(For other news from the Reuters Global Media Summit, clickhere) * CEO sees ticket prices up 4-6 percent in 2010 * Price hikes double than historical upticks due to 3-D * Expects "Avatar" to make over $250 mln in US, Canada * Regal moving forward with 3-D conversion
(Adds comments on theatrical windows)
NEW YORK, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Regal Entertainment Group's RGC.N movie ticket prices will rise at least 4 to 6 percent in 2010, twice the typical yearly hike, due in part to the advent of 3-D films such as "Avatar," Chief Executive Amy Miles said on Tuesday.
Miles, who runs the world’s largest theater operator, said “Avatar” could make more than $250 million in the U.S. and Canada, drawing new audiences to 3-D films and helping to ring in a strong fourth quarter for the movie industry.
The film, which will be released on Dec. 18, cost News Corp's NWSA.O Twentieth Century Fox $280 million to make, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Directed by James Cameron, “Avatar” uses breakthrough 3-D technology and tells the story of a U.S. Marine soldier who visits an extraterrestrial globe with exotic inhabitants. Cameron’s 1997 “Titanic” is the highest-grossing movie of all time, with $1.7 billion sales worldwide.
“Avatar” will appeal to older viewers, many of whom have not seen recent 3-D films that have animated movies appealing to children, such as this year’s “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Up,” said Miles at the Reuters Global Media Summit in New York.
“I think what that would do is introduce a section of the audience that has not seen 3-D,” Miles said of “Avatar.”
The film’s release comes as Regal is making a big push into digital technology, converting a projected 1,500 of its more than 6,700 screens to 3-D technology.
But while Miles said the movie is likely to be a hit, and draw in new audiences, she played down the potential importance of “Avatar” to the broader push for 3-D in theaters.
“I’m a little less of the opinion that ‘Avatar’ is a game-changer,” Miles said. “I think from a film technology perspective, there’s a lot of enhancements that are going to benefit the industry, but 3-D is going to be successful whether ‘Avatar’ is successful or not,” Miles said.
She said the ticket price hikes in 2010, at a minimum, will be next to double the 2 to 3 percent base price increase that Regal has historically passed along to moviegoers.
“What you’ll see is incremental growth next year because a higher percentage of the tickets will be premium based on more 3-D film product and a full IMAX slate,” she said.
Miles also talked about the quickly changing landscape for movie distribution in the digital age and how that will affect theaters going forward.
She expects Hollywood studios to increasingly push for shorter “windows” between a film’s theatrical run and its release for home entertainment.
Exhibitors like Regal were recently enraged that Sony Corp 6758.T decided to release "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" digitally less than three months after its theatrical opening.
“We’ve had some isolated incidents where movies have been released (to home) on an accelerated basis and it’s fair to say that the model is changing,” Miles said.
She said the pending merger of cable company Comcast Corp CMCSA.O and media company NBC Universal, and the restructuring at Walt Disney Co's DIS.N film studio, have also led theater owners to brace for more change.
“It’s all creating speculation about what could happen in the theatrical window,” said Miles, noting the time between the movie and DVD release has remained relatively stable since 2005 at about four months.
“The DVD model is not as lucrative. We’ve always been able to work with our studio partners as business models evolved and have been able to find a mutually beneficial solution,” she said.
Disney CEO Bob Iger set off a furor among theater owners in 2005, when he said the time between movie and DVD releases should be shortened to save on marketing dollars and sustain consumer excitement for titles. The “window” was shortened from about six months to about four months.
“It used to take much longer for a film to generate revenues than it used to,” Miles said. “There may be some films that need a longer window and some a shorter window. We’ll work with studios ... to protect our business,” she said.
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(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Sue Zeidler; Editing Bernard Orr and Tiffany Wu)
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