Photograph by Ariel Skelley—Getty Images/Blend Images

People say high ticket prices are the top reason they stay away from movie theaters.

By Tom Huddleston, Jr.
January 14, 2015

Hollywood had a dismal year at the box-office in 2014, but a rebound could very well be in the script for 2015 if moviegoers aren’t too turned off by high ticket prices.

Bloated ticket prices are the main reason why people decide against catching a show at their local movie theater, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study released Wednesday. More than half of the 1,000 consumers surveyed cited expensive tickets as one of their main reasons for not going to the movies more often.

The average ticket price last year was $8.12, which was down one cent from the previous year but still a 23-cent bump over 2010, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Of course, in many cities, a ticket can cost more than $12 if you factor in the fees for online reservations.

Despite the cost, most people surveyed said they saw as many movies as usual in 2014 or actually saw more films. Only a quarter of the survey’s respondents said they actually saw fewer movies in a theater in 2014 than they had the previous year.

More than 40% of regular moviegoers — people who see seven or more per year — actually saw more movies last year, as did nearly 40% of the core audience of 18- to 34-year olds. The fact that the movie industry’s main younger audience remained relatively loyal last year is encouraging, said Joe Atkinson, a PricewaterhouseCoopers partner who worked on the study.

Atkinson thinks Hollywood could see a better box-office haul this year than in 2014, when the movie industry grossed about 5% less year-over-year. About 80% of respondents asked in the fall had plans to see at least one film during the fourth quarter of 2014, according to the survey — a promising percentage that Atkinson said he thinks bodes well for 2015.

“So long as the operators and the studios can continue to create an environment at the movie theater that keeps people coming back . . . I think they’re going to continue to have strong box-office results,” he said.

But absent lower ticket prices, what would entice more people to visit theaters? Better films. More than 40% of the survey’s respondents blamed unappealing films for driving them away.

“Good movies bring great audiences,” said Atkinson, who adds that the biggest draws by genre tend to be action films, such as major summer blockbusters and comedies.

A lack of successful blockbusters was largely responsible for the subpar summer box-office numbers that torpedoed 2014’s full-year ticket sales. One reason why other analysts are predicting improved ticket sales in 2015 is the long list of action-packed blockbusters slated for release this year. For example, a sequel to Marvel’s The Avengers will be released this spring while a reboot of the Star Wars series is expected in December.

The report offered a few ideas for how theater owners could fight back against the perception that their tickets are too expensive. One way would be to cut the price of tickets just before a movie starts, almost like flying stand-by. More than half of the survey’s respondents were in favor of “last-minute cheap seats.”

The survey also showed that a large chunk of customers would be willing to pay extra to watch new movies in their homes via video-on-demand or streaming at the same time they are first released in theaters. More than 80% of respondents said they would be willing to pay as much as $20 above the price of a movie ticket in order to watch a new film in their own home as soon as it is released in theaters.

Movie studios have struggled over the financial calculation of whether to release new films on-demand instead of giving them wide theatrical releases. Sony Pictures Entertainment recently scored some modest success with the controversial comedy The Interview, which was released in select theaters as well as through multiple online streaming options after hackers tried to force the studio to cancel the film.

Additionally, the report dispelled the idea that people watching films streamed on Netflix and Hulu is keeping them from the theaters. Only 13% of the survey’s respondents cited the entertainment value found in online content and streaming television as a primary reason for not making more trips to the theater. Less than a quarter of those surveyed said they would rather wait for a movie to eventually become available on demand.

Still, Atkinson believes that consumers simply want to have every option available to them, whether that is a trip to the movie theater at a reasonable price or the ability to stream new films at home.

“People want to do both,” Atkinson said.

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