Americans are not going to the movies, at least they are going far less than in the past. The total American movie-going audience was down again in 2013, and theater owners are looking at ways to draw people back to the cinemas.
Domestic movie box office was up (and international continuing to grow). However, the number of tickets purchased in the U.S. dropped 1.5 percent last year. The number of tickets sold has declined by nearly 11 percent from 2004 through 2013. This is raising concerns in Hollywood about reversing the trend.
Domestic box-office sales reached nearly $11 billion last year, up from $10.8 billion previously. But the increase in dollars came from higher ticket prices, not attendance in theaters of the movies. Only 1.34 billion tickets were sold in 2013 versus 1.36 billion in 2012.
Increasing ticket prices is a double-edged sword. It makes the box office revenues look good, but drives away demand. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the average ticket price in 2013 was $8.13 in the U.S., versus $7.96 the prior year. In larger cities, prices are above $13 for evening shows and considerably higher for 3-D and IMAX selections. Additionally, in some areas, theaters charge even higher prices for luxury seats.
Those between the ages of 12 and 24, a key target market for most films, is going to the theaters less often than in the past, according to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Frequent moviegoing by those ages 18 to 24 took a precipitous 21 percent drop in 2013 from 8.7 million to 7.2 million. Those ages 12 to 17 bought 15 percent fewer film tickets last year with totals sliding from 6.3 million in 2012 to 5.5 million.
The declines in frequent film attendance were even steeper among those over 24. Frequent moviegoers dropped from 9.9 million to 8.2 million for those between the ages of 25 and 39, and from 5.8 million to 3.2 million for those between the ages of 40 and 49. The only bright spots MPAA report were increases in tickets sold for those under 12 years of age (reflecting the success of films like Frozen) and for those over age 50.
Like the drops in television viewing by younger audiences, the myriad of technology and entertainment options today are taking a toll. The MPAA acknowledge that those age 12 to 24 are spending time watching other types of screens. John Fithian, the president of the National Association of Theater Owners, commented that diversity in product and experience are ways to combat the decline in youth attendance, though he added that watching movies on tablets or mobile devices is beneficial for exhibitors and studios.
One solution being floated by theater owners is cutting ticket prices, at least for some showings. The theater owners association is working on a plan with theater chains and motion picture studios to try discounting ticket prices on a particular weekday. They plan to pilot the program in one state. Similar programs are in place in Canada and parts of Latin America. The rationale is that people who cannot afford to go to the movies on the weekend would count on seeing films for less money on the discount day.
By Dyanne Weiss