Global Focus in ’98

ShoWesters upbeat about overseas theme

LAS VEGAS — Consolidation and globalization were the key themes as ShoWest 1998 kicked off with a traditional international focus. The program ran late however, as several key speakers found themselves stuck in the elevator of the Ballys Hotel for about 15 minutes.

In his brief opening remarks, National Assn. of Theatre Owners president Bill Kartozian welcomed delegates and encouraged them to become part of the organization’s Intl. Trade Group, the chief aim of which is to break down tariff and trade restrictions in the global theatrical marketplace.

United Intl. Pictures CEO Paul Oneile provided the keynote, stating that three factors had been instrumental in the growth of the international marketplace. Oneile pointed to the quality and quantity of films, the infrastructure created by global exhibitors and the strength of indigenous production as the elements that had taken the area from 42% of the box office for Motion Picture Assn. of America companies in 1992 to 53% last year. He anticipated the percentage would be more than 60% in five years.

“We are still in the early stages,” Oneile said. “Only a couple of countries are near saturation. There are 24,000 theaters in Europe, of which 700 are multiplexes. In Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, three of the top 10 international territories, multiplexes have only been introduced in the past couple of years.”

Oneile said he couldn’t find any bad news to report at present. Still, there were potential roadblocks on the horizon. He cautioned against the intervention of legislators in the form of quotas and levies. While noting that advertising and building costs generally exceed the rate of inflation, he said the goal, territory by territory, should be to increase moviegoing to a rate of five times per capita.

At the opening luncheon, Mark Zoradi, president of Buena Vista Intl., also was upbeat about the international marketplace, stating that BVI research had estimated all international B.O. at $8 billion, 30% more than domestic revenue and accounting for 56% of the global picture. He also said that a survey of the top 30 foreign territories revealed that 400 complexes and 5,000 screens would come online outside of North America within the next two years.

“If the situation in China, Eastern Europe and India were to change radically, the results would be staggering. It would make today’s blockbusters look like ordinary grosses,” he said.

MPAA prexy Jack Valenti reiterated that his gospel of the past decade that strong indigenous film industries are good for U.S. movies was proved in 1997. “This is not about charity or altruism, it’s good business. Without busy, thriving national industries, the future is bleak,” Valenti said.

Jerry Bruckheimer, who received the international producer of the year award, acknowledged his late partner Don Simpson and thanked exhibitors for their continued support. Disney’s Joe Roth introduced him as the most successful non-hyphenate producer, and Bruckheimer promised that his upcoming “Armageddon” was not only his biggest production but would also be equally potent for theater owners.

The morning’s first panel focused on consolidation in the international arena. Moderator Peter Ivany of the Hoyts chain goaded panelists into looking into their respective crystal balls to predict how different parts of the world will fare and what the landscape would look like in the next five to 10 years.

“Domestically, there will be more screens, perhaps 40,000, and fewer sites,” said AMC Entertainment’s Phil Singleton. “Internationally, the golden age is just beginning.” Nonetheless, he said it’s more expensive to develop in foreign markets and each geographic area has unique laws regarding building and land use.

Joost Bert of Belgium’s Kinepolis circuit said that the arrival of U.S. companies awakens local exhibitors to the need to improve their cinemas. He said that the current gold-rush mentality in the entertainment business will continue to attract speculators.

Ivany asked panel members to predict who the top global players would be in five years, and clearly the participants were ill at ease to speculate. There was however, general agreement that the domestic marketplace would be at full maturity within five years and that other areas would be at near comparable levels in a decade. It also was agreed that all the major exhibitors would have an international presence.

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