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TOPIC: Amid Economic Hard Times Americans Flock to Movies

Amid Economic Hard Times Americans Flock to Movies 01 Mar 2009 12:42 #31038

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LOS ANGELES — Hollywood could get used to this recession thing.

While much of the economy is teetering between bust and bailout, the movie industry has been startled by a box-office surge that has little precedent in the modern era.

Suddenly it seems as if everyone is going to the movies, with ticket sales this year up 17.5 percent, to $1.7 billion, according to Media by Numbers, a box-office tracking company.

And it is not just because ticket prices are higher.

Attendance has also jumped, by nearly 16 percent.

If that pace continues through the year, it would amount to the biggest box-office surge in at least two decades.

Americans, for the moment, just want to hide in a very dark place, said Martin Kaplan, the director of the Norman Lear Center for the study of entertainment and society at the University of Southern California.

“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “People want to forget their troubles, and they want to be with other people.”

Helping feed the surge is the mix of movies, which have been more audience-friendly in recent months as the studios have tried to adjust after the lackluster sales of more somber and serious films.

As she stood in line at the 18-screen Bridge theater complex here on Thursday to buy weekend tickets for “Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience,” Angel Hernandez was not thinking much about escaping reality.

Instead, Ms. Hernandez, a Los Angeles parking lot attendant and mother of four young girls, was focused on one very specific reality: her wallet.

Even with the movie carrying a premium price of $15 because of its 3-D effects — children’s tickets typically run $9 at the Bridge — Ms.

Hernandez saw the experience as a bargain.

“Spending hundreds of dollars to take them to Disneyland is ridiculous right now,” she said. “For $60 and some candy money I can still be a good mom and give them a little fun.”

A lot of parents may have been thinking the same thing Friday, as “Jonas Brothers” sold out more than 800 theaters, according to MovieTickets.com, and was expected to sell a powerful $25 million or more in tickets.

Other movies kept up their blistering sales pace, too, including “Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail,” about a gun-toting grandma.

Even “Taken,” a relatively low-cost thriller starring Liam Neeson, is barreling past the $100 million mark this weekend.

Historically speaking, the old saw that movies do well in hard times is not precisely true.

The last time Hollywood enjoyed a double-digit jump in attendance was 1989, when the unemployment rate was at a comfortable 5.4 percent and the Gothic tone of that year’s big hit, “Batman,” seemed mostly the stuff of fantasy.

That year, the number of moviegoers shot up 16.4 percent, according to Box Office Mojo, a box-office reporting service.

In 1982, theater attendance jumped 10.1 percent to about 1.18 billion (the top seller was “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial”) as unemployment rose sharply past 10 percent.

Then admissions fell nearly 12 percent, an unusually sharp drop, in 1985 (the “Back to the Future” year), as the economy picked up — suggesting that theater owners have sometimes found fortunes in times of distress, and distress in good times.


Academic research on the matter is scant.

One often-quoted scholarly study by Michelle Pautz, of Elon University, was published by the journal Issues in Political Economy in 2002.

Over all, it said, the portion of the American population that attended movies on a weekly basis dropped from around 65 percent in 1930 to about 10 percent in the 1960s, and pretty much stayed there.

The film industry appears to have had a hand in its recent good luck.

Over the last year or two, studios have released movies that are happier, scarier or just less depressing than what came before.

After poor results for a spate of serious dramas built around the Middle East (“The Kingdom,” “Lions for Lambs,” “Rendition”), Hollywood got back to comedies like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” a review-proof lark about an overstuffed security guard.

“A bunch of movies have come along that don’t make you think too much,” said Marc Abraham, a producer whose next film is a remake of “The Thing.” Certainly exhibitors are looking for a profit lift in the downturn.

A new report from Global Media Intelligence on Friday predicted that the fortunes of movie theater operators like Regal Entertainment and Cinemark Holdings would be “increasingly favorable against a backdrop of highly negative economic news.” Cinematic quality has little to do with it.

The recent crop of Oscar nominees has fared poorly, for the most part, at the box office. Lighter fare has drawn the crowds.

“It would take a very generous person to call these pictures anything other than middle-of-the-road, at best,” said Roger Smith, the executive editor of Global Media Intelligence.

The box-office surge started just before Christmas with the comedy “Marley & Me,” in which Jennifer Aniston was upstaged by a dog. And it has continued, weekend by weekend, with little sign of let-up, analysts say.

“Watchmen,” a dark superhero film, opens March 6 and is expected to do megawatt business. It is to be followed by “Monsters vs. Aliens,” a 3-D behemoth from DreamWorks Animation that analysts expect to have the biggest March opening ever for a nonsequel.

Movie theaters are already adding 3 a.m. screenings for “Watchmen” next week, and advance sales by online ticket companies like Fandango and MovieTickets.com have been strong.

