John Fithian, President of the National Association of Theatre Owners, gave his annual State of the Industry address yesterday at the trade group’s inaugural CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas. His speech covered all the necessary points while reiterating some of the comments about the digital cinema transition which Fithian has made to smaller groups over the past several months.
He began with a handful of statistics that highlighted some economic figures, including a global box office which climbed 30% over the past five years to reach USD $31.8 billion in 2010. North American box office receipts rose 15% to USD $10.6 billion in that same period, while inflation only rose 8%. In what was perhaps a jab at the studios rumored plans to begin offering new films via premium video-on-demand, Fithian compared these numbers to home video sales, which have declined 13% during the past five years.
Fithian also provided an update on North America’s digital cinema roll out, telling the audience of over 2,000 delegates that almost 16,000 screens, out of a total of 39,000 had been converted to digital. Nearly 9,000 of those screens are equipped for 3D projection. After running through more industry numbers than most could ever remember, Fithian paused as he came to the most important point in his speech:
“For any exhibitor who can hear my voice who hasn’t begun your digital transition, I urge you to get moving. The distribution and exhibition industries achieved history when we agreed to technical standards and a virtual print fee model to enable this transition. But the VPFs won’t last forever. Domestically, you must be installed by the end of 2012 if you want to qualify. Equally significantly, based on our assessment of the roll-out schedule and our conversations with our distribution partners, I believe that film prints could be unavailable as early as the end of 2013. Simply put, if you don’t make the decision to get on the digital train soon, you will be making the decision to get out of the business.”
Fithian went on to remark that admissions had climbed in each of the last four decades and that 3D grosses in 2010 made up 21% of total receipts, doubling the amount such films earned in 2009. However, his earlier comments about the ongoing digital cinema transition is what most of the show’s attendees focused on after Fithian’s speech concluded. Was it true that all cinema owners had to convert their screens to digital before 2012 to qualify for a VPF? Are studios really going to stop distributing 35mm film prints after 2013?