Not that former Senator Chris Dodd, with his impressive shock of white hair, can be considered an expert on Hollywood after just nine days on the job as the new CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. But the chief lobbyist in Washington for the six Hollywood studios went ahead and delivered the annual speech at CinemaCon (formerly ShoWest), the exhibitor convention in Las Vegas. (MPAA members include Walt Disney Studios, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal City Studios and Warner Bros.)
As befits a Hollywood rookie, Dodd was basically introducing himself and preferred to attack movie piracy and hail the rise of 3-D–while noting a drop in 2011 revenues– rather than jump with both feet into the yawning divide between the studios and theater owners over ancillary windows. “So, when we saw box office growth in 2009, we cheered,” he says. “In 2010 it slowed, and revenues dropped off in the early part of this year. That’s not just a concern for you; it’s a concern for all of us. But I for one do not believe the sky is falling.”
The full text of his speech is below. National Association of Theater Owners head John Fithian introduced him.
Thank you, John, for that introduction and for NATO’s continuing strong partnership. I’d also like to take a moment to thank Bob Pisano, who served as interim CEO this past year and represented the MPAA so well.
Today marks my ninth day on the job as Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. Despite the brevity of my tenure, I wanted to be here today to share with all of you my thoughts on the direction of our industry, and to listen to your concerns at what is both an exciting and challenging time for all of us.
Much of what I will say this morning I know you know, but at a moment like this, it is important that you know what I feel about this industry and the determination I bring to this undertaking.
So let me begin with the obvious: The production and exhibition industries cannot succeed – cannot survive – without each other. If you fail, we fail. And it’s just as true that if we fail so will you.
We’ve come a long way together in the century since the first screening of a feature length motion picture in Jacob Stern’s horse barn in Hollywood, California on February 14, 1914. Cecil B. DeMille invited 45 people (all of whom had worked on the film) to view “The Squaw Man,” which he made for $15,000. This premiere, if you want to call it that, was a total disaster.
In order to save some money, Mr. DeMille had purchased second-hand British equipment with ill-fitting sprockets, causing a technical malfunction that allowed the audience to only see the characters’ hats, foreheads, boots and feet, and not much else. The economics of our industry have changed, of course, since that day in 1914. And, fortunately, so, too has the technology.
Last year the number of digital and 3D screens more than doubled – and our audience couldn’t get enough of it. One in five dollars spent at the box office now comes from 3D. I can’t help but wonder what Cecile B. DeMille, Sam Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, Jesse Lasky and Adolph Zucker and the rest of these pioneers would say if they could have been among the millions of moviegoers who marvel at the experience of seeing Avatar in a 3D theater. And like moviegoers here at home and all over the world, I can’t wait, nor can you, I expect, to see what we come up with next.
But even though so much about our industry has changed over the years, the importance of the theater setting hasn’t. Our films are still made to be shown on big screens in dark theaters filled with people. And no matter how our industry continues to evolve, I want all of you gathered here this morning to know that as the new CEO and Chairman of the MPAA, I passionately believe there remains no better way to see a movie than in a theater, and no more important relationship for our studios to maintain than the one we have with you.
So, when we saw box office growth in 2009, we cheered. In 2010 it slowed, and revenues dropped off in the early part of this year. That’s not just a concern for you; it’s a concern for all of us. But I for one do not believe the sky is falling. 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 your theaters to see our films because there really is no parallel to the incredible experience that we, together, provide.
You are doing your part by building theaters with great seats, screens and sound systems. This week you’ll be seeing some of the exciting projects our studios are working on to fill those seats and screens and sound systems with incredible entertainment later this year.
Thus, on my ninth day on the job, I’ve come here to commit myself to renewing and strengthening the great American movie-going tradition – and to ask you for your continuing partnership in tackling the challenges we must confront together.
It is, of course, undeniable that we do a fantastic job of providing the American people and others all over the world with quality entertainment. But, in my view, it is just as true that we must do a much better job of educating our audiences and the American people about how we do our job.
Let’s begin with perhaps the single biggest threat we face as an industry: movie theft. At the outset, I want you to know that I recognize and appreciate that NATO members are on the front lines every day when it comes to preventing camcording. Further, I want you to know that the member studios of the MPAA deeply appreciate the efforts you make every day to stop the hemorrhaging of movie theft in your theaters.
I am deeply concerned that too many people see movie theft as a victimless crime. After all, how much economic damage could there be to some rich studio executive or Hollywood star if a movie is stolen or someone watches a film that was stolen? It is critical that we aggressively educate people to understand that movie theft is not just a Hollywood problem. It is an American problem.
Nearly 2.5 million people work in our film industry. The success of the movie and TV business doesn’t just benefit the names on theater marquees. It also affects all the names in the closing credits and so many more –middle class folks, working hard behind the scenes to provide for their families, saving for college and retirement. And since movies and TV shows are now being made in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, movie theft harms middle class families and small businesses all across the country.
