by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
attendance, movies

Missing The Point In Movie Attendance Numbers

from the welcome-to-the-world-today dept

The movie industry has been whining about its plight for ages in the new digital era, even as the industry brings in record revenues year after year after year. The latest is a NY Times piece which, while 'fessing up to those record revenues, tries to suggest that the industry isn't doing so well because so-called movie "blockbusters" don't attract as big an attendance as in the past. Of course, that really misses the point. The industry is in the business of making money -- not in putting the largest number of people in seats -- so if it's bringing in record amounts of cash, that's really all that should matter. If the industry wanted to get more people in seats then it should start by lowering the price and improving the overall movie-going experience. However, for the most part, the industry has shown little inclination to go in that direction -- so the fact that "blockbuster" movies of 2008 matched attendance numbers of less-well known movies from a decade ago is fairly meaningless.

The article seems to place the "blame" on studios overhyping openings, so that we hear so much hype about some new movie that many people are immune to the hype, filtering out all of the claims about how such a movie is a "must see" or whatever. I'm not sure that's true, however. It would seem that a much more likely culprit is that there is a lot more competition for any individual's entertainment hours these days than there was a decade ago. There's the internet, for one, which has grown massively in popularity and as an entertainment source since 1998. Then there's the rise of gaming consoles, home theaters and DVD rental services (you could rent VHS tapes, but services like Netflix have made DVDs even more popular) and plenty of other options that just didn't provide the same sort of competition a decade ago.

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  • icon
    eca (profile), 31 Dec 2008 @ 2:30am

    Larger theaters..

    But how do you get MORE people in a theater, and NOT ruin another premier OR ongoing SHOWS..

    tHE REAL QUESTION COMES WITH, why ARE PEOPLE WILLING TO WAIT FOR A dvd release, INSTED of going to a theater?

    Or even DEAL with online DL, and CRAP versions that dont sound very good, and have persons WALKING thru the vid..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 31 Dec 2008 @ 2:35am

    theirs no place like home...

    I used to go to the movies all the time but since the purchase of a good hometheater system and price of plasma TVs has gone down, all I have to do is turn out the lights and add microwave popcorn.

    Sure I have to wait till the movie comes out on dvd but thats a small price to pay. I perfer the comfort of my home where i can pause too do whatever without missing one part of the film, or not have to here the teens in the back making jokes during the movie.

    its about the experiance and i think that if many people are like me they get a better one at home at half the price.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    catherine palmer, 31 Dec 2008 @ 2:37am

    I suppose a lot of it comes down to what "improving the overall movie-going experience" means. I stopped going to the cinema years ago when they all became burger joints, milkshake bars, and kindergartens, in effect 'inviting' people to sit in the equivalent of someone else's lounge and listen to them slurp, chew, crunch popcorn, and have a chat about life in general. I just wait a few months and get the DVDs / Blu-rays, which also come with sub-titles, rewind, and endless viewing. I'd only consider downloading if I could have a physical file to view on my demand, not stream it based on what someone else dictates (the same goes for having CDs rather than compressed rip-off downloads, even without DRM).CLP.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    eca (profile), 31 Dec 2008 @ 4:03am


    DRINK a beer..
    Popcorn and candy and a drink WONT SET you back $20..
    TAKE a date and DOUBLE that...
    TAKe a family?? LAUGH!! there went $50 FAST..
    SAVe your $7-10 for the DVD..
    Watch it on the NEt and SEE if its WORTH it..
    Setup in your OWN HOME.. $500 computer, $200+ Worth of speakers(if you want BASS), and you can watch LOTS of movies, AS WELL as ONLINE movies..and Anime/cartoon, and PROGRAMS that will NEVEr see the light of DAY again..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Danny (profile), 31 Dec 2008 @ 9:00am

      Re: YEP..

      And in Chicago you can add:

      $20 for parking; $2-$4 for gasoline
      30-45 minutes travel time from living room to theater seat
      30 minutes travel time back home from final credits to living room.

      Two hour movie is really 2:15 when you factor in the front end commercials.

      My wife and I are going out less and watching DVD more. My wife still sees lots of movies; I watch many less than I used to - there are so many other entertainment options available.

      Just yesterday I read through the list of the top 20 grossing movies of 2008. I saw 3 of them in the theater (and one on an airplane.) Three more I will catch on TV sometime in the future. The rest don't interest me. My wife saw 5 of the 20 in a theater.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Twinrova, 31 Dec 2008 @ 4:09am


    "The industry is in the business of making money -- not in putting the largest number of people in seats"

    This statement is the best I've ever read regarding the movie industry. Lawsuits, high priced DVDs, and, as explained, high priced movie tickets is why I no longer "rush" to see the latest "blockbuster".

    Since the movie industry lost its focus long ago, consumers easily saw this and quit going to the theaters. I'm sure many of you remember that span in the late 90s, early 00s in which movies just sucked.

    Now the industry's whining about theater drops? What complete morons.

