Tix on slippery slope

But foreign box office take rises as dollar slumps

SYDNEY — Ticket sales for movies fell 6% abroad in 2003, surpassing the 4% slide in the U.S.

However the dollar’s weakness last year against a basket of foreign currencies took the sting out of the drop in ticket sales in foreign markets.

Some 8.6 billion tickets were sold worldwide last year, 5% below 2002’s record 9.1 billion, according to statistics compiled by the Motion Picture Assn.

Japan fell from its traditional perch as the top-grossing market outside the U.S. to third spot, while the U.K. jumped from third in 2002 to No. 1. Ailing Germany fell from second to fourth, while France climbed from sixth to second.

The U.S. clocked 1.6 billion tickets, off 4%, and international markets rang up 7 billion, down 6%.

But while the domestic B.O. was off fractionally at $9.5 billion, international theatrical revs improved by 5% to $10.58 billion, fueled by the weaker dollar and higher ticket prices.

Lion’s share

The figures refer to industrywide grosses, not just those earned by the U.S. studios. The MPA does not disclose the market shares of Hollywood films abroad, but it’s safe to assume U.S. product accounted for the lion’s share of the biz in most territories, with a few exceptions such as South Korea and India.

In sum, there was a 3% uptick in the global B.O. to a record $20.34 billion, with 53% of that generated abroad, including Canada.

Ticket sales in Europe, the Middle East and Africa declined by 6% to $1.08 billion, but the region’s B.O. spiked by 13% to $5.6 billion. The MPA credits that increase to the success of U.S. and local films and the weaker dollar.

“The filmgoing habit worldwide remains very strong although admissions were a bit below 2002’s record,” said one Hollywood maven, who notes the 2003 B.O. haul and ticket sales were ahead of those in 2000 and 2001.

“Business is extremely vibrant,” added the exec, pointing out that the dollar was off by 12%-20% against leading foreign currencies last year.

MPAA prexy Jack Valenti aired some of the trade body’s findings at ShoWest in Las Vegas last week, but its research, circulated only among member companies, is more detailed and includes data on overall screen growth, digital screens and DVD/video piracy.

Russia on the rise

The report shows the top 19 offshore territories generated $9.01 billion, repping 89% of the overseas total. Russia, which was barely a blip on the Hollywood companies’ radar until a few years ago, ranked at No. 14 with a healthy $145 million.

The MPA estimates Asia-Pacific’s B.O. total last year at $3.79 billion and admissions at 5.56 billion. Latin America chipped in with $800 million and 300 million tickets.

The survey reveals the global screen count grew at an annual average of 4% from 1996-2001. But in 2002 there was a net loss of 3,600 screens in China and India, which pulled down the worldwide total from 107,000 to 104,000.

Some 34% of those screens are in the U.S., with 31% in Europe, 22% in Asia-Pacific, 7% in Latin America and 3% apiece in Canada and the Middle East/Africa.

The number of digital screens worldwide jumped from just 45 in 2001 to 178 last year — driven mostly by the U.S., the U.K. and China.

The report points to a 289% leap in the number of pirated DVDs seized around the globe to nearly 330,000 units.

It fingers Italy as the worst offender in Western Europe, with annual losses from piracy estimated at $140 million in 2002. In Europe the piracy rates are the highest in Ukraine and Yugoslavia — both 90% — but Russia accounts for the most severe loss at $250 million.

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