Keynote Remarks for Charles Rivkin, Chairman and CEO, MPAA
CinemaCon State of the Industry Address
April 24, 2018
Thanks, John, for that introduction. I am thrilled to speak to you for the first time as the Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America – the MPAA.
Walking through CinemaCon this week … Seeing the cutting-edge technology … Hearing the excited conversations … And feeling the creative energy that has always been part of our industry … Has made this feel like a bit of a homecoming for me.
As many of you know, I spent two decades running entertainment companies. I was President and CEO of The Jim Henson Company – home to the Muppets. Then I was President and CEO of an animated film, TV and merchandising company called WildBrain.
So, like you, I know what it means to make payroll and to watch box office returns with hope and anticipation. More importantly, like you, I share a deep passion for this industry and I share your optimism and belief in the future of theatrical exhibition. And like everyone in this room, I love the movies.
As I look around at this impressive gathering, I am reminded of a drive-in movie theater in a little town, about 70 miles north of Green Bay, named Fish Creek, Wisconsin.
It’s called the Skyway and, when I was a kid, I spent my summers watching movies there with my parents and, very often, my best friends. We laid out under the stars. We enjoyed great stories. We dreamed.
The Skyway Drive-In Theater is still there. It’s been operating every summer since 1950. It is Wisconsin’s longest running drive-in. They still show cartoons ahead of the main feature. They’ve still got speakers hanging on posts in the first four rows.
Isn’t it amazing that, for all the technology and changes in our marketplace, people still keep coming to that drive-in 70 years later? It’s the allure of the big screen. It’s the magic of film that you know so well.
Those movies I saw during those magical summers in Fish Creek are still in my heart, but my love for the movies is anything but unique. From Burbank to Beijing, the theatrical experience is still as powerful a draw as it has ever been, and will continue to be, far into the future.
The theatrical experience will always be at the heart of our experience – and that heartbeat is strong.
In the U.S. and Canada alone, 263 million people went to the movies at least once last year, according to MPAA’s recently released THEME report. That’s more than three quarters of the North American population.
They went to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Transformers: The Last Knight. They flocked to see Wonder Woman and Despicable Me 3. They stood in long lines to watch Logan and Spider-Man: Homecoming. And many more.
So, I am honored today, to be talking to the people who work so hard to make that experience a reality.
Only a few days into my new job at the MPAA, I made a point of flying to Los Angeles to attend a NATO board meeting. I wanted to meet John, but I also met, face to face, with some of the people whose theaters are the first stop for the movies made by our member studios.
I talked with theater owners like you. They shared some of the things they are doing to engage audiences and build their businesses, from serving alcohol to offering 4D entertainment. One owner even featured a cabaret.
You are such an essential part of our industry. And if there’s one powerful thread running through all NATO’s companies – big, medium and small – it’s the families. The ones who first believed in the business of cinema, who started a theater, and then stayed there for the long-term.
To name only a few of the many examples here today …
We have B&B Theatres, which is the merger of two families – Bills Theatres and Bagby Theatres – through marriage. B&B is now one of the 10 largest theater companies in North America.
AMC grew out of the vision of the Dubinsky brothers in Kansas City in 1920. Now it’s the largest exhibition company in the world.
Logan Luxury Theatres started in 1933 when Nelson Logan converted a car dealership into a 600-seater. Today, the family runs three sites with 10 screens and a drive-in.
These theater owners knew that treating customers – and people – right was fundamental to success.
You bring that awareness into your businesses every single day. More than anyone, you see and understand the people behind the box office numbers and statistics. You’re on the frontlines – where the vision and creativity of our studios meet the marketplace, and more importantly, the audience. You see what works and what doesn’t work. Your perspective is indispensable – and so important to all of us.
On behalf of the Motion Picture Association, I am here to affirm my commitment to working with all of you. So we can continue to grow, long into the future.
I talked about the optimism that I feel for our industry, and today I am going to give you three reasons why.
