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Friday, March 23, 2012

International movie ticket sales reach new peak

From the LA Times Company Town Blog. Click here for the latest industry news.

Photo: Imax Corp. executives in Beijing announce a  deal with Wanda Cinemas to open at least 100 theaters in China. Credit: Stefen Chow/Bloomberg

Even as domestic ticket sales stalled last year, the international movie business climbed to new heights.  A newly released report from the Motion Picture Assn. of America states that global box office receipts for all films released around the world in 2011 reached $32.6 billion, up 3% over 2010 and 35% higher than five years ago.

The rise in global ticket sales reflects the rapid growth in overseas markets, particularly in China, where the box office grew by a whopping 35% to $2 billion in 2011 alone, according to the MPAA. China has been experiencing a multiplex building boom as Hollywood studios and production companies sign deals to expand their presence in the world's most populous country, which recently took steps to ease its annual quota on the number of foreign movies it allows into the country.

"These numbers underscore the impact of movies on the global economy and the vitality of the film-watching experience around the world,'' Chris Dodd, chairman and CEO of the MPAA, said in a statement. "The bottom line is clear: people in all countries still go to the movies and a trip to the local cinema remains one of the most affordable entertainment options for consumers."

Ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada dropped 4% to $10.2 billion, compared to 2010, partly reflecting a $400-million decline in revenue from 3-D ticket sales and a crop of under-performing movies in the first quarter of 2011.

The MPAA noted that domestic ticket sales were still up 6% over five years ago. But theater admissions -- or the number of tickets sold -- dropped 4% in 2011 from the previous year, to 1.28 billion.  And that's an 18% drop since 2002, when 1.57 billion tickets were sold, according to the report.

Domestic movie ticket sales continue to be fueled by repeated visits by frequent moviegoers -- those who go to the movies once a month or more. Frequent moviegoers represent only 10% of the population but purchased half of all tickets sold in 2011.

Digital projectors poised to take over the world's theaters by late 2015
Flagship Theatres' Cinemark lawsuit a test for independent chains
Cinema chains seek investors to finance digital projectors 
-- Richard Verrier

Hugar Games Sets Record. Hangover 3? MGM brings UA back into the fold. "Smash" no Smash but will be back with increasingly soapy focus. Trinity Broadcasting plays role in FCC Bid to Take Back TV spectrum for Mobile use.

'Hunger Games' fans at midnight show. Click for cast photos.
 Photo: Two fans at the opening night of "The Hunger Games" at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles. Credit: Valerie Macon / Getty Images.

 From the LA Times Company Store Blog. Click here for the latest industry news.

"The Hunger Games" cleaned up during its first night in theaters, taking in $19.75 million from late-night shows after 12 a.m. on Friday. Lionsgate's hotly anticipated adaptation of the bestselling book by Suzanne Collins ranks as the seventh highest ever total gross from "midnight screenings" (Hollywood's term for shows that start anytime from 12 a.m. on a film's opening day until the sun rises).

The six films ranked higher were the three most recent installments in the "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" series.

Big turnouts for late-night shows are an indication of intense excitement among fans, who would rather stay up until dawn than wait a minute longer than necessary to see a film. And while they don't guarantee that a movie will ultimately prove popular among broad audiences, a big midnight debut is an indicator that a picture will have a huge opening weekend.

Every other film that has posted more than $16.6 million in midnight shows on a Friday (the cut-off point for the top 10) has gone to take in well over $100 million on its opening weekend. "The Hunger Games" appears poised to do the same, with a debut as high as $150 million still possible.

Big weekend. Industry experts are predicting that "The Hunger Games" could take in between $125 million and $150 million this weekend. If it does meet those expectations, that would give "The Hunger Games" the biggest debut for a non-sequel movie ever. Hey, if I have a ticket, that should tell you all you need to know about how well this movie will do. Box office previews from the Los Angeles Times and Variety. Playing devil's advocate, Advertising Age columnist Seraj Bharwani predicts that "The Hunger Games" will take in only $80 million. Let's ask Monday if he had to eat those words.

VIDEO: 'The Hunger Games' review

NBA April 14 to 19 in Las Vegas. The gadgets will be out in less than a month on the floor of the National Broadcasters Association in Las Vegas. As with Comicon, CES and other major conventions the industry meeting has been reflecting the merging of the media, with an increased focus on Hollywood and the industry. Expect panels on content as much as the electronics of broadcasting that were the root of the show in the past.  

