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Futures foremen trade criticisms

Trend Exchange topper lashes out at MPAA

With Congress moving toward a ban on box office futures trading, the team behind one of the proposed exchanges Tuesday launched a fusillade of criticism aimed at the Motion Picture Assn. of America and its interim CEO, Bob Pisano.

Robert Swagger, CEO of the Trend Exchange, one of two exchanges seeking a market for contracts based on box office receipts, also hinted at legal action against Hollywood’s chief lobbying organization, and raised the prospect of moving forward with the exchange regardless of legislative action.

In a conference with reporters, Swagger said, “We still do believe that we have an opportunity to be grandfathered in,” noting that the approval Trend Exchange received on June 14 from the Community Futures Trading Commission means that it “met all the legal requirements” before any financial reform legislation takes effect. Another similar proposal, the Cantor Exchange, is expected to receive approval from the commission later this month to trade in box office contracts.

On Thursday, a Senate and House conference committee is expected to consider whether a short provision of the Senate financial reform package that bans box office trading should be included in the final version of the bill.

“If the provision does stay in, we will certainly move forward and will be trying to pursue all of the rights that we have,” said Swagger, who also suggested the possibility of tradingin other media contracts.

Swagger’s news conference seemed as much a way to outline the company’s future as it was an opportunity to express frustrations, particularly over the MPAA’s attacks on its proposal. In the press and before Congress, Pisano has been the chief studio figure speaking out about the prospect of exchanges. He’s called the proposals “unbridled gambling,” questioned whether they could be policed effectively to prevent manipulation and charged that they would have a detrimental effect on the industry.

“We would look at all means to recover the losses as a result of the misrepresentations made by Mr. Pisano,” Swagger said.

An MPAA spokesman had no comment.

Describing Pisano as a “Chicken Little” because of his warnings about the exchanges, Swagger said he has “been clearing up some of that smoke” on Capitol Hill. But he described a “huge uphill battle” to persuade lawmakers not to include the provision in the final version of the financial reform bill.

Many lawmakers have refused to meet with his representatives, he said, and of those that do, some have told them there is “not much they can do, and that it is not worth the political capital to fight it.”

One of the chief points of Swagger’s press call was to push back against the notion that the MPAA speaks for the entire industry, noting that its members do not include independents and minimajors like DreamWorks and Lionsgate. The latter is one of the few companies in which a senior exec, Michael Burns, has publicly endorsed the exchanges. Swagger said many others are also supportive, but do not want to publicly stand up to the MPAA. He went so far as to call the MPAA’s actions “anti-competitive.”

The MPAA’s coalition fighting the box office trading proposals includes not just the studios, but the Directors Guild of America, the Independent Film & Television Alliance, the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the National Assn. of Theater Owners.

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