L.A. times cite decline in business, others disagree

There was quite a bit of buzz in the 3-D community over a recent L.A. Times blog post suggesting that auds’ interest in the format was already declining.

The piece cited strong numbers for 3-D at the start of 2009 and a steady decline to “Up” and “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.”

But the figures struck many observers as incongruous, since 3-D screens continue to outperform 2-D screens, and independent research from Screen Digest and USC’s Entertainment Technology Center show strong audience enthusiasm for 3-D.

ETC’s surveys show the more viewers see of this generation of 3-D, the more they say they like it and the more eager they are to see more.

Screen Digest analyst Charlotte Jones, who has been tracking the perf of 3-D screens, says the pub’s numbers show 3-D screens still performing very strongly, selling 1½ to 2 times the number of tickets that 2-D screens do for the same title.

“There’s no significant deterioration in per-screen 3-D to 2-D ratio,” says Jones. “(3-D) performance on a per-screen basis is coming in much higher (now) than for ‘Coraline.’ ”

Part of the disagreement arises because the Times started counting, somewhat arbitrarily, at the beginning of 2009. The first 3-D release of the year was “My Bloody Valentine 3-D,” which was marketed aggressively as a 3-D event and had by far the biggest 3-D overperformance of any film so far. So the rest of 2009′s films naturally show a dropoff.

Previous 3-D releases from “Chicken Little” to “Journey to the Center of the Earth” behaved consistently, and were more like “Coraline” than “Valentine.”

As for “Monsters vs. Aliens,” “Up” and “Ice Age,” those tentpoles went out on many more 2-D screens, so a smaller portion of their screens were 3-D. “For major studio titles, the 2-D screens are performing better” says Jones.

As the Times observed, comparisons are difficult because most numbers compare per-theater averages, and some theaters have both 2-D and 3-D screens. Even per-screen averages can be misleading because in some multiplexes the bigger screens were converted to 3-D first.

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