    Maybe, just maybe, if the industry focused on MAKING MOVIES instead of making profits, people would return to the theaters?

    Personal note: The last movie I saw in the theaters was "The Dark Knight". Not only a Batman fan, but a Nolan fan after his first direction of the new franchise. It was this combination which got me away from the couch of "on demand" movies, not prices.

    However, while watching the movie, I started to remember why I didn't like going. Uncomfortable seats, teenagers being... teenagers, the grossly unacceptable price of popcorn and soda, and, finally, that one crying baby (luckily it was before the movie).

    I'd be very hard pressed to go to the theater again, even if the Nolan/Goyer combination is set up for the third installment.

    Going to the movies is no longer an enjoyable experience and I don't believe there's anything the industry can do to change this.

    Oh, wait! Yes there is! Quit charging theaters to show the movie would be a damn good start.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Cral, 31 Dec 2008 @ 4:29am

    I enjoy going to the movies. However, cell phones are annoying. I'm trying to watch the movie, and these bright lights appear below the screen from people texting.

    Otherwise, I will gladly spend 7 dollars to see a movie, maybe even twice in a row.

    There is a local movie theater that has $2 seats and shows one movie at a time for two weeks that came out a while ago. It also does things like Rocky Horror showings and what not.

    If the cinemas can do something about cell phones, movies would be a lot more enjoyable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 31 Dec 2008 @ 4:46am


      Where do you go too see a movie at 7 dollars. the last movie i saw LOL was the same as Twinrova The dark night and that came out like what 3 years ago not too sure but put me back 20 dollars just to get a seat not including Coke and popcorn with Wife adds up to about 55 Dollars.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Ryan, 31 Dec 2008 @ 7:34am


      The cell phone problem has been taken care of recently built places. They have a cell phone signal block in all their theaters, the only way for anyone to use one is to actually leave the theater all together, so at least some of the newer ones I have gone to have been cell phone silent.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AJB, 31 Dec 2008 @ 4:49am

    why oh why

    An echo from the chorus... a bag of popcorn: $5, a drink: $6, a ticket for a matinee: $10 ... for just ONE person, I'm set back $21. Family of four? Probably $100. My mother used to go every week for 10 CENTS.

    And, what do we get for our money? Twenty years ago, they were actually producing original movies, not doing rehashes of old movies which dishonor the original. Take Bad News Bears... the original with Walter Matthau was funny, original and entertaining. The remake with Billy Bob whatshisname was vulgar, amateurish and certainly not something to take your children to. And then, they pay these 'stars' obscene amounts of money. You want to complain how much CEOs make? Look at these brainless twits reading lines from cue cards. Nobel laureates like Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise... Then there are the actors who use the $20-$30 MILLION they earn from each film to fight for their politically correct 'causes', almost exclusively liberal.

    No, the movie industry has left me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SteveD, 31 Dec 2008 @ 5:04am

    The advantage of cinema over home screenings is the social experience; cinemas should focus on making the experience better for groups.

    The local multiplex is far busier in the middle of the week when they run the orange-sponsored 2-for-1 ticket deal then any time over the weekend.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    f2point8, 31 Dec 2008 @ 5:49am


    Go to a cinema is such a pain in the ass. I need to drop anything else that may need my attention to be in the theater on time. Then wait in line if I want a snack that is over sized and over priced (therefore, low value). When I walk into the auditorium I choose seats and hope a get a good viewing spot, not too near other people. As I navigate the row my feet stick to the floor from all the spilled soda. People around me whisper (or just plain talk), chew, cough, and make un-needed comments. The seat is uncomfortable and the whole place smells like a subway car. I look back at the projector room where a beam of light passes through a dusty window on its way to that rip in the middle of the screen.
    No thanks. I'll stay home or go to a friends house. It's clean, convenient, and the price is right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Idiot Basher, 31 Dec 2008 @ 6:21am


    So the idiots don't think the fact that a movie date will now cost you in excess of $50 at some theaters.

    $13.50 each for tickets = $27
    Large Popcorn, Large drink and 2 boxes of candy = $18

    That's $45 for TWO people... and that's IF you share a popcorn and drink... otherwise it goes over $50.

    You can do alot of other things for $50. Heck, I can play EQ2 for 3 months... or WoW for 5 months... or buy a new Wii game... or buy 2 DVDs... go out to eat at a decent restaraunt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    usmcdvldg, 31 Dec 2008 @ 6:41am

    For the record

    This guy didn't go to jail. Quoted from the acual court document.

    For reasons that are unclear, the charges were later dismissed and Doe’s
    records were sealed. Doe claims, however, that the arrest and prosecution — and the
    publicity that accompanied them — caused lasting harm to his reputation, family life, and
    employment prospects.

