LOS ANGELES (MainStreet) -- In a few weeks, the Oscars will celebrate the best movie night America had to offer in 2011. Just what "movie night" means to average Americans is still up for debate.
In the past decade, where consumers spend their movie nights has become just as important to the film industry as what they're watching. According to BoxOfficeMojo and Rentrak data, movie ticket purchases slipped 4.2%, from 1.34 billion in 2010 to 1.283 billion last year. That's well off the record 1.575 billion tickets sold in 2002 and marks the seventh year-over-year decline in tickets sales in the past 10 years. Though box office receipts topped $10 billion for the third consecutive year in 2011, they declined for the second straight year from 2009's Avatar-driven record of $10.595 billion. This despite big-budget successes such as Toy Story 3, the final installments of the Harry Potter series, the Twilight saga and scores of superhero films.
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"It's been something that's been happening for quite a few years, and you see it in the greater percentage of mainstream Hollywood output that is for younger people," says John Farr, film critic for Huffington Post and founder of home media review site Best Movies By Farr. "We don't see as many human-scale dramas aimed at adults, and for very good reason: Adults don't go to the movies as much."
So what's happening? Moviegoers have a lot of other, more convenient options at their disposal than in 2002. Despite infuriating customers by splitting DVD and streaming plans, Netflix jumped from 19.5 million customers in 2010 to 24.4 million in 2011. Of those, 21.7 million subscribe to its streaming service. This company, mind you, has allowed content partners such as Time Warner and Sony to withhold "new" releases for months at a time just to build its streaming library, yet still convinces folks to stay in their warm, uncrowded living rooms and wait for content to come right to their HDTV.
Not to be outdone, NBCUniveral, Fox Entertainment and Disney-ABC's subscription streaming joint venture Hulu Plus increased its subscriber base 60% last year and now has upward of 1.5 million people watching its television and film content. Meanwhile, the 10 million people that Bloomberg analysts say have subscribed to Amazon's Prime premium shipping package also have access to thousands of streaming films.
Granted, none of those services provide first-run films (or, more accurately, first-run films anyone's jonesing to see), but do they have to? Hulu Plus and Netflix each charge $8 a month for their streaming services, while Amazon Prime's $79 annual fee comes to roughly $6.58 a month. The average cost of a movie ticket, according to the National Association of Theater Owners, jumped from $5.80 in 2002 to around $8 last year. The cost of streaming doesn't jump to $13 if you happen to live in major city, either.
"Fifteen years ago, if you wanted to rent a movie you would have said 'Gee, John, we were going to watch a movie but you didn't go to get it at Blockbuster," Farr says. "Today you can order the DVD through Netflix or stream something, so there's that convenience and it makes the home viewing of movies a lot more attractive."