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When’s the last time you went to the movies? No, not the ones streamed right to your living room. I’m talking about the popcorn-stuck-to-the-bottom-of-your-shoes type of movies. You know, the kind that you view in an actual theater.
If it’s been a while, you’re not alone. Movie-going, at least in North America, hasn’t exactly been on an explosive growth path in recent years. Even as the domestic box office passed the $11 billion mark for the first time in 2015, an increase of 8% from the year before, the number of tickets sold was up just 3.9%—the first annual increase since 2012. What’s more, about 31% of the population in North America didn’t even step foot in a theater last year, and an additional 10% saw just one flick.
Those numbers, courtesy of a new report from the Motion Picture Association of America, illustrate a disruptive and unstoppable trend in the entertainment business: Unlike theater attendance, the viewing options in consumers’ living rooms are exploding.
That’s amply evident in my own living room, where my Roku box provides a virtually endless assortment of quality content from the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. The trend was also evident this week in Las Vegas, where I attended the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) convention—and won $80 at a blackjack table. Nearly every person I spoke to, from the CEO of IMAX to the head of NATO, championed the need to “get people off the couch.” And they especially championed the need to lure millennials to the theater—apparently, this demographic is particularly fond of their couches.
There are some signs of hope. Deadpool, dubbed the “ultimate superhero movie for millennials,” smashed box office records when it opened in February. The satirical movie, which The New York Times called the “scuzziest of this recent rash of comic-book adaptations,” has already grossed more than $350 million domestically. Then, of course, there is Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which awakened many to the wonders of the shared movie-going experience and helped make 2015 a killer year when it came to box office revenue. The hotly-anticipated flick has grossed nearly $936 million domestically to date, and more than $2 billion worldwide.
These hit movies aside, the larger trend is not going away. And I’m not convinced the theater industry has an answer.
Most of the innovations I saw at the NATO confab were iterative—think seats that recline and shake, and vending machines that serve booze. Yes, screen technology has advanced. And yes, there are some movies I’ll always prefer to see in the theater. But the options in my living room are increasingly attractive. And most of the people attending and presenting at this week’s conference don’t want to touch real disruption—think Napster founder Sean Parker’s new movie-streaming venture, The Screening Room—with a 10-foot pole.
Instead, here is the industry’s take on the changes afoot, at least according to the Motion Picture Association of America’s CEO Senator Chris Dodd, who addressed the audience Tuesday morning: “Despite the noisy suggestions otherwise, the cinema provides a unique and powerful experience that just cannot be truly re-created elsewhere.”
That may be right, but my couch is pretty comfy.