We’ve all seen them. The articles proclaiming that cinema is dying. No one is going to the movies anymore, everyone is staying home and binge watching Disney+, Netflix, Amazon, HBO Max, Peacock, and the other 641 streaming channels.
But is cinema really dying? Really? Granted, 2019 was not a banner year for North American movie-going, very few dispute that fact. Attendance fell 8%, continuing a decade-long trend. Stock prices for the three major North American circuits also fell. Now most in the industry are looking at another possible down year in 2020, perhaps by as much as 5-6% from a box office standpoint.
Not exactly the stuff of delirious and unrestrained optimism, is it? However if you dig deeper into the numbers and trends you’ll see there is some hope for the movie business in its fight to ward off the battalion of doomsayers.
To answer the above question, no, cinema is not dying. But it certainly is evolving, as every industry has to as it withstands challenges and seeks new opportunities in its battle to preserve its consumer base which now has a vast array of options from which to choose for their entertainment attention.
Media outlets who are strictly focused on exhibitors’ stock prices often miss the real story and cultivate a theatrical chicken-and-the-egg scenario. Articles proclaiming the death of cinema revolve around depressed stock prices while depressed stock prices are often the result of a plethora of business articles trumpeting, you guessed it, the death of cinema. It’s those who look beyond the clickbait headlines who’ll see the real story.
One of the most knowledgeable industry insiders is Paul Dergarabedian, Senior Media Analyst for Comscore and his analysis of the movie industry in 2020 echoes the above sentiments. “It would be naive to think that the movie industry does not face challenges in 2020,” Mr. Dergarabedian states, “but this is true for any given box office year.” Discussing the uniquely uncertain and divergent nature of the movie business he adds, “the only guarantee is that the inherently cyclical—and yes, unpredictable—nature of the business will continue in 2021, 2022 and beyond. Thus, any sweeping pronouncements about the potential for a dismal 2020 in movie theaters made this early in the year should be tempered with the understanding that there are many variables in the mix and many surprises yet to come.”
To further the point, it’s worth noting that while 2019 box office was down 4.2% in North America, it was up 7.2% in 2018, down 2.6% in 2017 and, that’s right, up 2.7% in 2016. The best way to classify box office revenue trends over the last 20 years is by using the phrase, “consistently inconsistent”.
So to recap, yes, it does appear on paper at least that 2020 might be another down year at the box office. But let’s look at seven reasons to be optimistic about the film business in the coming year and, perhaps more importantly, in the long term.
Attendance Isn’t As Bad As It’s Being Made Out to Be
Those looking to drive a wooden stake into cinema love to trot out attendance figures which show that movie-going in North America has fallen from 1.58 billion in 2002 to 1.24 billion in 2019. What they fail to mention is that 1.24 billion is actually higher than years like 1995 (1.22 billion) and 1980 (1.02 billion). The drop in attendance in the last 12 years is only a cumulative 11%. Not bad for an industry under siege from deep pocketed conglomerates like Netflix, Amazon and Apple, and a media more interested in provocative headlines than in-depth analyses. To put it in perspective, automobile sales in the U.S. has fallen from 7.8 million in 2007 to 4.7 million in 2019. That 12 year period shows a nearly 40% decline, yet few are suggesting that car buying is a “dead” endeavor…