Global movie ticket sales climb

An audience in Beijing attends a promotional event for the movie ''Iron Man 3.'' That movie was one of the many that did well in the global market.
(AFP / Getty Images)

Propelled by a string of hit family movies, global movie ticket sales set a record last year, climbing to $35.9 billion in box office revenue, according to a new report.

International markets accounted for $25 billion in ticket sales last year, up 5% from 2012 and 33% from just five years ago.

Hollywood’s growing success overseas was one of the principal findings in the annual state-of-industry report released Tuesday at the annual CinemaCon trade show in Las Vegas, which drew 900 delegates from 69 countries.


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“It was an incredible, fantastic 2013,” Chris Dodd, chairman of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, told hundreds of studio executives and theater owners gathered at Caesars Palace.

Movie ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada hit $10.9 billion, virtually flat from a year ago. Admissions fell 1% to 1.34 billion, down from 1.5 billion in 2004, continuing a long-term stagnation in domestic theatrical attendance.

Underscoring the global theme of this year’s event, an introductory cinema reel highlighted movies that had the highest international ticket sales last year, such as “Gravity,” “Iron Man 3" and “Frozen.”

That was a departure from previous CinemaCon events that singled out movies that had the highest domestic grosses.

During his keynote address, Dodd pointed to the rapid growth in China, which has been rapidly building its own theater industry and last year became the first international market to exceed $3 billion in ticket sales. China, Japan, Britain, France and India were the top-ranked international box office markets.

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With China adding an average of 13 theater screens a day, that growth is expected to continue, although quotas on foreign movies still limit how much money studios can make from films released in the world’s most populous country.

Former U.S. Sen. Dodd, making his fourth appearance at the event, also described rising theater business in emerging markets such as Cambodia and Pakistan.

“There’s a very clear, growing global demand and a growing global audience for our content,” Dodd said in his address. “That’s new markets, obviously, for our films, and new audiences for all of us.”

Last year’s movies not only did well overseas but also drew high levels of Latino moviegoers, and younger audiences in the U.S., according to the Theatrical Market Statistics report prepared by the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the trade group for the major studios.

Latino moviegoers accounted for 32% of frequent moviegoers — those who attend movies more than once a month — even though, at an estimated 12 million, they represent only 17% of the population.

The share of tickets sold to children under 11 was at its highest point since 2009, reflecting the popularity of family movies such as Universal’s animated hit “Despicable Me 2" and Disney’s Academy Award-winning blockbuster “Frozen.” The share of tickets sold to baby boomers between 50 and 59 years of age was at an all-time high in 2013.

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Dodd also urged theater owners to explore news of ways of reaching out to young, tech-savvy consumers, who represent the bulk of frequent moviegoers. About three-quarters of them own at least four types of technology products, the report found.

In his remarks, John Fithian, president of the National Theatre Owners Assn., which organizes the CinemaCon trade show, praised his colleagues for offering a more diverse mix of movies for all age groups and races last year.

Still, he said, the industry could do a better job of spreading out its movies throughout the year.

“We had virtually nothing for families in the first quarter of 2013,” Fithian said. “And then we had too many family movies packed into the summertime, with some cannibalization.”

Fithian acknowledged that significant technological upgrades to theaters have resulted in “marginal increases” in ticket prices. The average ticket price nationwide (including matinees) was $8.13 last year, up from $7.96 in 2012.

But Fithian said the price of a movie ticket was still a bargain compared with other forms of entertainment and was still less expensive than 40 years ago, adjusting for inflation.

Still, Fithian told reporters that theater owners are discussing whether to offer discounted tickets on a certain day of the week, as is the practice in Canada and in some Latin American countries. He said exhibitors would test the idea in an undisclosed state later this year.