Those who steal movies and TV shows, or who knowingly support those who do, don’t see the faces of the camera assistant, seamstresses, electricians, construction workers, drivers, and small business owners and their employees who are among the thousands essential to movie making. They don’t see the teenager working their first job taking tickets at the local theater, or the video rental store employees working hard to support their families.
We must continue to work together, pushing for stronger laws to protect intellectual property and more meaningful enforcement of those laws. We must also educate parents and students and everyone else about the real world impact of movie theft on jobs and on local tax revenues, and on our ability to make the kinds of movies and TV shows people wish to see.
At a time when too many Americans are out of work, we remain a major private sector employers, with more than $140 billion in total wages spread out across a nationwide network of businesses. At a time when our trade deficit continues to spiral out of control, we are, to my knowledge, the only large American industry that maintains a positive balance of trade with every country in the world where we do business.
And speaking of trade, it goes without saying that we are all living and working in a global economy. It is therefore crucial to the survival and growth of the film business that we expand our reach around the world. The economics of our industry depends on the success of our films in all markets, not just our own. This issue is important to every single person in this room. To make the kind of great movies that fill seats in your theaters we must fill theaters in Russia, China, Brazil as well as other markets across the globe.
A larger audience overseas means more resources available for producing films here in America. And that, of course, means more films for distribution and exhibition, more seats filled, more popcorn sold. The good news about our industry is that whenever we’re given the chance to compete in the world, we succeed. The bad news is we’re not always given that chance to compete.
When China limits the import of non-Chinese films to 20 a year, despite the fact that hundreds of U.S. films are produced each year – including more than 100 by the MPAA member studios – we are excluded from a market that presents huge untapped potential.
I am confident that we can work together to ask Congress and others to protect intellectual property by cracking down on rogue websites that profit from the illegal trafficking of counterfeit movies. After all, you are not just our eyes and ears when it comes to illegal camcording – you are the face of the film industry in your local communities. No one is in a better position to educate the American public about these threats than are you.
After three decades in Congress, I have some idea how to attract the attention of a Congressman or Senator. When you return to your states, invite your local governor, state legislator, congressman and senator to your theater and fill it with those who work with you along with video store employees and their families. Tell them about the importance of these issues to you and to your communities. If you become that educator, you will leave a lasting and indelible impression on those who will make decisions about your future.
That’s important not just because we sell a great product, but because all of us – studios, filmmakers and theaters alike – are preserving a great tradition, one that is as central to the American character, as it is important to the American economy.
Which brings me to my last point this morning. What I’m about to say isn’t quantifiable in economic terms. I can’t put a dollar figure on it for you. I can’t give you an unemployment number or some other gripping statistic – but as I stand before you this morning one week into this job, I want you to know that it is as important as all data you will have thrown at you during CinemaCon. Our lives are getting more and more complicated. We are increasingly connected to the world by the power of emerging technologies, but at the same time we seem to be increasingly disconnected from each other by the same technology and stream of information and distractions.
And yet, in the midst of all of this, if you drop by a movie theater in America or anywhere around the world on a Friday or Saturday night you will see neighborhoods coming together. You will see people turning off their phones and BlackBerrys. You will see families and friends settling in for two hours in a darkened theater. And even though everyone’s eyes are on the screen, it is somehow still a communal experience – unlike any other. The value of that shared experience crosses economic, political and even generational boundaries.
Going to the movies together as a community has stitched together the fabric of American society in a way that few other institutions ever have or could, providing a nation of incredible diversity with a common cultural vocabulary and a common understanding of ourselves. What’s at stake as we face these challenges is nothing short of the preservation and renewal of this quintessentially American communal tradition. Those who have come before us built the partnership between producers, distributors and exhibitors, which has sustained that tradition for almost a century.
It is my hope, and my commitment to you this morning that when those who follow us look back on this moment in our shared history, they will see that we did not walk away from the challenges we faced. Let them see that we stood together, attacking our challenges with the creativity and courage that have defined the larger-than-life story of American film from its humble beginnings at Stern’s stable a century ago.
Like all good stories, this one features occasional moments of high drama. But for me, especially, this is just the first act. And I’m as excited by this new chapter in my life as I was when I first set foot in my local theater on a Saturday morning decades ago.
I’m so pleased that the first performance of this new chapter in my life has been with you. So pleased that the first person to introduce me to an audience, John Fithian, is someone who I’ve known for half my life and almost all of his.
I’m proud to be a small part of this great American business, and most importantly, I’m honored to be in your company. Your theaters have given America and the world hours of joy and lifetimes of memories.
I look forward to working with you closely in the days ahead.
[Photo courtesy Bloomberg/Getty Images.]