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MPAA head says theaters will survive rise of streaming sites

by Associated Press | April 25, 2018 at 5:00 a.m. | Updated April 25, 2018 at 7:56 p.m.
John Fithian, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, discusses diversity in current films at CinemaCon 2018, the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, at Caesars Palace on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Two film industry leaders told theater owners Tuesday they are optimistic about the movie and theatrical exhibition business despite concerns about declining attendance and competition from streaming services.

New MPPA chief Charles Rivkin and John Fithian, the president and CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners, delivered a state of the industry speech at CinemaCon, saying the strength of the movies being released will dictate box-office sales.

"Our business rises or falls on the movies in our cinemas," Fithian said.

CinemaCon is an annual gathering of theater owners and exhibitors, during which they get a look at upcoming films from major Hollywood studios and a preview of some of the latest and greatest in theatrical technologies and even concession options.

Rivkin, who recently took over the position at the MPAA from Christopher Dodd, said 263 million people went to the movies at least once in North America in 2017 - more than three quarters of the North American population. He noted while the box office was slightly down from the record in 2016, it was on par with the 2015 record. He said he believes the market will always move between record-high or near record years.

He also stressed he would continue to fight to protect intellectual property with anti-piracy efforts. Film and television account for $16.5 billion in exports, he said, and the industry supports 2.1 million jobs and $139 billion in wages every year.

Rivkin was previously the president and CEO of The Jim Henson Company and also served as the U.S. Ambassador to France and as Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs.

"Let's always deliver on the promise of our creative industry: high quality stories that speak to the hopes and dreams of our audience, and will continue to do so for generations to come," Rivkin said.

Fithian also applauded filmmakers and distributors for "taking significant steps to achieve more diversity and positive representation on the big screen," which he said their consumers are "demanding."

"We are optimistic that 2017 and 2018 will one day be viewed as a turning point on this front," Fithian said.

Fithian also spoke to some of the major fears of the movie business and said younger audiences are still passionate moviegoers. According to comScore, moviegoers ages 18-44 constituted 63 percent of the total box office in 2017-up from 61 percent in 2016. Fithian said disruption, whether it's streaming or shortened periods where films are show exclusively in theaters, will not kill the theatrical business.

He wondered if "Black Panther," "Get Out" or "Wonder Woman" would have been cultural landmarks had they gone straight to streaming.

"I have worked with (theater owners) for 26 years. I can't begin to tell you how often reporters have asked me if the movie theater industry is dying. Every downturn in admissions is a sign of secular decline, every innovation or improvement is intended to 'save' the movie theater business," he said. "There has been a lot of hype about the next 'disruption,'" he said, listing off advancements ranging from VHS to the advent of films releasing in theaters and home services the same day. "Yet we never die but remain a strong business in the face of disruption everywhere else in the entertainment landscape."

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