The entertainment industry has witnessed much change in this age of multinational mega-mergers, and the Motion Picture Association has been touched by those changes as well. Charles Rivkin has overseen some of them as the head of that industry association, most notably its rebranding from the Motion Picture Association of America to the more global Motion Picture Association. In 2019, the MPA welcomed Netflix as the first streaming platform to sit alongside its studio members, changing its annual Theatrical Statistics Report to the Theatrical Home Entertainment Market Environment (THEME) Report in order to include data from streaming and theatrical sources in its reference publication. After an eventful year, including a record global box office, Boxoffice Pro asked Rivkin to describe his takeaways from 2019 and his vision of how theatrical market will continue to evolve.
We are coming off quite a year at the global box office. What do you consider the primary reasons for that success?
There are several factors that played into the growth of the global box office, including well-known blockbuster franchises, such as Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home, as well as Joker, which put a dark, new twist on an iconic comic villain and had audiences flocking to theaters. Films with diverse representation, including Dora and the Lost City of Gold and Harriet, also helped draw in new moviegoers. Beyond great storytelling, theater owners continue to innovate the cinematic experience—with online ticketing options, rewards programs, and state-of-the-art sound, projection, and seating. The total number of theatrical screens also went up by 7 percent, and the average moviegoer bought more tickets throughout the year.
Looking ahead to the future, public policies, including those having to do with trade, will have an impact on the box office. The opening of newer markets and expansion into existing ones will lead to more screens, enhanced content protection, growth in regional production, and of course, more customers in your seats. With recently passed trade deals like USMCA, and others on the horizon, that trend is only going to grow.
What trends or tendencies were most significant at the 2019 global box office? What are your expectations for 2020?
If 2019 taught us one thing it’s that audiences are hungry for good stories that are well told. There’s also an appreciation for seeing their lives and experiences reflected on-screen. Women consistently represent slightly more than half of the theatergoing audience, so I think people will rush to see women-led films like Black Widow, Wonder Woman 1984, and Like a Boss. Diverse audiences also continue to outperform their share of the population in terms of moviegoing, so films like In the Heights, The Photograph, and Bad Boys for Life are likely to have a positive impact on the global box office.
Has the piracy threat diminished or increased? Are there any particular markets or regions that still present a big challenge?
The legal marketplace for creative content has grown exponentially in recent years. However, piracy remains an ongoing threat to creators, consumers, and the economy. Through the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), we are working 24/7 and around the world to reduce that threat.
Over the last year, ACE has achieved a number of significant wins through legal and operational tactics. Most recently, an ACE action resulted in the operator of Openload and Streamango—two giant sources of illegal, unauthorized content—ceasing all operations. Openload operated 1,000 servers in Romania, France, and Germany, and generated more traffic than many leading sources of legal content like Hulu and HBO Go. ACE also had victories in Canada, Uruguay, here in the United States, and around the world.
ACE has solidified itself as the leading global coalition dedicated to reducing the theft and illegal distribution of movies and TV shows. We now have 35 members, including the addition of Canal+, Channel 5, Charter, Comcast, Discovery, Telefe, and Viacom in 2019 alone. The expansion of our membership has made us the one-stop shop for creators’ global content protection needs.
Streaming platforms became a part of the MPA last year. What do you believe their impact will be on the theatrical market?
The Motion Picture Association represents the largest content creators in the world. Last year, we added streaming services to our membership, making us stronger and better prepared to advocate on behalf of the industry at large. However, while audiences are evolving and are enjoying home entertainment at increasing rates, they still want to see films on the big screen—the way many were intended to be screened. That’s why, last year, we also saw a record-high global box office. That is not an anomaly. Theatrical and home entertainment have and will continue to thrive together because of the powerful stories being brought to light on screens where audiences want them.
Now that the line has blurred between television, home entertainment, and theatrical cinema, how do you believe the motion picture experience can thrive in the midst of this media shift?
We are in the golden age of content, and one thing is crystal clear: film, television, and streaming can all thrive together. In 2019, the global box office and the global home entertainment market both climbed to record highs. With that in mind, the future of the creative-content industry is bright and will remain so when stories are brought to life in theaters, at home, and on the go.
When I came to the MPA, I looked at the entire entertainment landscape from the perspective of a businessman, and I saw growth potential everywhere. As I said in my speech before CinemaCon last year, theaters and streamers can coexist. Storytelling is not a zero-sum game. And it’s so exciting to see how audiences are responding to the array of viewing choices our industry offers them.