MPAA Chief Charles Rivkin Touts Asia as Global Box-Office Driver

Charles Rivkin - Alaia Exhibition September 2013 - Getty - H 2017
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During a keynote in Hong Kong Tuesday, the new MPAA boss made the case for Asia Pacific as a vital bright spot for theatrical filmgoing in a global industry beset by challenges.

Marking his first official trip to the region as the Motion Picture Association of America's new chairman and CEO, Charles Rivkin on Tuesday celebrated the growing box-office muscle of the Asia Pacific in a keynote speech at CineAsia, the annual film exhibitor convention in Hong Kong.

Rivkin offered a sweeping argument for Asia as the next great hope for theatrical moviegoing as a business model during a time of disruption and shifting consumer habits throughout the West.

"The bond between our industries is a symbiotic one, and this partnership is vital to the future of our industry," he told the assembled crowd of Asian industry professionals, noting that seven U.S. films this year have earned more at China's box office than they did in North America. Last month, he added, China's film bureau reported that the country's national box office passed the $7.5 billion mark — an all-time high, representing year-on-year growth of 19 percent.

"The point is that audiences across the Asia Pacific are devouring American content," he continued. "They're filling theater seats to the benefit of your businesses and to the benefit of the studios I'm proud to represent." 

Rivkin, a former U.S. ambassador to France before assuming the helm of the MPAA from outgoing chairman Chris Dodd, continually alternated between uplifting rhetoric and potent statistics.

"When it comes to constructing premiere theaters and developing moviegoing experiences right now," he told the Asian movie exhibitors in attendance, "you are setting the pace."

In 2016, cinema screens worldwide grew by 8 percent to reach an international total of 164,000. This growth has largely driven by the Asia Pacific region, Rivkin said, observing that exhibitors in China are "adding an average of 20 new cinema screens every single day."

"But even more important than the sheer numbers," he continued, "these new theaters are being built to meet the demands of modern audiences — they are innovative, comfortable and immersive and often feature full bars, restaurants and cutting-edge technology."

He then pivoted to a challenge faced by the global theatrical film business. And although he might have delved into a discussion of the threats posed by streaming video and shortened theatrical windows or the ongoing market access negotiations between the U.S. and Chinese trade offices, those topics were left for another day.

"We also compete with the increasingly prevalent issue of global piracy," he said. Rivkin pointed out the problem's enduring damage to the industry by noting that in Australia, 21 percent of adults ages 18-64 admit to some form of piracy, while 39 percent of all Singaporeans report that they actively pirate creative content.

"Piracy is a global issue, and it requires a concerted global response," Rivkin urged. "Our futures are brighter and more powerful when they are shared."