Got movies?

Glickman beefs up pic promos

Under the cloud of last year’s disappointing box office figures, the MPAA’s Dan Glickman disclosed plans to pursue a major PR initiative aimed at rekindling the public’s interest in going to the movies.

Speaking Tuesday at a ShoWest in a keynote address and then a joint news conference with NATO’s John Fithian, Glickman spoke of plans for a “Got Milk?”-like PSA campaign to promote the film industry as a whole.

Campaign will be tied to the findings of a major new research study the org is conducting to find out what motivates people to go – or not go – to movie theaters.

Glickman said he also plans to pressure Congress to pass a resolution designating a National Movie Week in March 2007. The American Film Institute has already sought to establish a National Movie Week.

Glickman’s plans come on the heels of a secret Nielsen study, financed by studios last year, which caused concern by suggesting that younger filmgoers were less dedicated to the theater experience than were older adults and that there was widespread resistance to rising ticket and concession prices.

Glickman began his address by rattling off the figures from last year, which the Motion Picture Assn. of America released last week, ahead of the exhib confab: Global box office was down 9% while U.S. attendance shrank for the third straight year.

“I think everyone knows how to sum up box office in 2005,” he said. “It was down. Attendance was down. This is not breaking news. What is important in 2006 is how we respond to the changing marketplace.”

In a separate keynote, Fithian urged a longer view of attendance trends, noting that despite peaks and valleys, last year’s 1.4 billion in movie attendance was up from the 900 million tickets sold in 1970.

“Movie theaters have sold more tickets on an average annual basis this decade than they did in the 1970s, ’80s or ’90s.”

Glickman and Fithian both called for improved theatrical experiences, the implementation of new technology like digital cinema and the ever-elusive “better movies.”

Glickman was more explicit than Fithian in stressing the impact of new digital technologies on movie habits, with new options for people’s free time. Fithian, as prexy of the National Assn. of Theater Owners, didn’t see anything particularly revolutionary: “When we had a box office slump in 1986, people said the new technology of videocassettes was killing moviegoing,” he reminded reporters.

But Glickman clearly believes strongly enough that something is amiss that he’s publicly floating the idea of Hollywood investing in a campaign to promote the movies – something the studios have never done.

Not since the early days of television have the studios considered banding together for such an initiative.

But Glickman noted that as secretary of agriculture, he saw such efforts work for the pork and beef industries and believes they could help movies as well.

“In the modern world, just advertising specific movies may not be enough,” he explained. “By selling the belief that movies are an enjoyable experience, we can change people’s general attitude.” Glickman said that while he has had initial discussions about the campaign with Fithian and several studios, specific plans wouldn’t be drawn up until MPAA’s research is completed.

“I have no doubt that some of the answers we’re going to get will be obvious,” he noted. “But I’m equally certain that we will learn things we don’t know that generate ideas.”

And Fithian made note of a recent promotional gesture by Hollywood, thanking Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences prexy Sid Ganis for dedicating time during the Oscar broadcast to talk up the value of seeing movies in theaters.

“His decision to tell an international audience that movie theaters are indispensable to our collective industry certainly earns president Ganis our deep gratitude.”

Reflecting the mood of exhibs in attendance who are fearful that shrinking windows could doom their industry, Fithian drew the biggest applause of the morning when he criticized advocates of simultaneous release of films in theaters and on DVD as “radical and misguided.”

“In a world of simultaneous release, entertainment product would be homogenized and consumer choice reduced.”

The sentiment was echoed later from the podium by Peter Brown, the chief executive of AMC Entertainment and recipient of the ShoWester of the Year award, who said that reducing films to direct-to-video products would amount to “crass commercialism.”