B.O. numbers game

Reports clash on whether tix sales will go up

HOLLYWOOD — Box office ticket sales will pick up next year — or not. It all depends on whose report you believe.

Consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers says U.S. box office admissions will decline by 1.8% this year and 1.1% more in 2002. Those projections, contained in a report circulated Wednesday, follow a recent forecast by merchant bank Veronis Suhler that said admissions will be off 1.9% this year but rebound 1.2% next year.

“A major factor in this slowdown is increasing admission prices, which are turning moviegoers away,” the Pricewaterhouse report said. “It is also expected that exhibitors will continue to aggressively raise admission prices, as they restructure their finances and as disputes concerning the distribution of box office receipts between studios and exhibitors continue.”

The latter observation refers to two complaints from circuit execs at a time when exhibition is dealing with an industrywide financial crisis of historic proportions.

Increasingly, distribs have adopted “firm term” policies in which they negotiate film rentals with exhibs in advance of a pic’s run rather than afterward, and exhibs are chafing under that less flexible approach. Secondly, exhibs have become disgruntled with underlying formulas for splitting box office revenue with distribs.

That’s because those formulas –whether fixed upfront or negotiated after the fact — generally give exhibs a cut from box office receipts that’s less than 50% in the first week and greater than half of B.O. in some later weeks. But with super-saturation film releasing now front-loading audience numbers, exhibs complain movies no longer play well long enough to give them the richest splits.

Meanwhile, back at Veronis Suhler, researchers predicted theater owners will “keep average admissions prices in check since aggressive increases have historically been a sore point with consumers.” The Veronis report, circulated Monday, placed more emphasis on the fact that the nation’s population of teens and young adults continues to grow, albeit at a slower rate than previously.

So, Veronis predicted admissions will rise by an average 0.3% annually over the next five years, whereas Pricewaterhouse projects admissions will fall by 0.2%. (Veronis forecast a 3% average ticket price boost each year, PricewaterhouseCoopers 4.4%; the former projected an average 3.3% increase in gross B.O. receipts annually, the latter 4.2%.)

Similar methods

Both reports also deliver data and forecasts for an array of other media segments. And a Pricewaterhouse spokesman said the firms take a similar approach to their research methodology.

“We both look at publicly available statistics as well as other sources,” said Pete Winkler, global marketing director of Pricewaterhouse’s entertainment and media practice. “The difference there is not particularly significant.”

Another similarity of the reports is their big pricetags — though Pricewaterhouse appears to hold a significant edge for bargain shoppers. Its Global Entertainment & Media Outlook retails for $995, while Veronis charges $1,995 for its annual Communications Industry Forecast.

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