Distribs clearing tech hurdles in Latin America

ShowEast kicks off Monday with international day

ORLANDO -- It may be a small world after all, but there's nothing pint-sized about distributors' hopes for growth in Latin American exhibition.

In large part, that's because industry efforts there have been hampered by regional tech challenges.

"In some of the countries, we don't even sell tickets over the Internet," Cinemark International president Valmir Fernandes said. "It's ridiculous but true. So I do not challenge the potential. I think there is huge potential."

The good news: Digital cinema is coming. Currently, the region accounts for just 3% of 13,000 movie-quality digital screens worldwide and 5% of more than 6,500 3-D installations.

"We expect those numbers to expand at an astronomical rate," Warner Bros. senior vp international distribution Tom Molter said Monday.

Digital growth is expected to be particularly robust in Mexico and Brazil, Molter added in a keynote address at ShowEast. The annual exhibition confab always kicked off its four-day run Monday at the Marriott Orlando World Center here with an international day of presentations, drawing exhibs and distribs from throughout Latin America.

The region accounts for 13% of worldwide boxoffice and 16% of ticket sales but just 9% of global screens. Boasting a 5% increase in year-to-date boxoffice, Latin America is the world's third-fastest growing region after India and China, Molter said.

Collectively, international business is on the rise as a percentage of total boxoffice. Accounting for just 46% of worldwide grosses in 2000, foreign boxoffice represented 65% of the global worldwide total last year, or $9.67 billion in foreign coin.

Two 2008 theatrical releases were among the top regional grossers of all time, with Fox's "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" and Warners' "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" ranking second and sixth, respectively. Molter said research shows Latin American moviegoers' favorite film genres are family films, superhero actioners and religious titles.

With Internet usage on the increase regionally, online marketing by exhibs and distribs plays a greater role these days. Disney vp marketing Laura Rama said the studio has shifted some of its Latin American campaign spending from TV to digital media.

"TV is still the biggest medium to introduce a movie to audiences," Rama added.

Studios occasionally distribute pic trailers regionally via mobile phones, which in some territories outnumber televisions.

Elsewhere in the day's presentations, a trio of international execs accepted ShowEast accolades.

UIP Panama general manager Jose "Pepe" Victoria was honored as international distrib of the year and Caribbean Cinemas head film buyer Mike Moraskie for outstanding achievements in international exhibition.

Mexican Industrial Property Institute director general Jorge Amigo accepted an anti-piracy leadership award.

"The only kind of pirates we like are 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' " Amigo said.

ShowEast continues through Thursday.