NEW data collected by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts indicates that the number of Cambodian companies producing films and karaoke albums has fallen more than 75 percent since mid-2008, a trend officials and company owners attributed to increasingly widespread piracy and the economic crisis.
There were 67 film and karaoke production companies registered in Cambodia last year, according to figures cited on Monday by Sin Chanchhaya, director of the Cinema and Cultural Diffusion Department.
The most recent survey revealed that only 15 companies remained - 11 karaoke production companies and four film companies, Sin Chanchhaya said.
"Our film industry is on its last breath," Sin Chanchhaya said. "Most producers have been forced to shut down, and cinemas almost no longer exist."
In addition to rampant piracy and the economic downturn, he said, low-quality products and steep prices for Cambodian films had contributed to "the collapse of the industry".
Sin Chanchhaya said law enforcement officials had improved anti-piracy efforts toward the end of 2008 but that progress had not lasted.
"In the second part of last year, more than 100,000 [compact discs and video compact discs] were seized for destruction," he said. "But since the start of this year, crackdown activities have dropped to almost zero."
Kirt Chantharith, spokesman for the National Police, said blame over piracy should not fall squarely on the police.
"Police are ready to support [the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts] to crack down on pirated CDs and VCDs," he said. "So they cannot just blame the police. The ministry is the head of the effort."
He disputed the charge that crackdown efforts had all but ceased, saying that "piles of pirated products have been seized and destroyed" recently.
Hvay Sam Ang, owner of Nice Star Productions, a Phnom Penh-based production company, said he had stopped producing films and karaoke albums last year because of the decline in consumer demand.
"In my opinion, our film industry has nearly died because of piracy and the current economic slump," he said. "So how can we continue production?"
He said he would resume production only when the government demonstrated a commitment to tackling piracy.
Kim Leng, director of Chlangden Productions, also based in Phnom Penh, said his company had produced more than 300 karaoke albums since its founding in 1993. He said he had been able to continue operating for years despite piracy but that the economic crisis had made the business climate untenable.
"A karaoke album costs US$10,000 to produce, but revenue ... has recently only been $2,000 due to piracy," he said. "Only a few original copies will sell because of the crisis."
He said an original VCD costs about $2, while a pirated VCD sells for roughly 37 US cents.
In some cases, even those companies who have been able to continue production said they have been forced to adjust to harsh new conditions.
Kim Heng, owner of KH Productions, another Phnom Penh-based producer of films and karaoke albums, said he had been forced to cut his production in half this year, from roughly 10,000 discs per album last year to between 4,000 and 5,000 discs per album this year.
"If we spend $10,000 to produce an album, sometimes we only get back $2,000 or $3,000, so maybe I should quit ... and go into farming," he said.