In 2017, movie theatre attendance hit a 25-year low. Theatre admissions in North America dropped 5.8 percent to 1.24 billion last year, the lowest attendance since 1992.
A number of reasons have been cited as to why box office attendance in the US is dropping so dramatically. Rising ticket prices may have kept the cinema revenues above $11 billion, but the 3.2% average price increase for the cost of a cinema ticket also helped keep people away. Cinema revenue fell 2.7 percent from $11.4 billion to $11.1 billion. It’s not just the price of the ticket keeping people away, anyone has been to the cinema will know that to get just the basic of refreshments; a drink and bucket of popcorn can require selling a vital organ or a second mortgage on the home.
An easy target for the blame would be the actual films themselves. The summer blockbuster season was particularly disappointing. The Mummy, Baywatch and Pirates of the Caribbean 5 did not excite cinema goers. The number of tickets sold between May through to Labor Day fell by 16 percent from 2016.
It wasn’t just in North America that cinema attendance fell. In Europe, cinema attendance in the European Union edged lower by 0.7% to 985 million tickets sold in 2017, a total of 6.6 million less tickets sold in 2017 than in 2016. In the UK, despite World War Two epic Dunkirk drawing in the cinema goers, box office takings in August 2017 were 35% lower than August 2016.
When discussing the decline in global cinema attendance, it is impossible not to discuss the rise in subscription services. Amazon, Netflix and HBO are increasing their number of new subscribers, offering an on-demand catalogue films, some just months after their release.
Patrick Corcoran, vice-president of the National Association of Theatre Owners in the UK said of the threat by subscription services: “Netflix and other in-home offerings are just more of what theatres have faced in the home market for over 50 years. If people are inclined to go see a movie, the fact that Netflix exists doesn’t affect that decision.”
The rise in video streaming services, television choices and the internet in general has had its effect. This isn’t just another DVD-type challenge that is worrying cinema owners. Young people are simply not getting into the habit of going to the cinema. The traditional median age of cinema goers was 24. The convenience of being able to pause, play and enjoy the ‘movie experience’ from your own home is proving more popular with the key young demographic than visiting the movie theatre. The ability to have a home cinema installed like those offered by Custom Controls makes the staying at home option a much more attractive one. No queues, no annoying phones and refreshments that do not cost an arm and a leg, all with a quality home cinema system. What’s not to like?
Movie theatre owners need to address the price issue. It is an unsustainable business model that ticket prices go up and attendances go down. Better movies being made are out of the cinema owners hands, but prices and the experience offered are. Cinema in general is facing many challenges, most notably from video streaming services, but it is not dead yet. A good film will drive people to their local cinema and sometimes bad films do too. We may not be out of love with the cinema just right, but movie theatre owners and the movie studios need to recognise that people are and will continue to vote with their feet on movies and they need to up their game.
Ben Myers is an experienced freelance journalist, writer, and nomad. Much-traveled, Ben originates from the UK, enjoys spending time with his family, trading the markets, the crypto world and soccer, although not necessarily in that order.