Latin American exhibs feel piracy pinch

ShowEast panel discusses problem, solutions

ORLANDO, Fla. — Tuesday’s news that the major Hollywood studios has signed off on the ban on awards screeners was sure to be embraced by Latin American distribs and exhibs.

Earlier in the day, at a ShowEast panel on Latin American movie piracy, Warner Bros. exec Marc Gareton held up a bag of recently acquired counterfeit DVDs and said, “I’ll bet half of the videos in this bag will display the line ‘For your consideration.’ ”

The event, the East Coast cousin of Las Vegas’ annual ShoWest confab, draws substantial support from south of the border. And joining in the growing Hollywood outcry against digital thievery, Latin American distribs and exhibs collectively agreed: We feel your pain.

“We’re probably only capturing 50¢ on the dollar in Latin America because of piracy,” estimated Marc Gareton.

Brendan Hudson, the Motion Picture Assn.’s regional anti-piracy director, said the advent of DVD and Internet distribution has greatly exacerbated piracy woes.

Digital access

“The problem with digital is that it’s so much easier to copy and get out quickly than analog,” he said. “I have never seen the kind of piracy we’re seeing now. Through the wonders of digital technology, we’re seeing a direct threat to the theatrical window.”

Jorge Peregrino, Latin American marketing veep at United Intl. Pictures, barely disguised his anger as he cited a litany of recent theatrical releases selling on city streets in the region prior to hitting its cinemas.

“Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” was available in pirated form in Peru a full two months before hitting movie theaters, Peregrino said. “The Hulk,” “2 Fast 2 Furious,” “Bad Boys II,” “S.W.A.T.,” “The Matrix Reloaded” and many other titles were available on counterfeit DVD one to two weeks prior to theatrical release.

“We’ve spent a lot of time and money to fight this,” Peregrino said. “So my question is: What the hell are we doing wrong?”

Various regional reps blamed government officials and local law enforcement for a failure to enforce anti-piracy measures.

“There is no place in Latin America where the law is insufficient,” the MPA’s Hudson said. “But there is no place in Latin America where the application of that law is sufficient.”

Part of the problem is an attitude in the region that piracy is an outgrowth of social ills and not an actual criminal activity, panelists said. But they cited an increased involvement of organized crime in movie pirating as evidence the problem will grow if left unchecked.

Already, international movie pirates siphoned off $6.7 billion in entertainment industry revenue over the first half of 2003, officials estimate, with half the loss involving unfulfilled B.O.

Cinemark regional film buying VP Ken Higgins offered one glass-half-full observation in suggesting that an increased quantity of seized counterfeit materials may mean the region’s anti-piracy efforts are starting to produce results.

Cinemark trains its ushers to patrol theater aisles looking for video camcorders during film presentations, Higgins said. MPA senior VP Steve Solot noted that studios plan soon to begin an educational campaign in the region using anti-piracy movie trailers.

The day’s international sessions also featured a presentation by Nielsen Entertainment chief operating officer Tom Borys on regional box office trends.

Sharing wealth

Many Latam territories barely trail the domestic market in dominance by wide releases, Borys noted. But EDI stats show a greater dominance in the region by the annual top 20 grossers than in the U.S. and Canada.

Per capita moviegoing in the region continues to lag domestic attendance by a wide margin. On the average in Latin America, only one person in two buys a single movie ticket per year, compared with 5½ trips to the cinema per Stateside moviegoer. In Mexico, patrons make 1½ trips.

In another session, reps of the regional movie distribs offered product trailers, including films for the upcoming holiday season and beyond.

The night’s activities included a screening of three specialty films at a nearby multiplex: Miramax’s “The Station Agent,” a quirky laffer voted audience fave at Sundance; IFC Films’ “Intermission,” a dramedy starring Colin Farrell; and Sony Picture Classics’ “The Triplets of Belleville,” an anime action-fantasy.

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