Exhibs shift on day-and-date amid concerns

LAS VEGAS — Growing concern over film piracy — and the prospect that it will worsen in the digital era — is overcoming distribs’ traditional reluctance toward simultaneous foreign bows.

“Personally, I don’t subscribe to day-and-date releasing as a policy but rather as a strategy to be (used) selectively,” said Andrew Cripps, prexy of the United Intl. Pictures consortium.

Synchronizing worldwide release dates can help thwart foreign movie pirates, Cripps said, but variations in worldwide weather patterns and the observation of local holidays, among other things, limit the use of simultaneous foreign rollouts. Even the availability of movie talent for pics’ promotional pushes is a big consideration, he added.

Still, it was clear that the threat of piracy and prospects for its worsening in the digital era are much on the minds of attendees at ShoWest 2001 here. Cripps and studio distribs participated in a session dedicated to global exhib topics, offered as part of the annual exhibition trade show’s opening day.

“Piracy is something that’s always there in the background, something that we spend precious little time on,” Cripps said. “Perhaps it’s time that we did.”

Remedies to piracy include the spread of tough copyright laws into more territories and more vigilant enforcement of existing international treaties, he suggested.

Execs agreed that studios will eventually use more synched domestic and foreign rollouts in the future.

Buena Vista Intl. prexy Mark Zoradi noted Disney closely timed the foreign release of its summer ’99 actioner “Armageddon” to pic’s domestic bow. And UIP will coordinate a synched foreign rollout for Universal’s “Mummy” sequel in May.

Building heat

But genres or individual pics that offer tougher challenges could require more lag time to build “heat” in foreign territories, suggested Rick Sands, chairman of worldwide distribution at Miramax.

Sands added that Miramax, a Disney unit that distributes and markets movies produced outside the studio structure, is less bullish on simultaneous domestic and foreign releasing than other distribs.

“The independents’ perspective is a little bit different than that of the studios,” he said.

One complicating factor involves the European TV market, the Miramax exec said. A consolidation among Europe’s broadcasters has prompted a contraction in demand for movies to distribute over TV, with distribs selling specialty pics particularly squeezed, he said.

“It’s difficult being an independent these days, and it’s going to get more difficult over the next couple of years because of this contraction,” Sands said.

“I think we will see a move toward day-and-date releasing, (but) I don’t think we will see it becoming the rule within our careers,” BVI’s Zoradi summarized.

Meanwhile, no trade show session would be complete without at least a little cheerleading.

O’seas exhibs stronger

Execs noted international exhibs are in better shape financially than the struggling domestic circuits, partly because they’ve been less inclined to cannibalize themselves and one another with overly aggressive expansion moves. Industrywide, exhibition eventually will prove itself a robust business, Sands predicted.

“I have a very rosy outlook for the theatrical exhibition business, not just domestically but worldwide,” he said.

Meanwhile, ACNielsen EDI prexy Tom Borys offered evidence that success internationally is as key to box office success as domestic performance.

Of the top 90 pics released over 1999-2000, an average 46% of total B.O. came from foreign markets, according to a recent EDI study. Borys noted the stats came despite a general downturn in foreign B.O. in 2000, with Mexico bucking that trend with a healthy 20% uptick in grosses last year.

“It really feels like there’s parity in the industry,” Borys said.

But he also cautioned that individual pics varied greatly in their ratio of domestic to foreign B.O.

“There are some films that just don’t translate to the rest of the world, especially the comedies,” Borys said.

As a result of the globalization in film revenue, studios do seem more interested in rolling out pics more closely to their domestic bows, he added. Some 35% of domestic film releases also launched in one or more foreign territories within two weeks, and a whopping 60% rolled out in foreign territories within a month of opening in North America.

Lee, Yeoh feted

EDI and giant-screen company Imax co-sponsored an international awards luncheon, with helmer Ang Lee and thesp Michelle Yeoh of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” each copping show awards.

Taiwan native Lee was feted as international filmmaker of the year. His “Crouching Tiger” has been nominated for 10 Oscars, including best picture and director.

Malaysian-born Yeoh has been an icon in Asian cinema for more than a decade, appearing in films including the Jackie Chan martial arts actioner “Police Story III: Supercop.” She has been celebrated as Asia’s foremost female martial arts film star.

Separately, ShoWest organizer Sunshine Group Worldwide announced it’s moving the venue for its international exhib show, CineAsia, to Bangkok from Hong Kong.

“We just thought it was the right time to make the move,” co-managers Robert and Jimmy Sunshine said in a statement. “Thailand’s theater business is booming. And with nearly 320 screens in Bangkok alone, the country now boasts some of the best movie theaters in the world.”

It’s believed soaring costs for staging a trade show in Hong Kong also contributed to the decision.

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