Domestic theaters took in $ 5.15 billion in 1993, setting a new record, according to figures released Tuesday by Motion Picture Assn. of America president Jack Valenti. The annual state-of-the-industry announcement — always one of the main events at the annual NATO/ShoWest convention — showed that the year also saw 1.24 billion tickets sold, the best year in terms of admissions since 1989.

The numbers came with several asterisks and revisions, however. While Valenti told delegates at the opening session of ShoWest that pix grossed $ 5.2 billion, the MPAA’s official press release indicated last year’s gross was only $ 5.1 billion.

Valenti then rechecked more detailed documents, which pegged the org’s figure at $ 5.15 billion, approximately 2.6% more than Daily Variety’s $ 5.02 billion calculation.

“I’d have to say the numbers are soft,” Valenti told Daily Variety. “We believe them to be accurate but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a more precise way of deriving a figure.”

Meanwhile, National Assn. of Theater Owners president William Kartozian unveiled a revised admissions figure for the past five years, based on what he believed to be a new, more precise methodology. It pegged 1993 tickets sold at 1 .24 billion, whereas the old system of determining a number would have arrived at a hair more than 1 billion viewers.

Under the revised methodology, 1992 would have shown 1.17 billion admissions, versus the previous figure of 964 million. NATO and the MPAA employed Ernst & Young to poll members about admissions during the past five years. A survey involving some 14,000 screens arrived at

an average admission price of $ 4.14. The old system, he said, would have concluded it was $ 5.15. Daily Variety calculated the slightly higher figure of $ 4.23 as the average admission in 1993.

A NATO exec said there has been fierce lobbying for several years to make the revision. Members aware of their own price structuring and audience growth felt official figures had been out of line.

Price dispute

Valenti indicated that in past years the Dept. of Labor determined the average ticket price, based on a survey involving just 800 screens. But that bureau refuted the claim, insisting that the department had relied on data provided by the MPAA.

The survey also indicated that average pricing had actually gone down for four consecutive years. But a spokesman for Ernst & Young said older data was less precise or conclusive. He felt more confident about current data and the ongoing research the company is performing in the field.

Valenti also announced that in 1993, MPAA member companies released 156 new titles, 14 more than in 1992. The average negative cost of member productions rose 3.7% to $ 29.9 million, and the norm spent on print and ad campaigns (referred to as P&A) was up 6% to $ 14 million, for combined individual investment of $ 44 million.

Valenti was uncertain whether the P&A averages included such expenses as press junkets. But he said it did include Oscar campaigns and said the figure reflected total outlays.

P&A figure questioned

A studio exec doubted the veracity of the figure, saying $ 14 million would only cover an initial launch period, even factoring in acquisitions or productions in which studios were only partially on the hook for marketing costs.

Beyond the hard-core statistics, Valenti painted an upbeat picture. “The motion picture is the single most wanted export in the U.S.,” he said.

Kartozian added, “We are the engine that drives the train.” Pointing to such factors as television and VCRs, he noted that exhibition has been counted out so many times and yet has never been healthier.

Viacom chairman and recent Paramount buyer Sumner Redstone provided the event keynote, and said he bore no hard feelings toward rival Par suitor Barry Diller. “There was never a chance that we wouldn’t win,” said Redstone. “It would not have been compatible with the rest of my life.”

Declaring himself a distributor at heart, he provided a glimpse of the type of synergy he intends to inject into his myriad holdings. He described the fusion of Viacom, Paramount and Blockbuster as having the financial resources, intellectual support and management capability to control the destiny of its product and lead the way into the technical global revolution.

Pointing to such cable holdings as MTV and Nickelodeon, he promised theatrical productions to be derived from both sources, such as a “Beavis and Butt-Head” movie, which is shaping up as one of Redstone’s pet projects.

He reconfirmed his comment to Daily Variety in Paris last week that the last hurdle of his takeover, the acquisition of Blockbuster, would not require a sweetened deal.

Crowning the motion picture as entertainment’s “king of kings,” Redstone reaffirmed the special place of motion picture theaters. “It establishes (film’s) value in ancillary markets. That’s never been something lost in the industry mind and especially not with me.”

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