Avatar Sees Theater Attendance Bump After DVD Release

from the well,-look-at-that... dept

Earlier this year, we noted that with Avatar still being popular in theaters, it looked as though the DVD release would occur while the movie was still available in a bunch of theaters, and wondered what if it would actually boost sales at the box office. For years, of course, movie theaters owners have whined that they can’t possibly compete against home theaters, and have boycotted movies that tried to do a “day and date” release, where they offer the DVDs at the same time the movie is in the theater. This seems to ignore the fact that the theatrical experience is about the social experience of going out — which is not the same as staying in to watch a movie at home (no matter how good your home theater system is). But most theater owners don’t seem to believe this, and insist that if DVDs are out at the same time as the movie is in the theater, it will harm box office sales.

Avatar seems to suggest that’s not true.

btrussell points us to the news of the record-breaking sales of Avatar DVDs this weekend. His point, in submitting it, is noting that the sales were so strong even though the movie has been widely downloadable and widely downloaded for months. So, despite the claims that file sharing is destroying the DVD market, it looks like people are still quite willing to buy.

But a more interesting point is the impact on the box office. Last weekend, April 16 – 18th, Avatar averaged $2,006 at the box office per theater. On April 22nd, the DVD was released. This past weekend (April 23 – 25th)? Avatar averaged $2,257 at the box office per theater. That’s an increase of 12.5% over the week. That doesn’t seem to fit with the theater owners’ claims, now, does it?

Admittedly, a bunch of theaters stopped showing the movie this past week, probably falsely believing that with the DVD out, it would harm sales. But… the week before, a bunch of theaters added Avatar back into their lineup. If we go back two weeks, we have a much more apples to apples comparison. The weekend of April 9 – 11, Avatar showed in 454 theaters, with an average take of $1,860 per theater for a grand total of $844,651. Yet, again, this past weekend, when the movie was showing in fewer theaters, 421, it brought in both a higher average take per theater at $2,257 and a higher grand total at $950,000. So if we compare those two weeks, with fewer theaters, there was a bump of 21.3% in box office sales after the DVD was released

As we predicted, it sure looks like the DVD release while the movie was still in the theaters actually may have driven more people to the theater, rather than taken them away from the theater.

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Comments on “Avatar Sees Theater Attendance Bump After DVD Release”

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Dark Helmet (profile) says:


Would this actually work for a different style movie than Avatar? I would think that much of the uptick in ticket sales came from people who saw the DVD version and then wanted to see the 3D version in the theatre (though I am certainly not basing this on anything other than common sense).

Would this work for non-3D and/or non-action movies? Would this work for Mama Mia? Or Sita Sings The Blues?

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Question:

Having admittedly seen niether of them, I guess I couldn’t answer that question. But how about the new HBO movie, “You Don’t Know Jack”? Which, btw, was absolutely amazing and good enough that it probably should have had a theatrical release.

Part of the pleasure of that movie was not only in watching it on the screen, but sitting next to my girlfriend and watching the way she reacted to the events and positioning of the movie and seeing if our reactions were similar. I imagine, in the case of this movie, that finding a way to make the theatre experience social or even interactive in a similar way might increase the pleasure of the experience. I’m having bit of a brain block trying to think of how you could do that (editing latest finished book for submission to an agent is enough to kill off the rest of your brainpower)….

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Question:

I saw Avatar in the cinema in 3d, and it was a snorefest for me. Well, at least the friend who I took to that movie literally fell asleep about halfway.
The 3D aspect gave me a headache, the plot was non-existant, and I felt I had been robbed. (22 euros for 2 tickets for a movie not worth half that in my eyes) Sure impressively made, but visually attractiveness does not a movie make.

I’d be just as happy to watch it on my non-3d-tv with a beer in my hand.

Steve says:

Re: Question:

“I would think that much of the uptick in ticket sales came from people who saw the DVD version and then wanted to see the 3D version in the theatre (though I am certainly not basing this on anything other than common sense).”

