Piracy Fails to Prevent Another Box Office Record

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Piracy is not killing the movie business. According to the MPAA's Theatrical Market Statistics report the industry has just turned in a record year, with $38.3b taken at the box office. Meanwhile, MPAA chief Chris Dodd is set to meet Napster founder Sean Parker, whose Screening Room threatens to upset box office revenues......

mpaa-logoMPAA chairman and CEO Chris Dodd made his fifth keynote speech at CinemaCon yesterday, pouring buckets of cold water on the idea that piracy is somehow threatening the very existence of the movie industry.

“I’m proud to say that the state of our industry has never been stronger,” the former U.S. senator said.

Indeed. Yesterday the MPAA released its latest Theatrical Market Statistics Report which revealed that global box office revenues reached $38.3 billion in 2015, up 5% on 2014’s total. The United States and Canada turned in $11.1 billion with international box office revenues hitting $27.2 billion.

“To paraphrase Mark Twain, the death of the movies has been greatly exaggerated,” Dodd said.

Exaggeration was the name of the game four years ago during the SOPA debate, when one might have been forgiven for believing that Hollywood’s very existence was hanging by a thread. But now, according to the MPAA itself, things could hardly be better, with 708 films released in 2015 and those released by MPAA members up 8% on the previous year.

Almost 70% of the U.S./Canada population (235.3 million people) went to the cinema at least once in 2015, a 2% increase over 2014. Frequent movie goers who attended at least once a month accounted for 49% of all tickets sold in the same region. Indeed, the number of tickets purchased by everyone from hardcore fans to the very casual viewer increased last year.

But despite the impressive numbers (full report – pdf), the MPAA insists that piracy is still a problem. According to Dodd the box office would be more healthy to the tune of $1.5 billion if piracy could be brought under control.

There are plenty of theories on how that can be achieved, including making content more readily available to the consumer. The plan currently making the most noise along those lines is being touted by Napster co-founder Sean Parker, whose Screening Room project hopes to bring first-run movies into the home via a set-top box.

While at first this might sound like a recipe for spoiling record box office revenues, Screening Room has a trick up its sleeve. Customers prepared to pay the required $50 to watch at home would get two tickets to watch the movie in the cinema, which could either boost or at least maintain box office attendance.

Nevertheless, those in the movie screening business are less optimistic. Last month The Art House Convergence (AHC), a cinema group representing 600 theaters, said it “strongly opposes” the plan and warned that it would only fuel torrent sites and piracy.

Interestingly, however, Chris Dodd told reporters yesterday that the MPAA would meet with the people behind Screening Room.

“I want to hear what they have to say,” Dodd said.

Reading between the lines though, it seems unlikely that the MPAA is seriously thinking of signing on the dotted line. In his speech yesterday Dodd repeatedly underlined the unique experience offered by a theatrical screening.

“Despite the noisy suggestions otherwise, the cinema provides a unique and powerful experience that just cannot be re-created,” he said. One of his colleagues made things even more clear.

“I assure you, we are not going to let a third party or middleman come between [the studio and the cinema owners],” Warner Bros. Entertainment Chief Executive Kevin Tsujihara said during his presentation.

And those cinema owners have been vocal too. As reported by the LA Times, National Assn. of Theatre Owners chief John Fithian yesterday described Screening Room as a “big distraction” from the great results published by the MPAA, noting that “it’s up to the exhibitors and the distributors to decide the future of [release] windows.”

Interestingly, however, Fithian acknowledged that there may be some room for change.

“More sophisticated window modeling may be needed for the growing success of a modern movie industry,” he said.

Parker, standing by.


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