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TOPIC: Hollywood Studios Set Sales Record on Ticket Prices

Hollywood Studios Set Sales Record on Ticket Prices 29 Dec 2007 09:58 #17109

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Dec. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Hollywood studios led by Time Warner Inc. are poised to set a record for ticket sales this year, rescued by higher prices after films such as ``The Golden Compass'' failed to halt a post-summer drop in attendance.

Sales in the U.S. and Canada will climb about 4 percent from last year to $9.6 billion on a 4.6 percent rise in ticket prices, box-office tracker Media By Numbers LLC said. Time Warner, based in New York, led the studios with revenue of $1.91 billion, according to Box Office Mojo LLC.

While revenue will surpass the $9.45 billion record set in 2004, attendance was little changed, Media By Numbers said. Ticket sales dropped in 11 of the past 14 weeks from a year earlier as films including Iraq war dramas ``In the Valley of Elah'' and ``Redacted'' made less than $2 million each in their opening weekends. ``Compass,'' a fantasy based on the book by Phillip Pullman, fell short of analysts' expectations.

``There were some great films, but you add them all together and they don't amount to one blockbuster,'' Paul Dergarabedian, president of Encino, California-based Media By Numbers, said in an interview.

The number of tickets sold this year will be about 1.41 billion, about the same as last year, and down 12 percent from the record of 1.61 billion in 2002, according to Media By Numbers. The average ticket price rose to $6.82 from $6.55 in 2006, Dergarabedian said.

Through Labor Day

Sales and attendance both were up through Labor Day, boosted by 14 summer sequels including the year's biggest money-maker, Walt Disney Co.'s ``Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.'' The film had global sales of $961 million, according to Box Office Mojo in Burbank, California. ``Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'' was second, generating $938.5 million for Warner Bros.

Revenue in the U.S., less than half the worldwide total, is the most reliable benchmark for the industry's health, said Box Office Mojo President Brandon Gray. The U.S. is the biggest movie market and a film's box-office take there is used to set terms for sales to broadcast and cable-TV networks, he said.

``Domestic box office remains the engine that drives the train,'' Gray said.

The focus on sequels enabled Hollywood to set a summer sales record as theaters collected $4.18 billion and attendance jumped 3.9 percent, according to Media By Numbers. Admissions have slid 10 percent since Labor Day.

More Competition

Attendance may continue to be lackluster next year because of fewer big-budget sequels, as well as competition from the Internet and video games, said Tuna Amobi, an analyst with Standard & Poor's in New York.

``We're looking for next year's attendance to be pressured by a more difficult comparison,'' Amobi said.

The 2008 film schedule probably won't be affected by the Hollywood writers strike because scripts were completed before the walkout, Amobi said. Members of the Writers Guild of America walked off the job Nov. 5 in a dispute over pay for the use of their work in digital media.

With growing competition from other media, studios may be fortunate to do as well as they have, Mark Zoradi, Disney's distribution and marketing chief, said in an interview.

``In the midst of these huge entertainment alternatives and big screen televisions, to continue to have similar levels of admission every year is pretty good,'' Zoradi said.

Viacom Inc., owner of Paramount Pictures, was second in sales among top studios with $1.54 billion, followed by Disney with $1.39 billion, as of Dec. 25, according to Box Office Mojo.

Sony Corp., based in Tokyo, was fourth with $1.26 billion. General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal was fifth with $1.19 billion and New York-based News Corp. was sixth with $1.1 billion.

December Record

Disney, based in Burbank, California, received a year-end boost from the Dec. 21 release of ``National Treasure: Book of Secrets,'' which had sales of $65.4 million during its first five days in theaters. The film is a sequel to the 2004 adventure tale ``National Treasure,'' which took in $347.5 million worldwide.

Time Warner received a similar lift from ``I Am Legend,'' the Will Smith science-fiction film from Warner Bros. The movie, based on Richard Matheson's book, set a December record for the U.S. and Canada with $77.2 million in its first weekend.

Sister studio New Line wasn't as fortunate with ``The Golden Compass.'' The film, made for an estimated $180 million, opened with sales of $25.7 million over the Dec. 7 weekend, according to Box Office Mojo. Overseas sales helped lift its total to $142.9 million after three weeks.

Time Warner slipped 2 cents to $16.65 at 4:01 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, while Disney lost 1 cent to $32.42. New York-based Viacom gained 26 cents to $43.86.

Declining admissions and a larger pool of films probably will push Hollywood toward more big-budget fare to lure moviegoers, said producer and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay for ``A Beautiful Mind.'' Goldsman produced and co-wrote ``I Am Legend.''

Sequels planned for next year include a sixth ``Harry Potter'' film, Disney's second installment of ``The Chronicles of Narnia'' and Paramount's revival of the ``Indiana Jones'' films.

``The non-event film is getting harder to rationalize,'' Goldsman said in an interview. ``When you crowd the field so much it creates a din, and everybody wants to pierce the din.''
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