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Hollywood's own report card omits the interesting stuff

March 10, 2010 | 12:47 pm

The trade and lobbying arm of the major Hollywood studios released its annual report on the state of the theatrical business this morning, trumpeting -- no surprise -- how Hollywood has been riding high in the face of recession.

But the report was more notable for what it omitted: key financial data on the average cost of making and marketing movies, what used to be the only authoritative sources of such information.

For years, the Motion Picture Assn. of America released a statistical analysis showing the average movie costs of its members, made up of the major studios and their specialty labels. Then the trade group stunned many in Hollywood last year when it didn't release the closely watched data, citing the difficulty of obtaining accurate information.

The MPAA followed the same script again this year. In 2007, the last year for which data was released, the average cost of producing and marketing a studio movie was $106.6 million, up 6.3% from the year before.

Studio executives have never been eager to disclose how much they spend, especially during a period of layoffs and recession.

In an interview, MPAA President Bob Pisano, said he faced no pressure to omit the data. He said the decision was made because the increasingly diverse mix of films and wide-ranging sources of financing made it difficult to come up with reliable data, noting the wide disparity in such pictures as "Avatar," which cost more than $300 million, and "The Hurt Locker," which cost about $15 million.

"I know it's fascinating to people but it really doesn't tell you anything,'' Pisano said. "Getting accurate information is very difficult and it's very misleading."

The report did highlight what was already widely known: global box-office receipts reached an all-time high of $29.9 billion, an increase of 7.6% over 2008, while admissions in the U.S. and Canada rose 5.5% from 2008, the first increase in two years, with much of the rise coming from a surge in higher-price 3-D tickets from hit films like James Cameron's sci-fi epic "Avatar," Disney/Pixar's animated movie "Up" and 20th Century Fox's "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs."

The average number of times a person goes to the movie theater rose to 4.3 in 2009, up 4.6% from the prior year and the first increase since 2002. Average ticket prices in the U.S. increased to $7.50 in 2009, up from $7.18 in 2008. Averages ticket prices take into account the price of matinees, group sales and discounts, making it lower than it typically costs for evening shows in major cities.

The demand for 3-D screens has fueled a surge in digital cinema, with the number of digital screens worldwide growing to more 16,000, up 86% from 2008, the report adds.

"The popularity of 3-D with the audiences -- that's the future of the cinematic exhibition business and it's also one of the factors that's going to differentiate the in-home experience from the out-of-home experience," Pisano said.

-- Richard Verrier

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