The Skinny:I think "Mad Men" is back this Sunday but I'm not sure. I wish there was just a little bit of promotion from AMC about it and a little more attention to the show from the media. Yes, that's sarcasm. Friday's headlines include a look at how big "The Hunger Games" will be this weekend and a scandal at one of the nation's biggest broadcasters. Also, there is a rise in work for little people.

Photo: Megan Hilty and Will Chase in the NBC musical drama "Smash. Credit: NBC
Curtain call. NBC announced Thursday that it was bringing back "Smash," its musical drama about the making of a Broadway play about Marilyn Monroe. What NBC didn't say is that the show's creator, Theresa Rebeck, would not be the show runner next season. There has been concern that some of the plots in "Smash" focus too much on arcane details of interest only to theater geeks (and many of those, including my significant other, feel the show gets it wrong as much as it gets it right) and that the program needs to broaden if it wants to be more than a niche show. At the same time, it is the backstage aspects of the show that draw in industry viewers, important for critical acclaim and a very specialized group of advertisers. More on the shakeup from Deadline Hollywood.

Daily Dose:With religious broadcaster Trinity Broadcasting Network, one of the country's biggest owners of local television stations, embroiled in scandal (see below), it will be interesting to see if there's any fallout from the government. The Federal Communications Commission wants local broadcasters to give up some of their airwaves to boost cellphones and new digital devices. If the accusations of fraud against TBN pan out, then in theory the FCC could try to reclaim their spectrum and have it auctioned or sold to wireless companies.

TBN future TBD. Trinity Broadcasting Network, a religious broadcaster that owns more than 20 television stations around the country, has been accused of fraud by a former executive and relative of TBN co-founder Paul Crouch. Brittany Koper, who held senior positions at the Southern California-based broadcaster and is a granddaughter of Crouch, filed a lawsuit in Orange Country Superior Court accusing TBN brass of illegal financing schemes and using funds for personal purposes. Trinity has used its religious position to outstep and backdoor deals at the expense of commercial and public broadcasters. Details on the suit from the Los Angeles Times.

PaulaWagner and Tom CruisePhoto: Paula Wagner and Tom Cruise. Credit: Jasin Boland

MGM buys back United Artists, adds Peter Liguori to board Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has bought back full control of its historic film label United Artists, the independent studio revealed in financial results reported this week. It also disclosed for the first time that television industry veteran Peter Liguori has joined its board of directors.

The original studio of that name was founded in 1919 by D. W. Griffith, Charles Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks. UA became part of MGM in 1981. In 2006, UA became a joint venture between MGM, Tom Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner, who together got 30% of the company. The new UA released only two movies, "Lions for Lambs" and "Valkyrie," before Wagner departed as chief executive in 2008, leaving the venture in limbo.

But MGM said in its 2011 financial results that it now owns a 100% interest in UA and it has bought back "Lambs" and "Valkyrie," as well as two later films financed by UA: "Hot Tub Time Machine" and "Fame."

The company also said it "may resume using the United Artists banner to develop and produce new films."

After former Pixar executive Ann Mather was named MGM's lead director in December 2010, former NBC executive Jeff Gaspin was expected to be named to the ninth and final spot on the company's board. Instead, MGM quietly tapped Ligouri, who was most recently chief operating officer of Discovery Communications and previously was a senior executive at the Fox network, for the spot.

An MGM spokeswoman did not respond to a question about when Ligouri joined the board.

In addtion to Mather, others on MGM's board of directors include former CBS Chief Financial Officer Fredric Reynolds, former MySpace Co-President Jason Hirschhorn, co-CEOs Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum and representatives of the three investment funds with the largest stakes in the studio.

Third time's the charm? "Hangover" director Todd Phillips is planning one more sequel to the hit movie. The Hollywood Reporter quotes Phillips saying, “We're going to surprise a lot of people with the final chapter we have planned." Maybe he means that this one will actually be funny, unlike the second "Hangover" movie.

Big jobs for little people. The Wall Street Journal looks at the growing use of little people in movies (the upcoming "Mirror) and television (HBO's "Game of Thrones" and "Life's Too Short") and how Hollywood has made gains to steer clear of cheap jokes, stereotypes and a certain "M" word that is particularly offensive.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Robert Lloyd on the return of "Mad Men."

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter, I'm not afraid to say there's too much hype for "Mad Men."