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Movie Industry Ready to Stage a Comeback, Valenti Says

March 07, 2001|LORENZA MUNOZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — The movie industry had a disastrous past year with 11 theater chains declaring bankruptcy and lower turnout at the box office, Motion Picture Assn. of America president Jack Valenti told theater owners Tuesday.

Admissions to movie theaters in 2000 dropped to 1.42 billion, down 44 million from the prior year. But box-office grosses totaled a record $7.7 billion, Valenti said, thanks largely to a higher average nationwide ticket price of $5.40 compared with $5.08 in 1999.

Still, the movie business is showing signs of recovery, according to Valenti. The number of tickets sold in the first three months of 2001 is up 25% from the same period last year.

"We have proven ourselves resistant to the furious daily challenges mounted against us by other media," the cheerleading Valenti told exhibitors at ShoWest, the yearly convention of movie theater owners and operators held in Las Vegas. Escalating costs, however, remain a serious challenge for studios. The cost of making and marketing films went up 6.5% last year, with the cost of production rising from $51.5 million in 1999 to $54.8 million per film in 2000. The average expense for prints and advertising--industry parlance for marketing--increased from $24.5 million per film last year to $27.3 million this year, for an average total investment per film of $82.1 million.

ShoWest, which began Monday and ends Thursday night, is a significant venue for exhibitors to check out the latest in theater technology and concessions gimmicks and see glimpses of the studios' upcoming product.

This year's convention also showed signs of the downturn. Attendance dropped to about 3,000 registered delegates compared with 3,454 last year, according to convention organizer Bob Sunshine.

The studios' struggles also were evident with only Warner Bros. hosting a luncheon. In years past, most major studios held elaborate luncheons, dinners or receptions, trotting out stars and screening product reels.

We are "proud we came to the number we came to considering the state of the industry," said Sunshine. "A lot of the major exhibitors are cutting back."

Last year was a difficult year for Hollywood in the political arena as well, with the Federal Trade Commission's finding that studios were marketing R-rated films to minors. Valenti also cited progress on that front, with a recent FTC poll finding that 80% of parents were "satisfied" with the ratings system.

National Assn. of Theater Owners President John Fithian said the studios made a concerted effort to reduce the number of violent films this year. The major studios made fewer R-rated films than last year. Of the 147 films released by the nine majors, 58 films, or 39%, received an R rating compared to 87 movies, or 58%, last year.

Even so, this has resulted in an increase in violent or sexually themed PG-13 movies that were initially rated R and scenes were trimmed to get the "softer" rating.

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