MPAA draws curtain on movie production and marketing budgets data

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Reversing a longstanding practice, the Motion Picture Association of America won’t disclose the average amount of money that studios spent on making and marketing movies last year.

For years, the MPAA has included detailed statistics and analysis showing average theatrical costs for its members and affiliates, as well as how much money the studios annually spent advertising their movies.

But the data, which was closely watched in Hollywood and in the media, was conspicuously absent from the group’s Theatrical Market Statistics report for 2008, which was released today.

Grilled about the matter during a press conference at the annual ShoWest trade show in Las Vegas, MPAA Chairman and CEO Dan Glickman said the increasingly complex nature of film financing and distribution made it difficult to obtain reliable data.


‘Year-to-year average costs comparisons are really useless and misleading,’' he said. ‘I’m not sure what these numbers mean anymore.’

Nonetheless, Glickman’s comments fueled speculation that the reversal came about as a result of pressure from his studio bosses, who are never eager to cast a spotlight on how much they spend, particularly during a time of recession and layoffs.

The unusual decision comes at a time when Glickman’s performance has come under greater scrutiny. His contract was recently extended only for one year. Some observers said the studios do not think the MPAA has been effective, especially by being unable to lobby successfully for tax breaks for Hollywood in the recent federal stimulus package.

The tax provision - which would have provided the same tax benefits to Hollywood that accrue to other US industries that keep jobs in America - faced opposition from some in Congress who portrayed it as a bailout to Hollywood.

Glickman said the speculation was wrong. ‘This is not about us trying to protect ourselves on the lobbying side,’' he said. ‘There’s nothing conspiratorial about this.’

The MPAA did not attempt to compile the data this year but may do so in subsequent years if it comes up with a better way of tabulating average film costs, Glickman said.

He and other film industry officials touted how well the industry has held up in the face of an historic recession. Global box office revenue reached an all-time high of $28.1 billion in 2008, up 7% from 2007, led by such hit as ‘Dark Knight’ ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.’ International markets continued to drive growth, accounting for 65% of box office receipts.

‘All in all the cinema industry is doing remarkably well during very difficult times,’' said John Fithian, president and ceo of the National Association of Theater Owners during speech at ShoWest.

Still, the industry experienced a slight decline in admissions last year, with attendance at North American Theaters falling 2.6% to 1.4 billion in 2008, according to the MPAA report. Higher box office revenues was due to higher ticket prices.

In other 2008 statistics: the average national ticket price rose to $7.18, up from $6.88. The overall number of films released in the U.S. rose to 606, up from 584 in 2007.

--Richard Verrier