Chattanooga Now Mind Coffee: Result of ticket prices vs. attendance is simple math

Chattanooga Now Mind Coffee: Result of ticket prices vs. attendance is simple math

February 7th, 2018 by Staff Report in Chattnow Outabout

Shawn Ryan

Shawn Ryan

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

So the average ticket price for movies rose to $9.18 in 2017, a record high.

And attendance in 2017 went down 6 percent.

I'm not a mathematician, but there seems to be a hint of a correlation here. Higher prices, lower attendance. Not exactly an equation for quantum mechanics.

In one way it's understandable. Movie chains like Regal and AMC make little off the first few weeks of a movie's release which, conversely, is when most of the money is made (not including later contracts for cable, network TV and DVD sales). Contracts with film companies are constructed in such a way that, in the first weeks of release, 90 percent or more of the money from ticket sales goes back to the film studio. The percentage begins to slide the longer a film stays in the theater, with the movie chain getting more as the weeks wind on.

But let's be serious, how long does even a huge hit stay in theaters? Decades ago, a film like "The Sound of Music" in the 1960s or "Star Wars" in the 1970s might stay onscreen for months, giving the movie theater a chance to make some serious cash. Even as late as the 1990s, "Titanic" was in the theaters from Dec. 17, 1997, to Sept. 27, 1998, or 41 weeks.

These days? A month to six weeks is a lifetime, and that doesn't give the movie chain a lot of time to make money. Which is why some of the lesser-known, more-art-theater, less-CGI films don't make it to Chattanooga. They simply aren't profitable.

It also explains why that bag of movie popcorn is $8. Movie chains have to make money somewhere beyond ticket sales, so that $8 bag of popcorn costs about 80 cents to make, according to published estimates. The same profit margin is about the same for all other snacks at the theater.

But there is some respite this time of year, at least for a few films that may have passed through the theaters in a flurry of disinterest. With the Academy Awards coming up, smaller films get another chance since an Oscar nod generates interest. After the Best Picture nominees were announced last week, several films that were out of the theaters for a while returned to local screens with the chance to make more money.

The attempt has worked in the past. Last year, by the time the Oscar nominations were announced, eventual Best Picture winner "Moonlight" had earned $15.8 million. The week after it was nominated, it jumped 151 percent in earnings, from $593,851 to $1.5 million. It eventually earned about $28 million on a $4 million budget.

It won't make the price of popcorn go down, but it's a start.

Contact Shawn Ryan at mshawnryan@gmail.com.

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