I dunno, I doubt many people would want to go see the movie twice in one week … but who knows.

I’ll say, though, that I saw How to Train Your Dragon the other week, and I do wanna go back and see it in 3D after some friends suggested doing so. But I’m not gonna do it so soon after seeing it the first time.

IOW, I doubt that people are going to see it a second time *so soon*, but I imagine that the hype surrounding the DVD release only made people realize, “O hey, I can still go see it in the theaters! Let’s do that!”

Of course, I’m just guessing too. 🙂

chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Question:

So the 3D aspect of the film is not a contributing factor to the bump in attendance.

i went to see fellowship of the ring something like 4 times in the theater. the last time i saw it was after it was out on DVD because they ran the trailer for the two towers at the end.

i also paid to see the extended dvd editions of fellowship and the two towers in the theater on the night the return of the king premiered at an event called trilogy tuesday.

i also went to the 25th anniversary screening of “war games” in the theater with a bunch of my hacker buddies.

the theater for me is all about the social aspect and is never about the availability of the film.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Question:

Actually, this is exactly the kind of movie that gets people out of their homes and into cinemas – always has been. The experience of seeing the cinema version is different enough to get people out on to the big screen – that’s why so many idiotic blockbusters rake in cash while more intelligent movies do better on DVD.

It’s been that way at least since Jaws and Star Wars kicked off the “summer blockbuster”. A shame, but that’s the way it is. Would a smaller movie benefit in the same way? Maybe, the cinemas in question offer something more than a home viewing offers. It’s down to them to work out what this is, which may be different for each movie.

“Would this work for Mama Mia?”

Yes. Mamma Mia is one of a few musicals that has been re-released in a singalong format, with lyrics on the screen so the crowd can sing along. Not my cup of tea, but certainly one of the movies that proves what’s been said here for a long time – offer an experience that’s different enough from the home experience in a positive way, and people will pay for it.

Sita? Well, maybe. There are some people who would love to see this on the big screen, and it certainly could take a profit if marketed correctly But, again the cinemas and distributors may have to come up with something other than “watch on a bigger screen for the same/higher overall cost as a DVD for 2 people”, which is what they currently offer.

ECA (profile) says:

its in the DETAILS

Something I try to explain to people about resolution vs SIZE.

I dont care if you can display 1900×1200 on your monitor. The monitor is STILL only 17-20″, it sucks.
Displaying HIGH res, on a small display is worthless when you have High definition.
From games to movies. Even Low res looks good on larger screens. There is a point where you start to see pixels, which means you need Higher res.
Even in games, HiRes only takes up MORE RAM, and slows processing. Iv seen games that look Exactly the same from 640×480 as they do at 1900×1200.
NOW you take a High res movie, and EVEN showing it on a Large screen(52″) may not do it Justice.
A few things you may not know about your Video player and your 52″ LCD/Plasma.

1. MOST of these sets(LCD/PLASMA) are not designed to show more then 500,000 colors. Compare that with your computer at 16/32 bit. with Millions of colors available..
I dont think you are using XBMC/pc Video card to process your video and a Full sized (52″) PC monitor.

2. Your video player MUST have a good video output. And ram enough to HOLD the video to keep it Stable.
Many of you know what is happening. But I would suggest that over 1/2 of those with a DVD player, probably use a NON-DIGITAL connection, and the easiest way to USE a NEWER TV/LCD. COAX connections will NOT give you a good picture.

Another thing to remember. There is DRM on these disks. That works over the HDMI channel. If it does not sense this connection or the correct DRM response, I will BET it down grades the video.

milrtime83 (profile) says:

Re: its in the DETAILS

“Even in games, HiRes only takes up MORE RAM, and slows processing. Iv seen games that look Exactly the same from 640×480 as they do at 1900×1200.”

The graphics may look similar, but you get a much larger field of view at 1900×1200 than you do at 640×480 which can be very beneficial in some games.

