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Piracy once again fails to get in way of record box office


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The movie business has—yet again—run up record numbers at the box office. In 2010, theaters around the world reported a combined total revenue of $31.8 billion, up 8 percent from 2009. While the industry certainly has its share of piracy problems, they aren't affecting box office receipts.

Those receipts are up even as the number of people buying tickets has declined. In the US and Canadian markets, the total number of tickets sold fell by 5 percent last year, but theater owners made up for the decline by raising prices an average of 39¢. The motion picture industry would like to assure you that movies remain a very good deal.

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Data source: MPAA

"The average cinema ticket price increased by 39 cents in 2010, consistent with the past few years, even as attendance to premium screening has increased (e.g. 3D)," says its new report on worldwide revenues. "Moviegoing remains the most affordable entertainment option—costing under $50 dollars for a family of four."

That is cheap—if, as the report does, you compare a movie night to visiting a theme park or attending a professional sporting event. (This calculation also appears to leave out concessions. At a recent theatrical outing with my wife, ticket prices had risen to $10 per seat, popcorn was $4, and the "smallest" drink came in a 32 ounce jug. A vending machine in the lobby sold boxes of candy for $3.50 each.)

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See, it's cheap! Data source: MPAA

While most of the growth last year came from international movie screens, the US and Canadian market has learned that 3D projection can be lucrative. A full 21 percent of US/Canada revenue in 2010 came from 3D films—not a surprise when you realize that Avatar was the highest-grossing film of the year (and that just about every other subsequent film was released in 3D whether it made sense or not).

You might wonder, seeing the record box office revenues numbers roll in every year, just how bad the industry's piracy problem is. Current Motion Picture Association of America interim president Bob Pisano knows that his organization's terrific numbers raise this question. In the press release proclaiming the good news on theater revenue, the last paragraph suddenly switches gears. The bad days are still to come.

"Though innovation and technology continue to be a positive force for the theatrical business, driving moviegoers towards higher value 3D entertainment," said Pisano, "the continued theft of movies online will have a sustained adverse impact on movie attendance in the coming years."

Pisaro concludes with the familiar, tired mantra, "It's impossible to compete with free."

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Pisaro concludes with the familiar, tired mantra, "It's impossible to compete with free."

Sure you can. I don't have the money for a home theater system. I have a 32" TV with stereo speakers. You have a 30' screen with surround sound. Guess where I want to watch movies? The catch is, I don't have a lot of money (hence the lack of home theater), so I'm picky about what I pay money to see. Make less shitty movies and I'll pay to watch more.

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Evil Pirates: Movie Industry Tops $30 Billion Box Office Record

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The MPAA has made it very clear that hundreds of thousands of jobs are under threat and the economy is losing billions due to piracy. Illegal downloads, they say, are slowly killing their creative industry.

However, in a time where nearly every MPAA press release deals with piracy concerns, box office revenues are booming worldwide. The MPAA has just announced that in 2010 yet another record was broken at the box office. In the US and Canada last year's record of $10.6 billion was equalled, while worldwide grosses swelled to a massive $31.8 billion.

“It was a strong year at the movies in 2010. Despite a weak economy, shifting business models, and the ongoing impact of digital theft, we had another record year at the global box office driven by growth outside the U.S. and Canada,” MPAA President Bob Pisano said, commenting on the record-breaking revenues worldwide.

“The continued theft of movies online will have a sustained adverse impact on movie attendance in the coming years," Pisano added somewhat predictably. "It’s impossible to compete with free."

Oh really? That last statement, although catchy, makes absolutely no sense in this context.

Does the MPAA chief truly believe that a shaky camcorded version of a movie is somehow depriving movie theaters of visitors? Are there millions of people who prefer watching a low quality camcorded version of a movie over a theater visit simply because they can save a few bucks?

Pisano is comparing apples and oranges here – and he and his buddies have nearly 32 billion reasons in their back pocket to prove it.

It would be the same as saying that a fan of band X won't go to a concert because he can download a bootleg copy on the Internet instead. Movie piracy is hardly a threat (or competition) to movie theater attendances. If anything holds people back from spending a few dollars on a movie it's probably the insane security measures that have been implemented in recent years.

Still, the MPAA is confident that piracy is affecting box office revenues, so it will therefore continue to push for new legislation and enforcement tools.

“We will continue to work with our industry partners to fight for common sense ways, through legislative, enforcement and legal avenues, to vigilantly protect the creativity at the heart of our industry from theft,” Pisano says.

One of the focuses of the MPAA has been to reduce camcording in movie theaters, but one has to question whether the investments that are made in this area are worth it. Do movie theater employees really have to be equipped with night vision goggles? Are metal detectors, emotion recognition and advanced audio watermarks really needed to pinpoint pirates?

It is almost as if the MPAA and other anti-piracy outfits continue this "piracy theater" just to guarantee and justify their jobs and those of their comrades. Make no mistake, anti-piracy is big business. There are dozens of anti-piracy outfits, copyright protection vendors and lobby groups that each earn millions of dollars merely because of this supposed piracy threat.

Something to think about.

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