Overseas growth trumps domestic decline

Surging box office totals from every overseas region resulted in a 7% increase internationally and pushed 2011 worldwide B.O. up 3% to $32.6 billion. That’s despite a 4% decline in 2011 domestic grosses vs. 2010, the Motion Picture Assn. of America disclosed in its theatrical statistics report released Thursday.

The international growth resulted in only the second year in which totals surpassed the $20 billion mark. That should come as no surprise — overseas B.O. has been steadily increasing for the past five years.

During a conference call Thursday together with National Assn. of Theater Owners prexy John Fithian, MPAA chief Chris Dodd attributed 2011′s historic high at the global B.O. in part to growing auds in emerging economies including China and India.

A closer look at the MPAA’s report reveals that every region outside of North America, including Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), Asia Pacific and Latin America, saw growth in 2011. Leading the charge was China, where B.O. totals grew a whopping 35% last year; China has now become the second-largest international market behind Japan. Bizzers expect China to become the overseas leader by 2015 or earlier.

Admissions in India reached 3.3 billion in 2011, according to Dodd, with the majority from local productions. “But these are moviegoers,” Dodd added, “and we consider that a growing potential audience for our product as well.”

Last year, the global box office was boosted by three billion-dollar releases: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”

Domestic outlook

Domestically, box office dipped to $10.2 billion in 2011 from $10.6 billion in 2010. Fithian blamed the downturn on lackluster product early in the year.

“We needed a few more good movies,” Fithian said. “Our first quarter was down about 22%, and we spent the rest of the year catching up.”

Stateside admissions slipped 4% last year, said the MPAA, hitting a 10-year low at 1.3 billion. Per capita moviegoing dipped below four visits per year for the first time in the past 10 years to 3.9.

While rising ticket prices often are blamed for soft admissions, 2011′s average ducats cost stayed nearly flat with 2010, up only 1%.

Frequent moviegoers continue to form the bulk of Stateside auds — though they account for only 10% of the population, they represented more than half of last year’s total tickets sold. Hispanic moviegoers represent the largest moviegoing group relative to their population. The number of Hispanic frequent filmgoers dipped 18% in 2011 from the previous year, however.

“Even in a down year for Hispanics, it is still the strongest part of the moviegoing public domestically,” Fithian said. He added that the decline could be attributed to a smaller sample size in 2011 compared to previous years, as well as fewer titles that appealed to the demo.

Last year saw almost double the number of 3D releases compared to 2010, with 45 vs. 26. But 3D box office was down from last year by $400 million domestically — a decline that’s attributed to the high bar set by “Avatar” in 2010.

As in past years, 12- to 24-year-olds bought the most 3D tickets and were among the most frequent moviegoers. Also among the most frequent moviegoers in 2011 were males over 25, a pattern that’s carried over into 2012 with male-skewing box office successes such as “Chronicle,” “Project X” and, most recently, “21 Jump Street.”

Fithian, meanwhile, was vaguely optimistic about one of the industry’s biggest hot-button issues — VOD.

“I’m pleased to report that the attitude is very different in 2012,” he said. “We’re really determined this year to make progress in new models that grow the pie for everyone.”

Dodd pointed to an “encouraging” theatrical start in 2012, which is up nearly 15% year to date. “We’re looking forward toward a tremendous year if these first few months are any indication,” he said.

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