    At least the cops/prosecutor/judge had some common freakin since.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    DS78, 31 Dec 2008 @ 7:10am

    Too Expensive

    Where I live the only theater in town shut down because they couldn't upgrade to the new digital formats, it was just too expensive. It was to the point if they didn't upgrade they wouldn't have any movies to show. We have to drive 30 miles to see a movie now! I'll just say that doesn't happen very often.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Dec 2008 @ 7:24am

    As everyone here notes, it comes down to value. Going to the theater to see a movie is a really poor value. The experience is not worth the price. I can wait for it to come out on Netflix, enjoy it in the comfort of my own home and save a LOT of money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Calcajun87, 31 Dec 2008 @ 9:45am

    Movie Hype

    Actually I will agree with the movies being overhyped. Oh, 20 years or so ago, Not very many movies were advertised on TV. The blockbusters did not need to be advertised, the big blockbusters generated an audience by their name or expected content and word of mouth and so on and did not need to do a TV add. All movies want to be the blockbuster and make the big bucks. I noticed as time went on more and more movies were advertised on TV and other media. After awhile it became true, almost every movie tries to hype itself up good or not and make a big noise about it and we have become numb to all this. When there is no difference in marketing one piece of junk from the real good and so called blockbuster, you become imune to the hype. Its like the saying how can it be a sale if its always on sale. If all movies become hyped to the max, then you become less enthused about any movie advertising and can't decipher the good from the bad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Emmet Gibney, 1 Jan 2009 @ 1:38pm

    I don't think the article was blaming the studios for overhyping their openings, they even say that a little exaggeration is probably good for them.

    What I drew from the article was that in spite of all the hype that is going on right now about these so called mega movies, the numbers are down from both an attendance perspective and a sales perspective, and even DVD sales are waning.

    This means that the average consumers' viewing habits are slowing shifting, so the studios need to find new ways to get money from their libraries, and the parent companies need to start looking at other areas to invest their capital because higher budgets don't produce the same ROI anymore.

    I'm sure that we'll see a lot more money being invested into online ventures as that's probably one of the few remaining growth areas for media right now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jan 2009 @ 3:10pm

    Actually you left out the biggest competitors to the movie industry.... the movie industry itself. The movie industry seems to forget that after an initial release a movie doesn't just simply disappear, and acts like nobody ever watches old movies again (while at the same time trying to find ways to push the life cycle of those very same movies). Even if we were all filthy rich and none of us ever had to work, with all the movies that have already been made there simply aren't enough hours in a day to watch them all (even without doing so on commercial television)and see new movies too (and that's assuming you want to see any movies one time only).

    So a trade off has to be made somewhere. Well let's see The Day the World Stood Still is playing at the theater. Hmmm sounds like an aliens are here to destroy us kinda movie, but Sci-Fi channel is playing Independence Day, and I got a DVD of War of the Worlds the other day I haven't watched yet. What to do?

    So why should I see a movie industry movie in a theater as opposed to a movie industry movie at home?

    First off I hate large crowds. I never have, and never will, see a movie on opening weekend. I always wait as least a week or three, minimum before I see any movie (and sometimes I wait too long and it's gone before I can see it). People, even when attempting to be silent, still make noise (shifting in there seat, breathing, scratching an itch, perhaps an involuntary cough or sneeze) and in large crowds those little sounds can increase exponentially. Movies make very little profit off mostly empty theaters however, but there is very little they can do to encourage/convince people like me to sit in nearly full houses.

    "Theater worthy" - Is it worth my time (and money, but that's my next point) to see on a big screen. For example, I consider American Pie to be on my "must see" list, but I see no significant reason that see such a movie (generally comedies, dramas, and the ilk) need to be seen on the big screen. Big screen viewing for me is for mostly action movies (Lord of the Rings, The Dark Knight, Iron Man). Part of that has to do with with the next point: cost.

    Yeah. A matinee movie is going to cost me $4.50 ($7 to catch it in the evening). Snacks? $3 for a small bag of popcorn and $3.50 for a small cup of watered down syrup the try to claim is soda? Uh, no thanks I'll smuggle in a bag of twizlers and a 24 ounce soda. The only real advantage I see to paying that much for most movies is the "first" factor (which will never happen due to the aforementioned dislike of crowds), all while running the risk of the next point: the "suckage" factor.

    Yeah some people know how to make good movies, but as a whole the studios don't know how to make movies for shit. A good example is "The Movie That Shall Remain Nameless" (otherwise known as Batman and Robin), one of only three non-B rates movies (and I've sat all the way through some pretty weak B movies) I've turned off about half way through. If I'd been in this movie I'd have it scrubbed from my resume, and sued to have my name removed from the credits. Had I actually paid good money for this, and caught it for the first time on commercial TV, I'd have been rather upset.

    When even just competing with itself, there is little reason to get me to go to a movie theater to see most movies. Of all the 2009 releases I've seen coming so far, the only one I can say for certain I'll see on the big screen is Wolverine. Otherwise I'll spend time catching up on other movies I've yet to see like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Chronicles of Riddick. Hellboy and Hellboy II, heck I hear there's a new Tron movies in the works and I've never actually seen more than a few snippets of the first one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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