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U.S. Not the Only Country With Box Office Troubles, Study Finds

Foreign moviegoers have been bailing Hollywood out for years, but a recent study by Cowen & Company indicates that some parts of the overseas box office are taking on water.

To draw its conclusions, the research firm looked at ticket sales in a half dozen mature markets for film and adjusted them for inflation. In a sign that some foreign moviegoers are looking elsewhere for entertainment, all six, a group that includes Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Italy and Germany, saw revenues fall last year compared to the previous five years. Overall, the top films fell nearly 10%.

“It’s cause for concern if you’re a studio,” said Doug Creutz, an analyst with Cowen & Co. and one of the authors. “Your audience is beginning to diminish and that’s not a good thing.”

Between 2011 to 2013 the picture improves slightly when compared to the box office between 2008 to 2010, but there was still a decline. Four of the six mature markets struggled to keep pace and the aggregate was down 2%. Only two markets, Germany and Australia, enjoyed box office gains. Others had only modest decreases, while some, such as France and Italy fell 5.2% and 16.6% over the time frame.

The findings are particularly troubling because they do not take into account the most recent summer box office. That was a brutal period that saw the domestic market fall 15%. It is currently down more than 5% for the calendar year to date.

The movie business has always been seen as immune to economic downturns. When times are tough, people want to forget their troubles by going to the multiplexes, the thinking has been. That might not be the case any longer.

“People typically viewed films as countercyclical and a cheap way to be entertained,” said Creutz. “But there’s been an emergence of a lot of new forms of entertainment that are cheap/free and potentially movies aren’t as acyclical as everyone thought, particularly as the price of moviegoing keeps going up and the price of Facebook keeps being zero.”

Emerging markets such as Russia and China are growing, but the study argues that studios have to share more of their receipts with theater owners in those countries than they do in the United States and other regions. Two dollars earned in China is comparable to a dollar earned Stateside, the study notes.

“It’s growing, but you’re getting lower quality dollars and you’re losing higher quality ones,” Creutz said.

In four of the mature markets Cowen & Company examined — Japan, France, Italy, and Germany — non-Hollywood films comprise at least 20% of the overall box office. The bad news is that in those countries, it wasn’t just the films being exported from America that suffered. Locally-produced films brought in less box office revenue as well. That signals that it’s not the films that audiences are rejecting, it could be filmgoing itself.

“It’s possible that in the rank order of how people choose to spend their discretionary income, going to the movies is sliding,” said Creutz.

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