The box office was one of the areas of the entertainment business hardest hit by COVID-19. Now that states and theaters are reopening, it is beginning to bounce back.
One way to measure the return of the movie industry is the amount of spend on movie trailers airing on U.S. television, which remains the medium with the greatest reach for advertisers even in the era of ceaseless cord-cutting.
According to data from advertising analytics firm iSpot, weekly TV spend is up significantly from the same period last year, when there were periods of zero ad dollars, or close to, as the country was in lockdown. Spend levels for June 7-13 were $15.1 million, the second highest week in 2021, with only the week of April 19, featuring the Oscars, seeing more ($18.5 million).
Theatrical spending continues to trail that of the last pre-pandemic year, 2019. Spend levels tend to range between -50% and -90% behind the corresponding week in 2019, with the only exception being the week of the Oscars in 2021, which were substantially delayed from its traditional airing in late February.
Box office takings still lag significantly versus pre-pandemic, with most weeks seeing them range from -70% to -95% behind the 2019 level. The combination of states loosening restrictions and the return of the summer box office for the week of May 28-June 3, led by new releases of “A Quiet Place Part II” and “Cruella,” saw takings hit over $100 million for the first time since the week of March 2, 2019.
The number of movies released to the box office each week has been around 40-50 titles for most since November 2020. This is far off from the levels in a “normal” year, which sees most weeks hitting 100 or more releases.
One element to note across the different data points is that while the gap in TV spend between 2021 and 2019 has been closing as of May, there hasn’t been an upswing in the number of box office releases in the same period. This suggests the increased TV spend is coming from a few summer blockbusters rather than representing that the market as a whole is spending more.
While the movie industry is regaining its footing after being forced to curtail business, the figures for TV trailer spend, number of releases and box office gross show it is still a long way from normalcy. It will take until 2022 at a minimum for the box office to get back to business as usual.