The average cost of making and releasing a major studio picture was a massive $76m in 1999, but for the first time in several years, prints and advertising costs were down and for the second year in a row negative production costs were also down.

The figures were released by Jack Valenti, chairman of The Motion Picture Association Of America (MPAA), at the annual ShoWest convention in Las Vegas. Valenti said that the average production cost was $51.5m in 1999, down $1.9m from 1997, and down $1.2m from 1998.

That downward trend was also echoed in P&A costs which were $24.5m per film, down $0.78m from 1998's unprecedentedly high figure of $25.3m.

Valenti unveiled the figures in his annual state of the (domestic) industry address on the first morning of the convention, but eyebrows were raised at a slight drop in box office admissions from 1.48 billion in 1998 to 1.465 billion in 1999. Valenti attributed the drop to the effect of Titanic on the box office in 1998 and said that 77 million more tickets were sold in 1999 than in 1997. He said that attendances had increased by 277 million in the last eight years.

John Fithian, the new president of the National Association Of Theatre Owners, added in his own opening remarks that it was NATO's mission to cross the 2 billion admissions barrier by 2005.

Valenti said that on average every US resident attended five movies last year. He said that three out of four people (aged 12 and over) went to see a film at least once a year and that 33% of the US population were frequent moviegoers ' seeing 12 films a year or more. Those frequent moviegoers represent 80% of ticket buyers ' and are, said Valenti, "gold bullion to the industry."

12-24 year-olds represented 39% of admissions last year, with 25-39 year-olds accounting for 30% and over-40 year-olds accounting for 31%. The fastest growing ethnic movie-going group was Hispanic audiences which accounted for 15% of admissions last year ' seeing on average 11 films a year.

Fithian said that the teen population was accelerating twice as fast as any other sector. "The increase will continue until 2010, when the teen population will crest at 30.8 million, the biggest in US history. And teens make up the most avid moviegoers. Obviously, surging numbers of teens will create surging box office receipts."

Valenti added that there are now 37,185 screens in the US which is a 55% increase over the last decade. The average ticket price is up considerably to $5.08 in 1999 from $4.70 in 1998. That rise in ticket price accounted for the fact that, despite the drop in admissions, the box office total crossed the $7.5bn barrier for the first time in 1999.

Valenti also said that 1999 saw a record number of films crossing the $100m barrier at the domestic box office ' 17 in total. "That shows the diversity of story, dramatic narrative and genre," he said.

213 films were released by the seven major distributors which make up the MPAA membership (Buena Vista, MGM, Paramount, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal, Warner Bros) in 1999 and a further 248 released by independents.