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MPAA chief reassures theater owners about state of the movie business

In his first speech to Hollywood, former Sen. Christopher Dodd acknowledges concern about the decline in movie theater attendance but predicts that the slowdown will be temporary.

March 30, 2011|By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Las Vegas — In his first speech to Hollywood since becoming head of the Motion Picture Assn. of America nine days ago former Sen. Christopher J. Dodd delivered a reassuring message about the state of the movie business.

Dodd, speaking at the annual gathering of the cinema owners in Las Vegas on Tuesday, acknowledged concern about this year's falloff in theater attendance — which is down about 20% so far this year — but predicted that the slowdown would be temporary.

"I for one do not believe the sky is falling," Dodd said. "Yes, people have a wider variety of entertainment options these days. Yes, gas prices have gone up. But you have seen attendance ebb and flow in the past, and I believe audiences will be coming back to our theaters to see our films because there really is no parallel to the incredible experience that we, together, provide."

He noted that the industry had rebounded from previous slumps and would do so again with "incredible entertainment later this year," alluding to a number of upcoming adventure films such as Marvel Studios' "Thor" and Paramount Pictures' "Super 8" that are expected to boost ticket sales.

Dodd was addressing concerns fueled by the box-office slump that the industry is facing long-term challenges, such as the proliferation of cheap entertainment in the home. Theater owners have been alarmed about plans by some studios to release movies through video on demand closer to when they appear in theaters, viewing such moves as potentially detrimental to their business.

Showing some of diplomatic skills that served him well in Washington, where he served five terms in the Senate as a Democrat from Connecticut, Dodd did not broach the sensitive issue, but instead stressed the common interests shared by the studios and theater operators.

"The production and exhibition industries cannot succeed — cannot survive without each other," Dodd said. "If we fail, you fail.... I passionately believe there remains no better way to see a movie than in a theater, and no more important relationship for our studios than to maintain the one we have with you."

Distributors and exhibitors, he added, should work more closely together on issues of mutual concern. These include combating piracy from rogue websites and the illegal use of camcorders in theaters, as well as promoting greater access to movies in foreign countries such as China, which limits the import of non-Chinese films to 20 a year.

In an interview, Dodd said he planned to visit China this summer in an effort to increase access to American films there.

"We are excluded from a market that represents a huge untapped potential," he said.

John Fithian, president and chief executive of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, which hosted the convention, also downplayed the attendance slump, saying it reflected the quality of movies rather than any systemic problems facing the industry.

"The first quarter of 2011 has been difficult," he acknowledged. "But that is a function of the movies in the market. The strength of the studio product being shown here this week demands confidence in the industry's future."

richard.verrier@latimes.com

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