Oz exhib confab big draw

Film rental terms need to be improved and cinema quality enhanced to strengthen distributor revenues coming out of Australia, a senior 20th Century Fox Intl. exec told Aussie exhibs here Thursday.

Walter Senior, Fox Intl. prexy, gave the keynote address at Australia’s 48th Intl. Movie convention, the country’s only exhib meet, held here Wednesday through Saturday.

Hosted by the Motion Picture Exhibitors Assn. of Queensland, this year’s meet attracted a record 500 delegates.

Confab was set against the backdrop of another record year at the Aussie B.O. , with independent exhibs taking an increasing share as indie multiplexes mushroom. Last year, indies accounted for 22% of the box office, up 6% over the last three years.

Scott Neeson, chairman of the Motion Picture Distributors’ Assn. of Australia and newly appointed intl. marketing veep for Fox, said B.O. for the first seven months of 1993 was up 15% to $ A225 million ($ 157.5 million).

He told Daily Variety that with “Jurassic Park” set for a September release, 1993 should be “well ahead” of last year (which exceeded $ 225 million).

Issue of film rental terms, while always under debate, came to a head earlier this year in Oz when Columbia pulled “Cliffhanger’s” release following a dispute with Hoyts Theaters over minimum floor terms: While recently resolved, Col didn’t get the floor term percentage increase (from 25% to 30%) it had sought.

Senior said film rentals in Australia were 10-15% below average, and one of the lowest levels in the world.

“As advertising costs, particularly on TV, continue to rise, it is hard to maintain the level of promotional support, (so) we need to look at sharing the burden and the risk in this area,” he said. In Australia, launching a major film can cost $ 400,000 to $ 700,000.

However, rural or smalltown exhibs countered that current terms are too high. Harry Waghorn, chairman of the Independent Exhibitors Assn. of Oz, said distribs are charging top levels (55%) for films over six to eight weeks, an unviable prospect for smaller regional players. “The distributors should be helping to build business in these country towns,” Waghorn said.

Senior said the percentage system is an “incredibly just” approach compared to flat rates.

Senior also said cinema quality standards are retarding revenue growth. “We are being forced to show our pictures in too many substandard theaters,” he said.

And Oz exhibs needed to get smarter about accessing new revenue streams, Senior added, and continue to re-invest in upgrading and expanding. None of the delegates challenged his comments.

Also at the conference, the MPEAQ presented chief censor John Dickie with a resolution rebuking Dickie and Australia’s state attorney general over the intro earlier this year of a new classification, Mature Accompanied (MA).

MA restricts entry to children under 15 years old unless they’re accompanied by a parent or guardian; the onus is on the exhibitor to police entry. The MPEAQ criticized the lack of consultation regarding MA’s introduction, its “onerous and unworkable” policing requirements and the severity of punishment if MA is breached.

Dickie said he would pass the resolution on to the attorneys general, state premiers and the prime minister Paul Keating, a key proponent of stronger classifications.

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