Report on film biz proves less can be more

The Motion Picture Assn. of America’s annual state-of-the-industry report on the film biz proves that less can be more: North American B.O. receipts were up more than 10% last year, even though the number of films released in theaters was down a sharp 11.8% from 2008.

B.O. revs for 2009 reached $10.6 billion in the U.S. and Canada, where a total 558 films were released, compared to 633 the previous year. The number of major studio releases, however, was up slightly, from 108 to 111, demonstrating that the dramatic drop in releases came from the indie sector.

Worldwide, ticket sales reached $29.9 billion in 2009, a hefty bump of 7.6% over 2008.

The promise of 3D came into full view in 2009, with 3D ticket sales accounting for 11% of the total North American B.O., compared to just 2% in 2008.

MPAA report revealed that theaters across the globe rushed to install digital and/or 3D equipment last year. By the end of 2009, there were more than 16,000 digital screens worldwide, up a staggering 86% from the end of 2008. Converting to digital screens is a prerequisite for most 3D projection.

The number of 3D screens tripled to 8,989, repping roughly 6% of the world’s screens. In North America, there were 3,548 3D screens by the end of the year, compared to 1,514 in 2008.

MPAA prexy and interim CEO Bob Pisano said he was most jazzed about the 5.5% jump in admissions, as well as the rise in average number of visits to theaters.

In North America, the number of tickets sold reached a five-year high of 1.4 billion, the first increase in admissions in two years.

For the first time since 2002, moviegoers increased their theater visits to 4.3 times a year from 4.2 times in 2008.

“It’s a statistic I love. You can’t fudge per capita admissions. In today’s environment, with all the competition for eyeballs, 4.3 times is great,” Pisano said. “Also, audiences have embraced 3D.”

Pisano and outgoing MPAA topper Dan Glickman, with National Assn. of Theater Owners prexy John Fithian, will officially present the report next week as theater owners gather in Las Vegas for the annual ShoWest confab.

“Four straight years of box office growth — the last three each setting a new record — show the enormous appetite audiences continue to have for great and entertaining movies in the best way to enjoy them, on a bigscreen with a big crowd,” Fithian said.

Nearly half of all movie tix sold in North America were purchased by moviegoers 24 years old or younger, while nearly a quarter of all tickets were bought by those between the ages of 12 and 24.

The average ticket price increased by 32 cents, roughly the same increase as in 2008.

Frequent moviegoers comprising 32 million people were the “locomotive of the industry,” according to the MPAA report.

This demo reps just 10% of the population, but bought half of all tickets sold in 2009. Frequent moviegoers are defined as people who go to the theater once a month or more. Age-wise, frequent moviegoers tend to be between the ages of 12 and 39.

Households with incomes of $75,000 are more likely to be frequent moviegoers, according to the report.

It’s no surprise that females bought a higher percentage of movie tickets, or 55%, considering the boffo success of femme-driven pics, including Summit Entertainment’s “New Moon.”

Caucasians still make up the majority of the moviegoing population at 64%, but Hispanics are the most fervent movie fans. On average, Hispanics go to the movies nearly twice as much as the average moviegoer, buying more than eight movie tickets a year per person.

Across the globe, but particularly in the U.S., moviegoing began to surge after the economic collapse in the fall of 2008 as people began paring back on more expensive forms of entertainment. Once again, NATO touted the stat that a family of four can go to the movies for under $50, excluding concessions, while they would spend $300 for NFL tickets, and roughly $275 for a theme park visit.

The 11.8% drop in the number of films released in theaters in North America was the result of several factors, including the writer’s strike and the recession. In 2008, 633 titles were released in theaters domestically. A majority, or 72%, were released by independent distribs, versus the major studios or studio specialty divisions.

The demise of studio specialty arms Warner Independent Pictures and Paramount Vantage as standalone units contributed to a 21% drop in the number of titles released by studio specialty units, from 60 in 2008 to 47 in 2009.

Indie companies released 400 films in 2009, compared to 465 in 2008, a 14% dip.

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