Exhibs sound alarm bell on global piracy

ShoWest keynote sez fears center on growth areas

This article was updated at 7:04 p.m.

LAS VEGAS — With non-U.S. coin repping 53% of worldwide box office last year, it’s particularly worrisome that growth markets such as Russia and China remain plagued by film piracy.

That was the keynote message from industry execs on ShoWest 2004’s international day Monday.

“Russia is a tremendous growth story,” said Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, international distribution prexy at Warner Bros. “And unlike China, there are no quota limits on foreign imports.”

But Motion Picture Assn. prexy Jack Valenti noted his recent warning to Russia’s cultural ministers.

“Russia can be a great market (but) this will never happen unless you bring piracy under control,” he recalled cautioning the leaders.

Valenti also provided for the first time at ShoWest a state of the industry overview for international territories similar to his traditional address on domestic stats, which he is set to deliver today.

International B.O. including Canada rose 5% to $10.85 billion last year, repping more than half of an industrywide $20 billion worldwide haul last year, according to MPA tallies.

Some 51% came from Europe –though admissions were down in most European territories — while Asian-Pacific territories contributed 35%, Latin America 7% and Canada 6%. Seven movies topped $250 million in foreign coin, with “Finding Nemo” and four other films repping the top five grossers in both domestic and international markets.

Kwan-Rubinek said markets including Russia, Japan, Italy and Brazil remain underscreened. But the advent of digital cinema is helping a quicker expansion of Asian-Pacific exhibition than otherwise would be possible.

Meanwhile, Russian exhibition is expanding exponentially.

An $18 million market in 1999, Russian B.O. has doubled every year since to reach $190 million in 2003. Moscow and St. Petersburg grosses accounted for 50% of that total, suggesting continued growth opportunities elsewhere in the market, execs noted.

Movie piracy siphoned off an estimated $275 million in potential additional revenue, Kwan-Rubinek said. But she added that a recent crackdown on street vendors hawking pirated videos should help.

Government efforts to combat piracy have also been boosted in China, the Warners exec said. And a new content ratings system “will definitely help to expand the market” by facilitating the easing of restrictions on the number of Hollywood movies that can be distribbed in China, she added.

Kwan-Rubinek urged more industry and governmental cooperation to coordinate anti-piracy efforts and suggested simultaneous domestic and foreign movie openings is helping to curb problems.

“Day-and-date releasing has had an impact on Internet piracy,” she said. “But it is not always the right strategy for every film.”

Movie piracy “is no longer limited to smaller markets,” the distribution boss said, with annual piracy losses in the U.K. and Germany estimated at $120 million and $100 million, respectively.

Valenti screened an anti-piracy trailer that the MPA has created with help from Warners, 20th Century Fox and others. Billed as a “public persuasion” measure, trailer is being tailored to individual markets and will be distribbed in Europe, Latin America and Asia.

Also Monday, “Whale Rider” helmer Niki Caro was presented an award for international achievement in filmmaking.

“The film was made with care and love,” said Caro, who next will direct “Monster” star Charlize Theron in Warners’ legal drama “Class Action.” “And from what I’ve seen over the past 18 months, the film has been received the same way.”

Director, writer and producer Melvin van Peebles received an international lifetime achievement award. And I.T. International chief exec Moshe “Mooky” Greidinger was honored as the international exhib of the year.

Elsewhere on opening day sked, international distribs previewed film slates, and several specialty distribs offered screenings of upcoming arthouse titles.

ShoWest 2004 continues through Thursday at the Paris and Bally’s hotels here.

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