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Movie theft, windows worry exhibitors globally

by Don Groves

Movie theft, threats to the exclusive theatrical window and music rights are among the major challenges facing cinema operators worldwide.

That's according to the Global Cinema Foundation (GCF), which was formed a year ago by the world's biggest exhibition chains to raise the industry's profile with regulatory agencies and to smooth differences between countries.

In position papers released at the CineEurope movie conference in Barcelona, the GCF noted the theft of movies is an increasing threat due to advances in technology.

"With ever-increasing competition for consumer time and spending and an increasingly volatile, hit-or-miss box office environment, cinema admissions are under significant pressure. Additional lost admissions from increasing movie theft represents a fundamental threat to financial sustainability of cinema operations. Movie producers and distributors face even greater financial risk, as home entertainment businesses suffer from movie theft cannibalization even more than the box office risk, the report says.

Exhibitors are the "front line" of preventing in-theatre camcording, the source of most illegal copies accessed during a film's theatrical run, it says, urging cinemas to build consumers' awareness of the cost of theft.

Eliminating movie theft in the theatrical window would increase the US box office by 16% or $1.3 billion annually, according to a Carnegie Mellon University study. Extrapolated, that suggests annual losses of $5 billion in ticket sales globally.

In partnership with the Motion Picture Association and local law enforcement, theatre teams have been successful in deterring and detecting camcording, leading to arrests and convictions.

"More and more consumers unknowingly access illegal copies through popular services like Popcorn Time streaming apps, Kodi boxes and file-sharing enabled websites," it says.

"Within days of theatrical release, camcorder copies are widely available, often dubbed in multiple languages. Services distributing illegal copies of movies upgrade file quality as digital distribution expands globally."

The group advocates increasing criminal prosecutions of people engaged in illegal recording and distribution, noting, "White collar crimes such as film piracy are sometimes not given the proper scrutiny they deserve."

Another remedy is to enlist the support of advertisers who unknowingly fund file-sharing services through online advertising networks as well as ISPs who allow traffic from illegal movie distribution services.

The report suggests that fighting movie theft is a shared priority for theatrical exhibitors and movie studios. That includes increasing consumer awareness of illegal movie services, along with persuading consumers to "do the right thing" when faced with a choice.

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