Biz sets global box office record in 2010

The continued rise of 3D and booming international markets offset a decline in North American movie attendance in 2010, resulting in another global box office record high at $31.8 billion, according to the Motion Picture Assn. of America’s annual report, released Wednesday.

Despite a 5% drop in tickets sold in the U.S. and Canada, the final worldwide tally was 8% better than last year’s global high mark. That’s in part because 3D doubled last year’s domestic share with $2.2 billion, contributing 21% of overall North American totals.

In the end, the domestic box office repeated last year’s record perf of $10.6 billion. It’s the second time in four years that domestic totals held steady; both 2007 and 2008 clocked in at $9.6 billion.

The org’s official rundown is in line with 2010 year-end projections made earlier this year. MPAA prexy and interim CEO Bob Pisano and John Fithian, prexy-CEO of the National Assn. of Theater Owners, made the joint announcement via conference call.

One of the more compelling stats in the report’s centers on demographic breakdowns of frequent moviegoers: That group contributed more than half of 2010 ticket sales while making up just 11% of the population.

Latin America was up 25% in terms of box office contributions while Asia Pacific grew by 21%, the biggest changes vs. 2009 overseas. Brazilian B.O. rose 30%, lifting the totals in Latin America, while the Asia Pacific category was boosted by phenomenal growth in China, which increased 64% last year.

International 2010 totals ended up above $20 billion for the first time ever, outstripping 2009’s benchmark by 13%.

North American admissions per capita — the number of tickets sold per person — were at their lowest since 1993, with an average 4.1 ducats sold. Pisano attributed the decline in part to the U.S. “boomer bulge” as auds over 50 are less likely to visit the multiplexes more than once a month.

“There’s an obvious trend (that) when audiences get older, they go to the movies less,” Pisano said.

Fithian said one of the biggest factors in turning the attendance tide over the coming years will be 3D. Nearly one-quarter of the world’s current total screen count is digital, with 60% of those 3D-equipped. Global digital rollout is expected to be finished by 2013, according to Fithian, which would double the current digital count.

And while studios are releasing fewer films overall — “The economic situation has affected production,” Pisano said — there has been a hike in studio 3D releases, with 25 in 2010 vs. 20 the previous year. Last year’s top three domestic grossers (“Avatar,” “Toy Story 3″ and “Alice in Wonderland”) were in 3D. Currently, 33 titles are slated to unspool in 3D this year.

Another result of 3D’s heightened contribution is rising average ticket prices, which NATO pegged at $7.89 per ducat in 2010, up from $7.50 in 2009. Though adjusted for inflation, “theater owners continue to offer their patrons the lowest-priced form of home entertainment, with the average movie ticket, including premium-priced tickets, costing less than it did in 1970,” Fithian said.

Both Pisano and Fithian avoided the topic of potentially shortened theatrical windows caused by early VOD bows, but did highlight the importance of consumer choice in the marketplace, notably with 2D and 3D formats. “That kind of flexibility in offerings is important in driving attendance,” Fithian said.

Pisano also noted increased moviegoing among Hispanic auds. In 2010, 43 million Hispanic filmgoers bought 351 million ducats, up from 37 million buying 300 million tickets in 2009.

By comparison, Caucasians, which rep 66% of the North American population, made up 56% of ticket sales, while Hispanics made up 26% with only 16% of the population.

With a few shining beacons on the horizon for this year’s B.O., including growing audience sectors and 3D leverage, both org toppers remained optimistic about this year’s box office, which is off to a sluggish start, running 25% behind last year’s tally at this time.

To keep 2011 from seeing the first decline in domestic B.O. since 2005, those 33 titles slated for 3D release will have to deliver in a year packed with franchise sequels and tentpoles.

“I think the most historic thing of 2010, which predicts what will be the headlines in the coming years, is the growth of digital cinema and 3D,” Fithian said.

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