MPAA underplays 2008 box office

Annual industry report still missing in action

Usually around this time the Motion Picture Assn. of America formally issues, with much fanfare, its annual entertainment industry report on the prior year.

The document is a detailed snapshot of the biz that includes the average production budget of a studio pic, marketing costs and the number of movies made.

So far, the 2008 report is missing in action despite the fact that it was a record-breaking year at both the domestic and international box office.

Turns out that’s the problem –insiders say MPAA topper Dan Glickman doesn’t want to publicly tout the health of the box office during the economic crisis. Nor does he want to give Washington politicos ammunition.

In January, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) blasted a provision in the stimulus package that would have provided $246 million in tax breaks for studios and filmmakers.

Coburn’s argument: Why should Hollywood get a handout when the box office is going gangbusters?

The MPAA said it will make the content of the report available online following Glickman’s appearance at ShoWest on Tuesday; the trade org just isn’t making a formal announcement. Also, certain numbers have been widely available since the beginning of the year, such as 2008 B.O. revs and admissions.

It’s not surprising that Glickman wouldn’t want more headlines trumpeting the surge in moviegoing. Pointing to press reports about the box office uptick, Coburn was successful in getting the studio-friendly tax provision stripped from the stimulus bill in a 52-45 vote by the Senate. Lawmakers including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) helped Coburn in his effort.

The release of the MPAA’s industry report is timed to ShoWest, the annual convention of theater owners that gets under way Monday in Las Vegas. For years, the report formed the centerpiece of former MPAA chair Jack Valenti’s keynote speech at ShoWest.

More recently, the MPAA began issuing the document the week before ShoWest, with Valenti, and then Glickman, holding a conference call with journos to go over the report.

This year, it will be much more low-key.

Glickman and the MPAA haven’t given up on the tax break proposal and are hoping to have it included in future legislation.

Supporters of the tax break, including California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, said Coburn is missing the point since the theatrical box office is just one revenue stream.

Furthermore, film studios are part of bigger congloms that are calling for cuts across all divisions and, in many cases, layoffs.

Lawmakers in favor of the MPAA’s proposal say Hollywood should be afforded the same tax incentives that other businesses are receiving. Under the defeated proposal, film productions would have been able to qualify for an immediate 50% writeoff.

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