Commentary

Let's Be Honest, Content Drives Movie Ticket Sales

The reports of the death of the movies have been greatly exaggerated. The industry loves to cry that the end is near, from the dawn of TV to the current age of streaming. Americans still spend over $11 billion at movie theaters annually, and today’s Millennial and Gen Z audiences, like generations before them, say that they are passionate about movies and moviegoing.  

The human need for communal experiences still resonates, despite technology. Movies provide a place to come together and experience something outside of everyday life, enhanced with better seating, food and drink, and sound and visual technology. 

But one universal truth remains — when it comes to entertainment, content is still king. Fortunately, there has been a creative resurgence of films that are driving theater audiences. Look at the opening weekend numbers of blockbusters over the last year, such as Get Out, Black Panther, and Wonder Woman. If the movies were dying, Black Panther wouldn’t have made $665.4 million domestically and just passed Titanic to become the third-highest grossing film in North American history. 

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Culturally important (and immensely entertaining) films like Black Panther and Wonder Woman spark a shift back to cinema as a social experience. Moviegoers are dressing up in costume, reciting lines excitedly. These instances mark a return to what great pastimes are about — a shared experience that promotes conversations which start long before, and continue long after, the act of going to the movie itself. 

Hollywood needs to continue investing in exciting and diverse films like these if they want to fill seats. What the films above have shown, is that if there’s content that goes beyond the generic, it will bring in broader audiences. Studies such as the Hollywood Diversity Report 2018 demonstrate that the audience interest is there. This is where streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime have a head start, releasing serial content that appeals to diverse audiences like Transparent, Orange Is the New Black, The Handmaid’s Tale and even original films like Mudbound. But what the other platforms lack is the visceral thrill of being thrown head first into a moment they can experience with others, outside of their personal devices. 

The streaming models were created out of convenience, just as the movie rental kiosks of yesteryear were. But therein lies the truth about the moviegoing model — it’s not a convenience, it’s a premier destination. It was purposely designed for audiences to plan, arrive, sit down, and experience the first-run of a movie that was years in the making. The first time an audience sees the completed version of a film, it should be immersive. Watching the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War or Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom on the big screen should feel like experiencing a live concert — you could watch it streaming on your phone, but you’d be missing out on the real thing.  

The individualistic experience will continue to have its place in the entertainment ecosystem, as it has from the days of Blockbuster and into Netflix and Amazon Prime’s tomorrow; it doesn’t need to be an “either/or” of enjoying content in a theater vs. at home, but rather an “and.” They are different experiences.

As long as film studios continue to produce movies with diverse and original storytelling, incredible visual effects and strong production values, there will always be audiences who want to invest in the time to head out to the movie theater to see them.

1 comment about "Let's Be Honest, Content Drives Movie Ticket Sales".
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  1. Ron Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, April 20, 2018 at 5:35 p.m.

    Scott is absolutely right about the importance of content. But the theaters may be contributing to the problem of declining attendance in a couple of ways. First, the  price of tickets and concessions has been escalating and creating a combined cost that is expensive, especially for the younger audience that the studios seem to be targeting with much of the content. 

    Second, the new recliner seat configuration creates problems. Most people don't want to sit in the first two rows, which means they have the hassle (and extra cost) of reserving a seat online in advance. 

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