The first has to do with the year we’ve just had – and the one we’re all looking forward to. As John said, 2017 was another strong year at the cinema. Globally, we hit a record high of $40.6 billion at the box office. Domestically, our $11.1 billion box office was slightly down from the 2016 record. But it exactly matched the previous high from 2015. And it was the second highest total in the past decade.
That is pretty remarkable when you consider how large, diverse and mature the U.S. market is. And 2018 is off to an even better start, thanks in large part to the leaps and bounds of a certain “Black Panther.” More than just the highest grossing superhero film of all time, this movie has redefined a genre, marked a turning point in our cultural history and opened doors to artists and audiences everywhere. And there is so much more to come in 2018.
My second reason for optimism is the MPAA’s continuing work to protect creativity, open markets, and generate economic growth.
Making sure our creative works are valued and protected is one of the most important things we can do to keep that industry heartbeat strong.
At the Henson Company, and WildBrain, I learned just how much intellectual property affects everyone. Our entire business model depended on our ability to license Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the Muppets and distribute them across the globe.
I understand, on a visceral level, how important copyright is to any creative business and in particular our country’s small and medium enterprises – which are the backbone of the American economy. As Chairman and CEO of the MPAA, I guarantee you that fighting piracy in all forms remains our top priority.
One of the ways that we’re already doing that is through the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment – or ACE as we call it. This is a coalition of 30 leading global content creators, including the MPAA’s 6 member studios as well as Netflix, and Amazon. We work together as a powerful team to ensure that our stories are seen as they were intended to be, and that their creators are rewarded for their hard work.
I am grateful to all of you for recognizing what is at stake, and for working with us to protect creativity, such as fighting the use of illegal camcorders in theaters.
Protecting our creativity isn’t only a fundamental right. It’s an economic necessity, for us and all creative economies. Film and television are among the most valuable – and most impactful – exports we have. In addition to the projection of American ideas and soft power, they account for $16.5 billion in exports.
We export four times what we import and register a trade surplus with nearly every one of the 130 countries in which we do business, a $12.2 billion surplus in total. That is why we engage with policy makers and stakeholders around the world to open markets, remove discriminatory business and trade barriers, and protect the incredible works that drive a strong creative economy.
Here at home, the creativity we support and protect directly contributes to jobs and economic opportunities in every state of the union. Our industry supports 2.1 million jobs and $139 billion in wages every year. Those jobs and wages go to set builders and ticket takers. Artists and engineers. We provide economic opportunity to more than 400,000 businesses across this country. Most of them are small businesses that employ fewer than 10 people.
When one of our movies or television series shoots on location, they bring jobs, revenue, and related infrastructure development to that state’s economy.
In New York, for example, two Oscar-nominated films, The Post and The Greatest Showman, brought in more than $108 million. And right here in the great State of Nevada, our industry has created more than 5,500 jobs, either directly or in jobs related to production, for a total of $178 million in wages.
The third reason I am so optimistic comes from my own experience – not only in the entertainment industry but in diplomacy. And I have Jim Henson to thank for helping me understand how both worlds are powerfully connected.
Jim used to say: “Media – if used properly – can be an enormous source of good in the world.”
He was right. The Muppets helped to raise the level of preschool education in America and in more than 100 countries. They carried messages about respect, tolerance, optimism and dreaming big.
When I left the entertainment industry, I had the honor to serve as U.S. Ambassador to France, and later as the Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs. As ambassador, I travelled to every region of France and its overseas territories. And as Assistant Secretary, I traveled to more than 40 countries – and more than 60 cities throughout the world.
In France, I often engaged with the residents of disadvantaged suburban communities known as the ‘Banlieue,’ which have been sources of recent unrest.
In one such meeting, at Villiers-le-Bel, they spoke with frustration about their future prospects. But when it came to America – and its celebrities in particular – they lit up. They spoke eagerly about Samuel Jackson, Will.I.Am, Will Smith, Jodie Foster and others. So I told them I would come back with those celebrities to visit them.
