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Survey: Streaming’s Film Boom Won’t Sap Theater Attendance

THE IRISHMAN (2019)Joe Pesci (Russell Bufalino)
Niko Tavernise / NETFLIX

Streaming services may be offering more movies than ever, but that doesn’t necessarily mean audiences will to go to theaters less often.  

Netflix, for example, is offering its subscribers plenty of reasons to stay home for their cinema viewing, from new original movies like “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story” that will soon move from limited theatrical runs to the internet, to titles including “Murder Mystery” and “Secret Obsession,” that bypass theaters and still reach tens of millions of consumers.  

But exclusive data from entertainment and media research firm Screen Engine/ASI’s Global Entertainment Tech Tracker (GETT) suggests that movie theaters tend to be frequented more by those who watch a lot of films on streaming services rather than those who watch fewer or none at all on them. 

U.S. consumers who watched 13 or more movies (licensed or original) on paid video streaming services in the past 12 months reported seeing on average 6.5 movies in theaters in that same time frame, according to Screen Engine/ASI data fielded in February and May 2019.

Meanwhile, consumers that watched 1-12 movies via SVOD in the past 12 months reported seeing on average 5.2 movies in theaters. For those that didn’t watch any movie via SVOD over the past 12 months, the number of movies they reported seeing on average in theaters was 5.3.


This suggests streaming services aren’t necessarily diverting audiences away from U.S. movie theaters in a meaningful way. That said, it’s also possible that more diversion may be a matter of time as subscribers become more cognizant of how many more original movies streaming services are offering. 

Furthering the notion that streaming services aren’t strictly eating away at box office sales is the fact that the percentage of moviegoers (51%) that agreed with the survey statement, “Most or all of what I watch is through subscription streaming,” was nearly identical to the percentage of non-moviegoers (52%) that agreed with that statement in Screen Engine/ASI’s study. 


If the difference between these two groups was significant (and many more non-moviegoers agreed with the statement), then the numbers would be more indicative of SVODs as a substitute for trips to the movie theater. 

While these takeaways may seem counterintuitive, it’s not the first time this type of argument has been made. An EY study from December 2018 showed a positive correlation between streaming service usage and frequency of trips to the movie theaters. 

The EY study was commissioned by the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), which understandably caused some to be dubious of its findings, but Screen Engine/ASI’s numbers may lend more credence to the original survey. 

Data that suggests streaming services can play a complementary role to movie theaters couldn’t come at a better time for Netflix and its competitors, which now each offer an eye-popping number of films on their services. As of September 2019, Prime Video had 14,819 films on its service in the U.S., compared to 3,912 for Netflix and 1,299 for Hulu, according to data provided by Ampere Analysis.


But while Prime Video dominates in the U.S. in terms of sheer film volume, Netflix is clearly leading the original-film charge. Netflix’s service offered 394 original films in the U.S. as of September 2019, up from 285 in October 2018, according to Ampere Analysis. Prime Video in the U.S. had 12 original movies as of September, while this figure was 15 for Hulu.


As streamers grow their original film counts, they’re also  more aggressively chasing awards that are traditionally given to films that have a theatrical run, and need to play nice with theater owners as a result. 

Netflix is gunning to become the first streamer to win the Oscar for Best Picture with its $160 million mob epic, “The Irishman,” which is directed by Martin Scorsese and features Robert De Niro. The film just began a limited theatrical run (it will play in theaters just 26 days before hitting Netflix), which is something Netflix has traditionally opted to do for its awards contenders (see: “Roma”, “Bird Box”), as the company aims to make its content available to subscribers as soon as possible.

If more findings arise that corroborate the numbers from companies like Screen Engine/ASI and EY,  some theaters may become more open to giving streamers limited theatrical runs if they view them as less of a threat.

Meanwhile, annual movie theater ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada have decreased by 7% from 2007 to 2018, and year-to-date revenues were down over 6% as of September in North America. If theater attendance finishes down year-over-year in the region, streamers are in a position to argue that their most avid users appear to be the most enthusiastic moviegoers to anybody blaming them for box office woes.