Optimistic MPAA topper says biz must bring back moviegoers

In his second appearance at CinemaCon, MPAA chief Chris Dodd, along with NATO prexy and CEO John Fithian trumpeted that the domestic box office is up 17% over 2011, but told bizzers they must face head-on the effect of disruptive technologies on the theatrical film biz.

“It has been challenging as much as any year in the MPAA’s 90-year-history,” Dodd said at the annual State of the Industry event. “But there is also reason for greater optimism and excitement.

“New technologies, new business models, new opportunities — this is a time of transformative change, and it is critical in my view that the MPAA and NATO engage the future, together.”

During a press conference following the event, Dodd spoke candidly about new platforms: “Content needs technology,” he said. “Technology needs content, and the idea there is a winner or loser is just beyond me.”

Dodd emphasized that the movie biz needs to make a concerted effort to bring back the third of U.S. and Canadian filmgoers who never go to movie theaters. He said one opportunity lies with the growing Hispanic demographic, which represents more than a quarter of moviegoers despite making up just 16% of the population.

While Dodd spent much of his speech extolling the currently healthy box office climate, he also focused on disruption from non-theatrical technologies.

“While the iPad is revolutionary technology — even for watching movies — it will never recreate the magic of the bigscreen,” he said. “The age of the connected consumer is here, and so we must adapt.” Dodd said the film biz must remind consumers of the “singular and unrivaled experience that can only happen in your theaters.”

Fithian added: “The environment here at CinemaCon is decidedly optimistic given the first quarter we just experienced. With diverse fare appealing across all demographics, and the biggest March movie opening in the history of the business (“The Hunger Games”), the movies have come back to our screens and the patrons have returned to our seats.”

Fithian made reference to last year’s CinemaCon windows flap, without providing specifics. The NATO topper assured exhibbers that “attitudes have changed dramatically” and that “2012 looks like the year when we all work to grow the pie together, and stop warring over the pieces.”

Dodd called for a peace treaty with the tech biz, saying both sides would suffer from an “uninformed brawl” between Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

“I want to dispense with the conventional wisdom that in order to protect our content we must be at war with the technology industry,” he said.

“We are a nation of ideas with an economy of creators and producers,” Dodd said. “But this will not continue if creators and makers cannot protect the ownership of their creations and production — whether a movie or a smartphone app.”

Dodd also mentioned the inroads being made into China, describing the country’s expanded quota as an initiative that “will fund more production around the world, which means more and better movies for all audiences including, of course, American audiences.”

However, the studios could come under increased scrutiny for their dealings in China, according to a Reuters story Tuesday. The story reported that the SEC has sent letters of inquiry to several Hollywood majors about “potential inappropriate payments” and “how the companies dealt with certain government officials in China.”

CinemaCon started Monday and runs through Thursday at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

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