Appearing at a Tuesday morning presentation at ShowEast in Orlando, with MPAA president-CEO Dan Glickman, NATO topper John Fithian pointed a finger at the studios and said the primary culprit in the B.O. slump has been the poor quality of Hollywood films released this year.
While dismissing that anything fundamental is amiss in the theatrical biz, Fithian acknowledged longer-term challenges and said the exhib trade org would be addressing some of the consumer complaints aired during the past few months of media scrutiny on movie theaters.
One is making pre-show advertising more palatable to ticket buyers. “We know we have patrons who are concerned about that and we’re working with the advertising companies to improve the ad content.”
Another chief concern, he said, is making sure moviegoers mind their manners. “We’re working with our companies to attack rude patron behavior.” Measures would include encouraging more aggressive ushers inside the theaters.
Lastly, he said: “We have some patrons who (say) that ticket prices are too high and we need a better PR effort to explain the value of going to the movies.”
The duo said they believe the theatrical movie business is strong, but the differing perspectives of movie studios and theater owners were evident.
Seeking to assure exhibs that the sky is not falling, the pair told attendees that box office sales will bounce back from the slump earlier this year.
So far this year, grosses of $6.84 billion are 7% lower than at the same point in 2004. Given price increases, total admissions are down even more steeply.
“We know our business is very cyclical, and that our business is driven in the short term by the quality of the movies, and the movies haven’t been as good this year,” Fithian told Daily Variety.
He added, “We think November and December will be pretty strong, but if we ended the year where we are right now, we would still be in the position where we were better (in total grosses and admissions) than 30 of the last 35 years.”
Glickman said a broader array of factors, including competition from DVDs, is at work:
For every complicated problem, there is a simple and wrong solution. It’s a total thing. You’ve got to have good movies. You have to have new technologies, and particularly home entertainment has made an impact on where people watch their movies.”
While studios stand to gain from tech advances, as they did from selling films for TV broadcast and the evolution of the homevid market, theaters remain dependent on foot traffic.
“We understand they have multiple revenue streams and we’ve got one,” Fithian said. “But we need to marshal the economic arguments for why the theatrical business is more important to the studios than just the dollars they get from it.”
Earlier this year, Fithian urged studios to consider the promotional advantages their films receive from a theatrical rollout.
“Our studios clearly want to preserve the theatrical experience,” Glickman said, “but they are also looking at alternative means of delivering content.”