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What piracy? Box office innovators rake in billions

Paul Chai (SMH) | Aug. 17, 2010
Film piracy may be on the rise but smart innovations are delivering billions in ticket sales to a thriving film industry

The executive director of the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft, Neil Gane, says quality is where pirates often fall down. Being a pirate is about being first, not about being best.

"Good-quality entertainment simply can't be replicated by an inferior copy made on a camcorder," Gane says. "It is a very exciting time for the movie industry with the onset of 3D cinema; it's almost a next paradigm in the movie industry."

Many point to the price of seeing a 3D film as an example of why the box office appears so strong but the actual cost of producing a 3D film is between 15-20 per cent higher. There are about 3003D-capable screens in Australia, as well as a thirst for content, as popular films such as Avatar have shown.

But it is not all eye-popping imagery. Roy Billing, a star of 2009 box-office hit Charlie & Boots, which took more than $5 million, credits the recent surge in tickets sales with a double whammy of hard times and good locally made stories, such as David Michod's Animal Kingdom.

"Instead of people saying 'it wasn't bad for an Australian movie', they are now saying 'that was a good movie'," Billing says.

"And when times are a bit hard financially, the movies are good value for money. People think, 'Oh, we won't go out for dinner and spend $200, we can spend a night at the movies."'

That said, you can certainly splash out when you head to the cinema these days, thanks to innovations by exhibitors.

While acknowledging the argument of strong product and citing Sex and the City 2 and the Twilight series as examples Ben Rutherford of Event Cinemas says it is also about how you are viewing it. Audiences now have the option to pay extra for larger screens, better sound and other luxuries.

"For us it is Vmax, which is a bigger seat and bigger screen, and Gold Class, which is the ultimate in cinema luxury," Rutherford says. "You have reclining seats, table service for food and beverages; you can actually lie down and watch the film if you want."

So far, Gold Class has rolled out in six cinemas in NSW. Hoyts is also in the luxury-screening game with its high-end movie offerings La Premiere and Xtremescreen.

But while you're toasting the health of the movies with your champagne and business-class-style seats, remember, there are still some sobering questions.

Says Billing: "You just wonder how much better a film may have performed [without illegal downloads], especially in DVD sales. They are quite important revenue streams for actors and filmmakers."


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