Kosh (profile) says:

Re: its in the DETAILS

Watching my 24″ 1080p computer monitor from 3 feet away is roughly equivalent to watching your 52″ plasma from 7 feet away. Being 3 feet away from a monitor is actually quite far, while being 7 feet from a 52″ tv is quite close.

Your anecdotal example of 640×480 games looking the same at 1900×1200 (who uses 1900×1200? I didn’t think 19:12 ratio screens existed?) must have come from a decade ago. Yes, some games used sprites that literally cannot scale up besides increasing the size of the pixels. 3D computer games DO scale up because computer models are inherently vector-based. Unless you were referring to XBOX, PS2, Wii and older generation consoles which were specifically designed for 480i/p (like DVDs) and don’t scale up without stretching.

Your argument on screen size vs resolution is missing the vital variable of distance between viewer and screen. A 24″ TV across the room won’t be worth the price at 1080p, and 720p might even be iffy. But if it’s on your desk, you can make out the individual pixels. I can’t make out the pixels on my 15.6″ 1080p at ~20″ away, but I can on a 24″ monitor.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That’s kind of the point, actually.

Under the system normally used today, there’s a huge marketing blitz announcing the theatrical release, but the DVD is delayed by 3-6 months. The thinking is that people won’t wait and will be more likely to go to the cinema. Of course, this backfires in 2 ways – it means that a new expensive marketing blitz is required to announce the DVD release, and many people will choose to download the movie as they won’t/can’t go to the theatrical screening.

Some of the reason for this is fear on the part of cinemas that if the DVD is available at the same time, then people will just stay at home. This increase in theatrical viewers, even amid record-breaking DVD sales, suggests that a simultaneous release may not be necessarily harmful to theatrical sales.

So, marketing will still equal sales, but the customer chooses the venue rather than the distributor. Not a bad thing, considering that much of the reason for “piracy” is people trying to circumvent the artificial restrictions in the first place, and a single marketing campaign will naturally be cheaper.

Anonymous Coward says:

perhaps after seeing it on dvd and being disappointed people decided to go see the movie in 3d. perhaps with all the publicity surrounding the release people who didnt buy it went to see it in the theater. perhaps the link to earth day drove people to go see it in the theater without regard for the dvd release. so many potential reasons why do you only think it is one? oh yeah, it supports your manifesto.

slander (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Tit-for-tat, bucko.

True, they didn’t use Kool-Aid. They used an organically-grown, non-hypoallergenic, carbon-neutral, soy-based, naturally-flavored liquid gently trod upon (but not down-trodden…) by an indigenous, recently-discovered tribe of socially-advanced, at-peace-with-nature, Birkenstock-wearing ironic hipsters.

Yep, that about covers it.

Michael (profile) says:

I think a great deal of this presupposes the quality of the movie. If the movie sucks, it will never do well…unless it’s a whole new level of suck that happens to be cool. If it really is a good movie then the buzz should be quite good and sales of dvds and box office should support each other.

As Mike has suggested, if a movie is really good, being able to buy the dvd on the way out would be like an impulse buy.

One of my favorite movies is Wedding Crashers. I saw it three times in the theater and I couldn’t wait for it to be released. I got curious looked around and found a crappy version online to tide me over until it was released on dvd. Then bought the dvd and watched it several more times. And, watch it whenever it’s on tv.

I think, box office sales of dvds would be great…if the movie is good too.

NullOp says:


Theater owners argue against anything that might take a dime away from the boxoffice. They don’t seem to realize going to the theater is still the best experience that can be had for movie viewing. A huge number of films are simply best viewed on the big screen, no matter how large your home screen is it can’t compete, period. Oh, and they’re a bunch of greedy bastards too!

Brooks (profile) says:

Oh, Techdirt. Correlation / causation, really?

Also, it was sunnier here in Seattle two weeks ago, and cloudier this past week. Hey, it looks like the weather in Seattle may have driven people to theaters all over the country!

