Recession, technology in confab focus

The economic recession and 3-D technology were two of the big buzz topics early on at ShoWest, as top studio execs on the international side gathered for the first “state of the union” confab Monday morning.

But it was the idea that the rich should be able to get richer — and that piracy is preventing them from doing so — that pervaded the sesh.

Touting their respective studios’ record year at the box office, Paramount’s Andrew Cripps, Sony’s Mark Zucker and Disney’s Anthony Marcoly said there’s no way to identify how much money has been lost due to piracy abroad. And that’s why, they said, everyone needs to pay attention, despite a growing attitude among non-pros that the industry’s bottom line hasn’t really been hurt by the problem.

“The headlines talk about the box office, but the numbers show that production costs are up,” said Cripps. “While the industry is having its biggest year at the box office, there’s no way to tell how much growth has been prevented due to piracy.”

But they also agreed that it’s hard to elicit sympathy when the industry is thriving, despite what it considers global theft.

Bolstering the idea that the movie business will be just fine, the panelists agreed that while the current economic downturn is hurting certain aspects of the industry, moviegoing is a recession-proof business that sells its product for a fraction of the cost consumers would pay to attend live events. That said, each studio is identifying its costs and handling its management differently.

“We’re limiting our overhead and taking closer looks at marketing and print expenditures,” said Universal Pictures Intl. prexy David Kosse. “Fewer films might get the big push they used to around the world.”

Disney announced last year that it would be producing and releasing less product and will rely more on event releases. “Fewer movies, bigger stories,” Marcoly said, reinforcing the theme.

On the other side of the coin seems to be Sony, where, Zucker said, “We have as big a slate as ever, and we’ll be spending more on marketing those major investments.”

Beyond recession talk, 3-D technology and its importance to each studio’s 2008 slate and beyond took centerstage.

Over at Fox, the next “Ice Age” installment and James Cameron’s “Avatar” are massive tentpole titles that will raise the studio’s 3-D profile. Marcoly touted the huge opening for Disney’s recent “Hannah Montana” concert film and said the studio’s ’09 slate has five properties slated for 3-D. And Cripps reiterated that, at this point, all Par and DreamWorks films are, at the very least, being authored with 3-D technology.

Final question of the session centered on what’s the biggest problem facing the exhibition and international arenas. Along with the traditional answers — cultural differences, product glut, piracy — execs said that more in-theater advertising means less time for captive audience marketing of pics.

“The eroding of trailers (isn’t good for business),” said Fox Intl. co-prexy Paul Hanneman. “And while ads are good for theater owners, a light needs to be continually shined on the movie industry’s product.”

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