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 Association of Theatre Owners.
The number of tickets sold was 1.24 billion, down 6 percent from 2016, the trade group said today. That’s steeper than the 4 percent decline studio executives projected in December, and marks a 22-year low for the industry.
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 percent 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 fourth quarter of 2017, the average ticket price was $9.18, a 4 percent increase from the comparable quarter 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, down 2.5 percent from a year earlier.
However, the rising cost of going to the movies has made consumers more selective about what 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 trying to meet the challenges by including recliner seating and 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 was 1.57 billion that year.