that most filmgoers cannot tell the difference between 35mm and digital projections in other than extreme quality differentials.
It was also mentioned by several of the panelists that involvement in local production is another area of potential growth. 'Obviously it hasn't happened often, but the holy grail is to be able to use your access to screens to afford a film a wider audience it might not otherwise have and widen audience tastes,' observed Cripps.