As the MPA celebrates its 100th anniversary, Boxoffice Pro speaks to Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin about the wider picture of international cinema recovery and key concerns of the MPA looking forward.
2020 was a crisis year for the industry, and 2021 is the year that kicked off the recovery: over $21 billion in global admissions and more than $4 billion in North America. How do you assess these figures in the context of the industry’s recovery?
I think those figures, and many other interesting statistics included in the MPA’s 2021 THEME Report, reflect an industry that’s as vibrant, creative, resilient, and innovative as ever. The combined global theatrical and home/mobile entertainment market soared to new heights, reaching $99.7 billion. This record high was a 24 percent increase over 2020. Add in the consumer spending on pay TV, and the combined global theatrical and home entertainment market grew 6 percent from 2020, to $328.2 billion. As the MPA commemorates its 100th anniversary this year, I have never felt more confident about the future of this industry. We have navigated a century’s worth of challenges, especially in the last couple of years, and yet we continue to reemerge stronger than ever.
What were some of the biggest highlights of 2021 for the MPA?
Despite clear challenges posed by the pandemic, the MPA and our member companies accomplished a significant amount in 2021 on several fronts. We advanced our global fight against the large-scale piracy operations that pose an existential threat to the creative economy, and we expanded production incentive programs that create jobs and drive the economies in several key states across the country. Working with partners, we also launched new efforts to diversify the industry’s creative pipeline to help ensure that everyone is represented in the creative community.
What were some of the biggest lessons you have taken from your role after the last two very difficult years?
By far the biggest lesson is that the industry is composed of resilient and innovative individuals who proved they can navigate even the most serious threats and challenges. The pandemic threw so many unexpected obstacles at our workers around the world. And yet we have not only survived, we have thrived.
I also learned that the creative community is more vital than ever to audiences around the world. During the pandemic, record numbers of people tuned in to watch movies and TV shows produced by MPA member studios and others. To me, that confirms we are in a golden age of content, with more great films and TV shows available than ever.
Internationally, we see the Chinese market continue to hit new heights—but in 2021 it did so mostly through a slate of national titles. Some of Hollywood’s biggest films were unable to secure distribution in China in 2021. Do you expect this trend to change? Or should Hollywood be prepared to depend less on China when it comes to international box office?
This is a complex geopolitical situation, but I am optimistic we will make substantial progress leveling the playing field in China in the near term. China is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing markets. The country currently has more than 80,000 screens vs. 40,000 screens or so in the United States. And yet they also impose market restrictions that make it difficult for American studios to do business there. We are working closely with the Biden administration and Congress to find ways to level the playing field and deliver more movies to an audience that clearly loves American films.
On the piracy front, the MPA claimed several important legal victories across key markets and launched additional initiatives to protect content. How has piracy evolved during the pandemic?
Certainly, more consumers were at home during the global pandemic and, therefore, people were consuming more movies and television shows. This also likely means there was an increase in the consumption of illegally available content. In February 2021, a Digital Citizens Alliance survey found that those who had piracy devices and apps in the home were three times more likely to report an issue with malware than those who didn’t have such a device in the home. The findings were particularly troubling as it related to those who work in jobs that can include sensitive or confidential information, such as corporate finance, national security, government, or the medical and legal fields.
What sort of threat does piracy pose to the industry today?
Piracy poses the single greatest threat to the global entertainment industry, the economy of nations around the world, and the security of consumers. The theft of digital content harms both local and foreign films and businesses, threatens jobs, undermines investment, reduces tax contributions to governments, and stifles creativity. As more content moves online, artists and creators are increasingly compromised by the unauthorized and unlicensed use of their works. Their livelihoods—and the creative content enjoyed by global audiences—are threatened by piracy. Supporting creators by working to reduce large-scale, for-profit theft of content by pirate sites, in addition to fighting efforts to weaken important copyright laws, is core to the MPA’s mission.
Last year we saw more cinema circuits program films from streamers; do you believe this trend can continue in the coming years?
Theater and streaming work hand in hand to generate excitement and drive viewing and success across all platforms and venues. As I often say, just as people like a home-cooked meal, they also enjoy going out to dinner. The same is true for viewing great movies. The theater experience remains special, unique, and cherished—and, if anything, we expect greater enthusiasm and pent-up desire to reconnect and experience films together as reopening deepens and people adjust after two long years of restrictions and limitations. After all, even with these challenges, last year saw the release of what has become the third-highest-grossing box office film in the U.S. of all time, Spider-Man: No Way Home.
What are your expectations for 2022?
I’m a natural optimist, so I have high expectations for our industry. I expect we will see an accelerating rebound in the global theatrical and streaming markets, which will enable the industry to create more jobs and drive greater economic growth around the world. I think we will continue to make progress in our global fight against the illegal piracy operations that threaten creators, consumers, and theater owners. And I strongly believe there are storytellers out there who are working on the next great American movie or TV show—an iconic story, well told, that will remind us all why we got into this business in the first place.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Motion Picture Association. Looking back, what are some of the landmark achievements you would say the MPA has introduced to the industry at large over the last century? And what are your priorities for the years to come?
The MPA’s centennial reflects its enduring value and impact as the global voice of an industry whose ability to innovate has secured its role as an iconic driver of economic growth and cultural change. During this remarkable century, we have proven to be a robust economic driver of jobs, directly and indirectly, and a powerful contributor to our nation’s GDP. We have achieved numerous policy and legal victories in every corner of the world in support of creators, creative rights, and freedom of expression. We have expanded our efforts to address diversity, gender parity, authentic cultural representation, and pipeline recruitment opportunities in our industry.
We have protected our films from censorship, and kept faith with the parents of America, by providing impartial assessments of the content of our movies and television. We’ve also joined forces with studios, producers, law enforcement authorities, and other global partners to create the world’s leading organization dedicated to reducing digital piracy and protecting the legal ecosystem for creative content. Last but certainly not least, we’ve continued to enlighten, entertain, and inspire audiences here and around the world.
And the best part is, we’re just getting started. We can’t predict the future, but I do look forward to working with our member companies to identify new technological innovations that support the production and distribution of content in the years to come.