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The MPAA says the movie business is great. Unless it's lousy.

The Motion Picture Association of America issued its annual report on the movie business yesterday -- and to hear the MPAA say it, things have never been better for Hollywood.


In a press release (PDF), the District-based trade group touted the findings of its Theatrical Market Statistics Report:

... global box office receipts reached an all time high of $29.9 billion, an increase of 7.6% over 2008 and almost 30% from 2005. The U.S./Canada market reached $10.6 billion, an increase of more than 10%, and International receipts increased 6.3% to $19.3 billion in 2009 .... Ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada rose more than 5.5% from 2008, the first admissions increase in two years. Per capita ticket purchases in the U.S. and Canada also increased 4.6% to 4.3 tickets per person, the first significant increase since 2002.

The release also noted major advances in digital technology -- theaters now have more than 16,000 digital screens worldwide, up 86 percent from last year -- and 3D -- 8,989 screens worldwide, 6 percent of the total. But the number of films produced in the U.S. dropped 12 percent last year. The full report (PDF) offers such added details as the average ticket price ($7.50) and the number of drive-in theaters in the U.S. (we only have 689 left), though the L.A. Times notes that it no longer cites the average cost to make and market a movie.

Considering the crummy state of the economy, any industry would be delighted to have a report card like that.

The funny thing is, you wouldn't know that the movie business was doing so well from other MPAA announcements. Take, for instance, the December press release (PDF) in which MPAA chairman Dan Glickman suggested that unauthorized copies of movies were running the industry into the ground:

Yet our industry faces the relentless challenge of the theft of its creative content, a challenge extracting an increasingly unbearable cost.

So is the movie business terrific or terrible? Asked to clarify, MPAA spokesman Howard Gantman said the industry suffers the greatest damage from fraudulent copies (he said "piracy," but I disagree with that usage) in the post-theatrical markets -- video-on-demand, downloads, DVD and Blu-ray.

Gantman pointed to a study released at the end of 2009 by Adams Media Research that reported a 13 percent drop in U.S. DVD and Blu-ray movie sales, to $8.73 billion. (Blu-ray sales made up roughly $1.1 billion of that total.) That made 2009 the first year since 2002 that movie disc sales fell below U.S. box-office revenues.

But the Adams report, at least as summarized by Reuters, did not cite file-sharing or bootleg copies as reasons for that decline. Instead, it pointed to "the rise of low-cost rental options, such as Coinstar Inc's kiosk chain Redbox, which rents DVDs for $1 a day, and online subscription services such as Netflix."

I'm not saying that the movie industry doesn't have problems, or that people grabbing movies off the Internet without paying for them isn't one of them (though I will note that the best counterattack against file sharing is a good selection of fairly priced movie downloads). But if the MPAA is going to brag about how great it's doing, it seems reasonable to ask that movie studios go to the end of the line of companies seeking help from Washington.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 11, 2010; 1:14 PM ET
Categories:  Policy and politics , Video  
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It's strange that the movie industry is trying so hard to repeat the mistakes of the music industry with regards to digital media. "Fairly priced downloads" certainly is the answer rather than trying to prop up a dying business model.

The internet provides so many opportunities that it's insane they are squandering them. I just torrented a film I've been waiting for 2 years to be available on DVD. I would have gladly paid for it (and still will if they ever get around to releasing it). It took me about 20 minutes to download it. It would've taken me twice that long to get it at the store even if it were available.

Not to mention the fact that I don't have to sit through un-skippable previews or FBI copyright warnings on my free copy. Unbelievable.

Posted by: scarper86 | March 11, 2010 6:43 PM | Report abuse

The annoyances that the MPAA intentionally inflicts on its paying customers (unskippable DVD lecturing, aggressive DRM) are driving their paying customers into the arms of the pirate culture.

Add to that their heavy-handed lobbying and litigation that results in absurdities like parents getting sued for $200,000 in download "damages" and teenagers spending the weekend in jail for taking pictures at a movie-house birthday party, and you have a recipe for completely delegitimizing an entire industry.

The MPAA may be a case study in just how far an extremely well-funded industry can bully and coerce their customers, and what happens after a critical mass of customers eventually reaches the breaking point.

Posted by: 12008N1 | March 12, 2010 1:10 AM | Report abuse

most American films are made in canada...
too expensive to do in America...
and another example of dissing American workers...

Posted by: DwightCollins | March 12, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I hope some people in the MPAA are reading this.

Because current American film is CRAP.

I said it.


The Hurt Locker is taken straight from cable news headlines. Slumdog Millionaire is taken straight from television. Et cetera, et cetera.

There hasn't been a truly great film built from original ideas in this country since, perhaps, Little Miss Sunshine.

The MPAA worries about downloading movies? If the movies are CRAP and therefore worthless, where is the revenue stream?


Posted by: bs2004 | March 12, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Come on bs2004, stop sugarcoating it and give us the unpleasant truth!

Posted by: AlibiFarmer | March 12, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

The MPAA, like the RIAA, does not seem to understand the idea of reasonable prices. What does it cost to allow quality downloads vs making DVDs? Nothing. It is the high costs that both groups want that creates piracy. Low cost to the user and they will sell more. How many would buy a movie at $5 vs. $20+? At $5 I would consider the movie, At $20+, very unlikely to buy the movie or try to find it for downloading. High cost, few sales, low cost, higher sales.

Posted by: gmclain | March 12, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Great to see a journalist for a major American newspaper really do some analytical reporting. Too many supposed reporters simply repackage pro-industry press releases as "news". Congratulations to both the Post and Rob!!!

Posted by: SteveR1 | March 12, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

I would love to PAY to download movies promptly in high quality format. Unfortunately the industry makes this as unpleasant as possible:

First, you have to wait a ridiculously long time for the movie to be released. Illegal sites have movies available, in low quality format, the day after the movie is released in theaters (or in some cases BEFORE the movie is released - Wolverine).

Second, they use all sorts of mood-killing DRM schemes to make your life miserable. I download TV shows from iTunes legally, but then download the illegal versions because they are more portable over my various laptops, desktops, and hard drives. I don't know who DRM is targeted at. The only people it hurts are those who buy legally. The pirates laugh at DRM because they will always find a way around it.

Posted by: antispy | March 12, 2010 7:14 PM | Report abuse

As a follow-up, the MPAA's press release today (PDF) has Dan Glickman touting a "bright future" for the industry in his final address (PDF) as MPAA chairman. (He's moving on to head up Refugees International, and I wish him the best of luck in the job.)

- RP

Posted by: robpegoraro | March 16, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

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