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Movie attendance fell 6% in 2017. Meanwhile, ticket prices hit a record

Movie attendance fell 6% in 2017. Meanwhile, ticket prices hit a record
Shown is a scene from "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets," one of the biggest flops of 2017. (STX Entertainment)

Movie attendance in the United States and Canada fell even more than expected in 2017, as the average ticket price hit a record high, according to new data from the National Assn. of Theatre Owners.

The number of tickets sold was 1.24 billion, down 6% from 2016, the trade group said Wednesday. That’s steeper than the 4% decline studio executives projected in December, and marks a 22-year low for the industry.

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The association blamed the downturn on a historically weak summer movie season mired by multiple high-profile sequels and blockbusters that failed to entice moviegoers.

As sales shrank, moviegoing continued to get more expensive. The average ticket price hit a new high of $8.97, up 3.7% from 2016, according to the association, which calculates prices by dividing box office revenues by the number of tickets sold as reported by cinema owners.

That number will seem low to moviegoers in New York and Los Angeles, who pay much more than the national average, which includes lower-priced matinees, children’s tickets and senior discounts.

In the final three months of the year, the average ticket price was $9.18, representing a 4% surge from the same period of time in 2016.

The jump in prices late in the year reflected a large number of films in 3-D and large-format screens such as Imax, the association said. Fourth-quarter prices were also boosted by a preponderance of awards contenders, which tend to sell fewer children’s tickets and are concentrated in major cities with more expensive multiplexes.

Higher ticket prices helped to offset the attendance declines. Box office revenue was $11.09 billion in 2017, marking a 2.5% slide from a year earlier.

However, the rising cost of going to the movies has made consumers more selective about what movies they’re willing to go see, and increasingly inclined to consult social media and Rotten Tomatoes to decide what’s worth their time and money. The movie theater industry is also facing long-term challenges, especially growing competition from Netflix and other streaming services.

Theaters have been grappling with the challenges by investing in recliner seating and new amenities such as gourmet food and alcohol.

Theater admissions reached a peak in 2002, the year of Sony’s first “Spider-Man” movie and “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.” Attendance hit 1.57 billion that year.

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