US Lost 2,000-Plus Movie Theater Screens Amid Pandemic
The average movie ticket price hit a record $10.53 in 2022, according to the Cinema Foundation’s inaugural state of the industry report released Thursday. The foundation is a non-profit arm of the National Association of Theater Owners.
NATO, which traditionally tracks movie ticket prices on a quarterly and annual basis, hadn’t done so since the pandemic struck. In 2019, the last year for which a stat was provided, the average price of a ticket was $9.16. There was no average given for 2020 or 2021.
If adjusting for inflation, the Cinema Foundation notes that the cost of going to the movie in 2022 was actually less than in 2019 ($10.58) and 1971 ($11.92).
The general tone of the report was upbeat as the exhibition industry emerges from the COVID-19 crisis, even as it revealed that the number of movie screens in the US has shrunk from 41,172 in 2019 to 39,007 in 2022, a 5.3 percent dip. When looking at both the US and Canada, the North American count has gone from 44,283 to 42,063 screens, a narrower loss of 5 percent.
The loss was offset by growth overseas. The number of movie screens grew from 200,949 to 212,590, a 5.8 percent jump.
The Cinema Foundation report says there are 107 movies set to be released in 2,000 or more theaters this year, up dramatically from 71 in 2022 and down only somewhat from 112 in 2019.
The report also detailed the importance of theatrical over streaming, the dangers of piracy when a movie goes to the home early, consumer sentiment about the theatrical experience, and industry innovations and opportunities going forward.
“Data and research are the essential tools we use to drive forward cinema innovations,” said Jackie Brenneman, president of the Cinema Foundation. “What we found from our multiple research partners is that the future of the moviegoing experience looks bright and that a number of new opportunities exist for both exhibitors and studios.”
During a briefing call with press, Brenneman and NATO’s Patrick Corcoran said it was impossible to know if all the screens lost in the US were due to the pandemic.
“While many expected mass closures of theaters due to the pandemic, the number of screens has decreased by only 5.25%. It remains to be seen how many of those closures are permanent and how many will re-open under new ownership,” the report added.
Brenneman also repeatedly stressed that the health of the box office recovery is tied to the number of wide releases from Hollywood studios.
“Box office, on a film-by-film basis, has rebounded to 2019 levels, limited only by the number of wide releases in the marketplace. The number of wide releases in 2023 is more than 40% higher than 2022 and approaching the number of wide releases in 2019,” the report said. “Moviegoing remains affordable, with today’s average ticket price – despite a clear trend of audiences leaning towards premium formats – costing less than the average inflation-adjusted ticket price in 1971.”
Among other key findings, the Cinema Foundation also found that viewers place a higher value on movies that they know were first released theatrically. They also want to see more diverse genres on the marquee, with comedy, action/thriller, horror, drama, and romance ranking as the top five most requested. And the report noted how both Top Gun: Maverick and Elvis owe a large part of their success to older moviegoers.
The report also found that consumers are willing to pay a premium price for alternate content and new experiences on the big screen, and that longer theatrical release windows help delay piracy spikes that occur when a film debuts at home.
After being brought to its knees by the pandemic, 2022 was the year the industry returned to its feet, says the Cinema Foundation.
“Streaming is an important part of a film’s distribution plan, but it does not replace theaters which remain primary in the film ecosystem. We learned there cannot be billion-dollar movies without movie theaters. Without billion-dollar movies there cannot be $200 million budgets. Films just aren’t as majestic or compelling if they haven’t opened in a movie theater. That is why, after the failure of day and date releases (which cannibalized both theatrical and streaming revenues), the studios, including those which sent their entire slates (Warner Bros.) into simultaneous release, quickly shifted and announced their films would open. only in theaters,’” the report concluded.
“There still are significant problems that need to be addressed, particularly with the poor performance of major dramas late in 2022, but those problems will be addressed with theaters as a key part of the solution,” concluded the report. “An increase in supply of films — badly curtailed by COVID — should go a long way to dealing with some of the issues.”
National Cinema Days, hosted by the Cinema Foundation around the globe also paid off, with 60 percent of those attending saying it made them more likely to resume their moviegoing habits.
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