I remember one of them said: “M’sieur L’Ambassadeur, vous avez une langue de bois.”
It means “Mr. Ambassador, you have a wooden tongue.” In other words, they were saying, I was talking like their view of a typical politician. Feeding them lies and empty promises.
In the tradition of ‘It’s better to be lucky than good,’ Samuel L. Jackson happened to come through France. And to my delight, he agreed to go with me to the Banlieue.
We showed up at Villiers-le-Bel in a motorcade of armored cars and motorcycles, as it was unusual for an ambassador to make this kind of visit. Sam Jackson stepped outside in his sunglasses. And we started hearing the chants: “Big Mac! Big Mac,” referring to his role in Pulp Fiction.
One of the people there came up to me, grabbed my arm, and said: “M’sieur L’Ambassadeur, vous êtes un homme de paroles.”
“You’re a man of your word.”
They were amazed that a star like Sam Jackson had come to their neglected neighborhood. But they were even more amazed by what he told them.
When they complained about a lack of opportunity and other issues, he told them the only reason the American dream had worked for him was hard work. Early in his career, he had to take unappealing roles. But he played those roles with everything he had. The roles got bigger and better, and he became successful. Sam told the residents to stop complaining and start working to fulfill their own potential. And you can probably imagine the words that Sam actually used to make this point.
At that moment, he turned from Sam Jackson, movie star, to Sam Jackson, aspirational figure and ambassador for the American dream and, by extension, the entertainment industry.
Over the next four and a half years, I brought many more celebrities to visit, including – as I promised – Will.i.am, Will Smith and Jodie Foster. Clint Eastwood and Maya Angelou. Robert Redford and Brad Paisley. And also Aloe Blacc, Tony Bennett, Renee Fleming. Mary J. Blige and the cast of the TV series Glee.
They all came to France to represent the United States, and to explain and promote our powerful entertainment industry. And Jim Henson’s words about “media as a source of good” came back to me, again and again.
Perhaps no one worked harder to bring positive attention to our industry than Jack Valenti. Today, I mention him for two reasons.
First, this year we mark 50 years of the Classification and Rating Administration – or CARA, the voluntary MPAA movie ratings. Of course, Jack founded the rating system. And thanks to his vision, we have built a foundation of trust between parents and our industry over half a century.
He recognized that if we could secure the trust of families, we stood a greater chance of bringing them back to the theaters. And he always credited the theater owners and NATO as key partners in this important enterprise.
I have the honor to steward this service, which is a vital connection between our communities that has stood the test of time. And we are proud to continue to provide a critical resource to help parents make viewing choices for their families.
The second reason was Jack’s love of stories. Jack understood that we are all in the storytelling business and his wide-ranging, elegant speeches were often bound together by the same six words: “Let me tell you a story”.
In his spirit, I’ll make sure that we continue to share stories about the men and women of our industry and – in particular – the star power below the line.
Sound editors like Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl, who gave every bump and gasp such powerful impact in A Quiet Place ….
Stuntwomen like Jahnel Curfman, who made those soaring leaps from the treetops in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle …
They are just some of the ‘below-the-line’ creators who are the foundation of our business. And we are proud to share those stories through our online publication, The Credits, found on the MPAA website.
During my travels as an Assistant Secretary, I once heard an African proverb that has always stayed with me. Today, it feels more than appropriate: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
In this vibrant ecology, we are in this together, from the prop master on the set to the popcorn seller at the concession stand. Our livelihoods are linked in almost innumerable ways.
By walking forward together, we can continue to be a force for our mutual prosperity and creativity, in the years ahead.
Together – let’s continue to promote and protect our creators.
Together – let’s continue to embrace new advances in technology – in how we tell stories and how we reach audiences.
Together – let’s keep working to reduce the threat of piracy.
And together – ladies and gentlemen – let’s always deliver on the promise of our creative industry: high quality stories that speak to the hopes and dreams of our audience. And will continue to do so for generations to come.