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News: ShoWest 2004 - Update

Movie Theaters Drawing Near Record Crowds

ShoWest is the world's largest motion picture industry convention. The four-day meeting was jointly held at Paris Las Vegas and Bally's from Monday March 22 to Thursday March 25, and the organization kicked off the gathering by celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Reflecting the good year that the movie exposition business enjoyed in 2003, for the first time, ShoWest attendance rocketed past the 2,700-delegate mark. Representatives attended from 45 countries in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

The convention consists of seminars, film screenings, demonstrations, and a trade show hyping the fast food products and technology to help improve the movie-going experience and hopefully, the theater owner's bottom line. The meeting closed with a banquet at which the exposition community recognizes the top tier A-list movie stars, directors, and producers of the previous year. Founded by the National Association of Theatre Owners of California and Nevada, ShoWest is managed by the VNU Expositions Film Group, a division of VNU Business Media.

Jack Valenti, president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) addressed the theater owners for the 38th and last time. Valenti, who announced his retirement from MPAA at ShoWest, reported that 2003 box office totaled $9.5 billion, the second largest in the history of the movie industry.

According to MPAA, of the 473 films released last year, member companies of the MPAA distributed 198 of these. The average cost of making and marketing a film in 2003 was $102.9 million, a 15 percent increase over the same figure in 2002.

"There's not much more that can be said except budget discipline will be a fervid priority among studio executives," Valenti says. He commented that the highest percentage of frequent moviegoers, those who view more than one film per month, remains in the 16-20 year old age group. But the 50-59 age group movie attendances surprisingly rose by 20 percent last year. "The human desire to be entertained is ageless and changeless and delightfully boundless. It is an asset devoutly to be treasured," Valenti adds.

Film piracy is still a big concern for the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO). A panel discussion on anti-piracy practices was held and a pamphlet was distributed at the show, which helps theater owners learn what to look for in order to combat camcorder piracy. John Fithian, President of NATO, says, "We are pleased to join the MPAA in efforts to educate theatre employees about ways they can help to combat the scourge." The MPAA established a hotline number that can be used seven days a week to report criminal violations.

Progress continues to be made in the transition from film to digital cinema. The major studios and theatre owners are coming together to craft specifications for the technology. Fithian adds, "We are very encouraged that the business models are finally coming together. We are also hopeful that studios and theatre owners can design digital cinema security specifications that will protect us against piracy without interfering with normal business operations within the cinema."

At the IMAX Corporation presentation, the company encouraged the moviemakers to consider formatting their films for presentation on their large screens. The success of the "Matrix" series in 2003 was cited in which the second and third sequels were shown simultaneously in IMAX during the regular run of this film in theaters. IMAX reported no cannibalization of product, and that the typical IMAX "Matrix" moviegoer was seeing the film for the second time. The company claims that IMAX format presentation can add, on average, about $50 million to the movie studios' bottom line.

IMAX, who opened 2004 with Disney's "The Young Black Stallion," is currently in negotiations to bring more movies to their large screen houses. In Las Vegas, there are currently two IMAX screens; one at the Luxor and the other at the Palms Hotel-Casino.

The film booking process is complex whether for the regular theater or the IMAX, according to Joseph A. Girouard, director of corporate relations and promotions for the Brenden Theatres at the Palms. "A lot of film selections are based on relationships," Girouard says. "Bookings are done on a quarterly basis. There are different kinds of deals. Percentages [of gate] are negotiated. Every single film is different." Brenden, which opened its doors in the fall of 2001, is in the process of building up its business. About 10,000 to 15,000 moviegoers come through their doors weekly. The typical movie customer is over 21 years of age and their theaters do not tend to draw many teen-agers, Girouard said. R-rated movies work well here.

Independent filmmakers sometimes approach Brenden Theatres. "People with no distributor," he says. "They want a run of a few days or a few weeks." Since there is no guarantee of box-office success, booking and predicting the hits is a risky business. "We missed out with 'The Passion of Christ,'" Girouard admits.

There are three competitive booking zones in Las Vegas and Brenden is in the same zone as the Century Orleans. "Theaters will negotiate with the studios," he says. "Within a five-mile radius, the compromise is to share product. In an ideal world, product would be shared fifty-fifty. Realistically, it is a battle; give and take."

For more info, visit www.showest.com

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