Americans haven’t fallen out of love with movies, but they are losing patience with rising ticket prices.
Fifty three percent of moviegoers tell financial advisory firm PwC that the reason they don’t see more movies is that it costs too much in theaters, while 30% say they prefer to watch them on their own schedule and 29% prefer to spend their money on other recreational activities.
For the first three quarters of 2014, the average ticket price was $8.12, according to information provided by the National Association of Theatre Owners. That’s roughly in line with the full year average from 2013.
Though cutting costs might make moviegoers more receptive to hitting up the multiplexes, nearly half of consumers claim that they saw just as many movies in 2014 as they did in previous years.
They may be mistaken, because the summer box office never really heated up in 2014, falling to its lowest levels in 17 years, when accounting for inflation.
However, PwC argues that the decline is a momentary blip not a systemic problem. Despite hits such as “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” there weren’t enough of compelling titles to lift ticket sales.
“Great movies bring people to movie theaters,” said Joe Atkinson, entertainment, media and communications advisory leader, PwC. “Some of the ideas being explored in the study could have helped with the summer box office, but at the end of the day better movies bring in bigger audiences.”
To get its results, PwC surveyed 1,044 people online between October to November 2014.
Beyond lowering the prices, something movie theaters are likely loathe to do, there are other incentives that could be explored. For instance, 87% of moviegoers across all demographics were attracted to some kind of subscription plan, which would allow them to pay a set fee for an unlimited number of movies. That’s similar to a program being offered by AMC and MoviePass that allows subscribers to see a movie a day for monthly packages that run between $35 to $45.
Moviegoers also were enthused about the possibility of theaters offering last-minute cheap seats. Over half of people in every age group said that was something that would encourage them to see more movies.
Likewise, 22% of those polled said they would like to be able to buy a digital copy of the movie they were watching while purchasing a ticket while 21% said they wanted to participate in some sort of “super-fan” program. There’s a precedent here. In the past, films such as “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” have offered up extra bells and whistles such as collectable 3D glasses or advanced digital copies of the films for a higher price than an average ticket.
From rising cellphone costs to subscription services such as Netflix, there are more demands on consumers’ wallets than ever before. However, that doesn’t seem to be causing people to steer clear of cinemas in the hopes of economizing.
“Disposable income is influencing about 18 percent of people,” said Atkinson. “That’s not inconsequential but it’s not a massive trend.”
The ability to reserve seats in advance was less appealing to respondents than subscription plans or cheaper seats, although that varied in relation to age. Only 10% or people between 18 to 24 found that of interest compared to 21% of people between 50 to 59 years of age.
In the past decade, movie theaters have introduced changes to the theatrical experience. They’ve invested more heavily in larger, Imax screens; they’ve bought 3D projectors; and they’ve outfitted their theaters with more comfortable seating. That may not have made much of a difference — 9% of respondents cited better technology as a draw, and 8% mentioned more comfortable seating.
While price remains a concern for audiences, there are other factors that go into their decision making. Film genre is the biggest driver of viewing habits, with action adventure being the clear choice of 64% of consumers, followed by comedy at 56% and drama at 38%. Pity the poor indie filmmakers; art house films were the choice of only 3% of respondents.
The endorsement of friends is also critical. That’s particular true with younger ticket buyers, with 48% of those between the ages of 18 and 24 and 44% of those between 25 to 34 citing a friend’s recommendation as a motivating factor. In comparison, 21% of audience members between 50 to 59 credited that kind of suggestion as influencing their viewing habits.
When it comes to a core audience, Hollywood is smart to keep pitching its wares to younger consumers. Moviegoers between the ages of 18 to 34 watched an average of six films in theaters every year — more than any other demographic. In contrast moviegoers aged 35 to 49 saw five films, while those aged 50 to 59 caught four.
Movie theaters have cried foul whenever studios have tried to offer films on-demand or online while they are still on the big screen, preferring to have an exclusive window in which to show them. Their biggest obstacle may be consumers themselves. Seventy one percent of respondents said they were very interested in paying more in order to watch a newly released film in their homes, while 82% of consumers said they would pay between $10 to $20 extra for the convenience.
It might not be quite the existential threat that movie theaters fear, argued Atkinson.
“It’s additive,” he said. “It’s not a massive plate shifter. The movie experience still holds sway with audiences.”