I support the point that the DVD release does not appear to have had a catastrophic result on ticket sales. But there are so many variables here it’s impossible to say much more than that. Maybe sales were up for totally different reasons — strength of competition, promotions, weather, tax day, whatever — and the DVD release depressed sales (some) from where they would have been.

Or maybe sales would have collapsed and only the DVD release propped them up. There is no telling.

For a site that constantly attacks poor reasoning, over-simplification, and idealogically-driven conclusions from the entertainment industry… this sure smacks of poor reasoning, over-simplification, and idealogically-driven conclusions.

If you’re not going to let other people posit that correlation = causation, you should really stop doing it yourselves.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Oh, Techdirt. Correlation / causation, really?

If you’re not going to let other people posit that correlation = causation, you should really stop doing it yourselves.

I didn’t say it caused it — I just pointed out that it suggests the theaters claims that it would take away from the box office are not supported.

Brooks (profile) says:

Re: Re: Oh, Techdirt. Correlation / causation, really?

Well, you did say:

As we predicted, it sure looks like the DVD release while the movie was still in the theaters actually may have driven more people to the theater, rather than taken them away from the theater.

Maybe I’m misreading it, but that sure sounds like a suggestion that the DVD release and theater sales are somehow linked.

Like I said, this neither supports nor refutes theaters’ claims. The DVD release could, in fact, have hurt sales. Without a control, there’s no telling. There are too many variables to use past performance as a proxy for a control.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Oh, Techdirt. Correlation / causation, really?

sort of typical masnick double speak. you are pointing at something and saying ‘see i predicted that’, yet you have no cause / effect proof that your concept has anything to do with movie ticket sales. time for you to bring some proof or admit you are just speculating and claiming success for random events that have potentially no connection at all, just like any good guru would do.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Sorry, not number of tickets sold, but money made.

Uh, no. Considering that money made is the WHOLE point, I think it means everything.

I think the theaters are perfectly happy making more money for less tickets.

Also, 3d tickets sell for a lot more than regular tickets, so increase in revenue could mean less in total attendance, but more viewing 3D.

As was noted earlier in the comments: Avatar isn’t showing in 3D in most places any more, as other 3D movies have taken over those slots.

Michial Thompson (user link) says:

Insignificant rise

$200 average increase per theater proves nothing other than 25 people more attended the theater that particular week… Attendance fluctuates easily by 25 people EVEN with out the DVD release.

Good one little mikee latch onto any little thing that “proves” your point even if it’s insignificant. Oh I forgot little mikee also makes it sound like a really big deal and never really pits things in perspective unless it makes his agenda look right.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Insignificant rise

try again. 9000 / 421 = 21 extra people per theater. if each theater has 3 shows per day for even a 3 day weekend, you are looking at 2 extra people per show. it is smaller than the rounding error in most sales surveys. one again the masnick reaches and fails badly. figures dont lie, but… you know the rest.

dorp says:

Re: Re: Re: Insignificant rise

it is smaller than the rounding error in most sales surveys. one again the masnick reaches and fails badly.

Really? You are using absolute numbers to calculate rounding error that is measured in percent? And 10% is a rounding error of most sales surveys? Would you like to show which surveys you are referring to? We’ll wait while you pull them out of your ass.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Techdirt is becoming a parody of itself

I guess the correlation/causation principle can be cited or ignored depending on whether or not the causal insinuation fits in with your agenda? Very interested, Techdirt, very interesting indeed.

Uh, no. Reading comprehension fail. I never said that the DVD release was solely responsible for the boost. Hell, I even noted in the post (did you even read it?) that there were mitigating factors. I just pointed out that, contrary to what the theaters claimed, the release did not appear to decrease attendance.

Are you denying that?

thewindupmouse says:

If you take away the numbers of theatres that are showing the movie and (on average) the same number of people want to see the movie, of course your average profit per theatre is going to increase.

The numbers that matter aren’t what each individual theatre makes on average, but the total profit the movie make each week.

Just thought I’d point out this flaw in the logic flow….

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