Imports bruise Kiwi B.O.

Swain drops ban idea after heavy lobbying

AUCKLAND — New Zealand distribs and exhibs are furious as the government has backed away from a commitment to protect them from imported videotapes and DVDs, which have hammered box office.

Changes to copyright legislation in the mid-1990s removed the franchised importers’ monopoly on homevideos, books, CDs and software, opening them up to competition from major discount retailers who source cheaper imports weeks or even months ahead of the legitimate imports.

The coalition government elected in late 1999 pledged to ban parallel importing, providing a competition-free window of up to two years for authorized importers.

But Commerce Minister Paul Swain has backed away from the idea after heavy lobbying from retailers, libraries, universities and consumer groups.

The government’s dilemma is compounded by the fact that the majority Labour Party’s smaller coalition partner, the Alliance, on whom it relies for a legislative majority, supports parallel importing because it means lower prices for consumers.

The tide of cheap imported (and often pirated) vids and DVDs has dealt a major blow to theatrical B.O.

Nationally, grosses were down 11% last year after a decade of growth fueled by a long-delayed boom in cinema construction.

B.O. dips 35% in stix

But in some provincial centers, which are supplied with used prints that have finished Australian or big-city seasons, B.O. has fallen by up to 35% as auds stay away from pics already available on video. Distribs grumble that the only way they can counter the competition is to buy new prints at 10 times the cost and program the provinces soon after the main centers.

The president of the local Motion Picture Exhibitors’ Assn., Mark Christensen, said he hopes the B.O. figures will persuade the government to back the ban. “To find that some of the major provincial multiplexes are down by 30% is unbelievable. That’s a huge drop,” he said.

The MPDA says that the B.O. in Australia, where parallel importing is allowed for music but not books, software or movies, dropped only 4%.