“Fandango is experiencing the best first quarter in its history for ticket sales,” said Rick Butler, its chief operating officer. “I see no signs of a drop-off.”
Copyright © 2009 The New York Times

www.cnbc.com/id/29452710
Last Edit: 01 Mar 2009 14:04 by sevstar.
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Re:Amid Economic Hard Times Americans Flock to Movies 01 Mar 2009 13:04 #31039

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ny times story also .......
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Re:Amid Economic Hard Times Americans Flock to Movies 07 Mar 2009 10:19 #31110

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"Retailers are shuttering stores as the era of easy money fueled by rising house prices and abundant credit gives way to a period in which millions of households are forced to confine their spending to their paychecks. The economy lost 39,500 retail jobs in February, and has eliminated more than 500,000 in the last year." So much for dinner and recreational shopping. It's back to dinner and a movie.
Michael Hurley
Impresario
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Re:Amid Economic Hard Times Americans Flock to Movies 07 Mar 2009 13:59 #31111

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I was a kid during the "Great Depression". My dad worked as a projectionist. He made $20 a week (good money back then) and was never unemployed because people wanted to escape and flocked to the movies. Unless the economy of this country totally collapses I don't see exhibition really suffering. If it gets hurt it will be the corporate big boys who charge such ridiculously high admission prices.
Bob Allen
The Old Showman
Last Edit: 07 Mar 2009 14:00 by revrobor.
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Re:Amid Economic Hard Times Americans Flock to Movies 27 Jul 2009 14:37 #31989

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We are considering purchasing an operating 6-screen, 1100-seat, 1st run theater. The population is a little more than 25,000 within a 10-mile radius. The closest competition is about 25 miles away.

The theater averages 776 admissions/week (pretty low, I think.) The theater is in good condition and has been operating for many years at about this same level. We have identified and made plans for addressing what we think needs to be improved. We would not change the prices (tickets or concessions) as they are already at the national average and lower than the "big boys" 25 miles away. We concentrated on what we can do to change the perception of the theater and increase attendance.

Our biggest concern is the something way beyond our control - the economy. We already knew that this particular area has historically had one of the highest unemployment rates (8% avg 1998-2007) in the state, but we still probably would have entered into negotiations if it were not for current depressing economic news like this: 22% unemployment (second highest in the state), the ONLY new car dealership has closed due to business (not corporate bankruptcy restructuring), per capita income is 64% of national average, even the local library is closing for 6 weeks this year due to funding problems. :ohmy: Now we are beginning to think the local economy may be a bigger contributor to this underperforming theater than we previously thought. Even before the recession, the economy was not great and neither was the business.

I have read many different articles that basically say the same thing as this one about the movie industry having good times even during economic downturns. However, we all know there are exceptions to the rule and I do not want to be that exception if I can help it! I would appreciate any insight/advice/comments/experiences you wish to share.
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Re:Amid Economic Hard Times Americans Flock to Movies 27 Jul 2009 20:58 #31992

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Hi ReelET,

Since the theatre is operational and has a known history...do you think you can make it work at its current level? I know you would make changes and hope to increase the attendance but if it were me I would look to see if it could be cash positive as is.

Why is it for sale? Is it owned by a chain currently or is it a family operation?
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Re:Amid Economic Hard Times Americans Flock to Movies 28 Jul 2009 02:54 #31994

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Hello ReelET:

Could the low attendance be due to the product shown? In other words are the present owners showing films the community wants to see or have they fallen into the "Let's play whatever it is Hollywood promoting" trap? Think community survey and dedicated screens.
Bob Allen
The Old Showman
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Re:Amid Economic Hard Times Americans Flock to Movies 28 Jul 2009 09:03 #31995

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This is a family owned theater. It is being sold due to a combination of retirement and the family does not have the interest to run it any longer. They want to focus on other businesses they are involved in.

I do not think the current level would work for me and my family. The current owners do not depend on this theater for their income. There would definitely have to be some increase in attendance to make this worthwhile for my family.

An out-of-state booker does all of their booking. They have all the big releases that Hollywood promotes: Up, Transformers, Harry Potter, etc. One of our plans if we take over is engage the community through surveys, personal contact at different meetings, schools, churches, etc. This would give us more insight on what people are interested in watching at the theater. It would also give more insight to why they do not choose to attend their hometown theater. I had not really thought about a dedicated screen for "community interest," but that would definitely be an interesting possibility.
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Re:Amid Economic Hard Times Americans Flock to Movies 28 Jul 2009 09:11 #31996

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How much does your individual business suffer along with the local economy, unemployment, etc.? Would you say that enjoying a good movie theater experience is more of a "luxury" item that people would choose to cut out? Or is it really (as the above article argues) more of an escape that people will continue to do even when money is tight?
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Re:Amid Economic Hard Times Americans Flock to Mov 28 Jul 2009 11:54 #32001

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busy ,busy summer but costs are way up ..... electric bill this month $ 4,000 for a 3 screen last year $3,200 ..popcorn is up but so are my prices...so over all i would say --things are very good....
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Re:Amid Economic Hard Times Americans Flock to Movies 28 Jul 2009 17:27 #32003

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ReelET wrote:
How much does your individual business suffer along with the local economy, unemployment, etc.? Would you say that enjoying a good movie theater experience is more of a "luxury" item that people would choose to cut out? Or is it really (as the above article argues) more of an escape that people will continue to do even when money is tight?

As I said in my post above ReelET I don't see the industry suffering as a whole. One thing I think you have to watch is getting your ticket and concession prices too high. You might also consider special matinees at reduced prices and perhaps even a "Dollar Night" ticket price for the house or a low performing film. Would you care to share the state in which the theatre is located? You may PM me or email me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Bob Allen
The Old Showman
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Re:Amid Economic Hard Times Americans Flock to Movies 02 Aug 2009 21:29 #32032

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ReelET,

I like the population size. I like the distance from your competition.

Now, if you think the numbers are not very good, which I believe they are as well; you will need to shake things up quite a bit. Since you see the place as being in good shape, lowering prices might be an effective way to get people to come.
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