Moviegoers to hit 1.6 bil

Numbers highest since 1959

HOLLYWOOD — If anyone had any doubts about the viability of motion pictures as a staple of entertainment, figures released Wednesday by the National Assn. of Theatre Owners should put those fears to rest.

By the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, an estimated 1.6 billion tickets will have been sold during 1999 in the U.S. and Canada, according to NATO chairman Barrie Lawson Loeks.

The admission numbers would be the highest since 1959, when movie theaters charged a fraction of what tickets cost now, and videos and the Internet were a long way from being discovered.

NATO’s first mission statement, adopted on May 5, 1994, set a goal of 1.5 billion North American movie admissions by the year 2000. The org’s new mission, adopted at its Nov. 12 board meeting in Laguna Niguel, Calif., is to increase annual theatrical attendance in North America to 2 billion by the year 2005.

“For decades prior to 1994, pundits insisted that the movie theater industry was stagnant,” said William F. Kartozian, who ends his 11-year reign as NATO’s president on Dec. 31. “Again and again, we would read that total admissions are flat, stuck at about one billion annually. In five short years, these perceptions have been effectively vanquished.”

Last year, there were 1.48 billion admissions in the U.S. alone; in 1997, 1.39 billion; in 1996, 1.34 billion; in 1995, 1.26 billion; and in 1994, 1.29 billion.

NATO, based in North Hollywood, is the world’s largest trade association for cinema owners, representing approximately two-thirds of the screens in the United States and more around the world.