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MPAA Report Says Non-White Audiences are Growing, While Women Drive Blockbusters

The North American box office is steady as audiences get younger and more diverse, but international growth has slowed.

“The Muppet Movie”

Breaking a tradition that goes back to the Jack Valenti era, MPAA Chairman Christopher Dodd will not attend the upcoming CinemaCon exhibitors’ convention, citing personal commitments. That means John Fithian, president and CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners, will have to make the state of the industry speech solo on Tuesday at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. However, he and Dodd spoke with press on Wednesday via conference call to announce the MPAA’s early release of their annual Theatrical Market Statistics report for 2016.

We knew that box office was virtually flat in 2016: Global box office returns reached $38.6 billion, up just 1 percent from 2015, while in North America, receipts rose by 2 percent to $11.4 billion. However, MPAA 2016 statistics reveal some seismic changes. It supports an increased focus on the domestic market and movies that appeal to women and minorities, which are growing while white audiences decline.

Let’s do the 2016 numbers.

"The Jungle Book"

“The Jungle Book”


1. International growth has slowed dramatically.

After years of international growth and theater building, especially for China, the MPAA’s 2016 numbers (calculated in dollars) were down, from $27.3 billion to $27.2 billion. While China is still the world’s second-biggest market ($6.6 billion), the world’s largest country slowed its pace dramatically to grow just 4 percent (in local currency), while Japan and India grew by 27 percent and 28 percent (in dollars) respectively, coming in second and third among international markets. The Asia Pacific region marks the world’s biggest market at $14.4 billion, while Latin America dropped by 18 percent to $2.8 billion. Said Fithian of the general downturn: “We believe it’s purely based on currency issues.”

A strong dollar, however, means that in accurate currency terms the top 15 markets (including Mexico and Brazil) saw actual growth, except for Germany, per the MPAA.

2. White moviegoers declined; ethnic audiences grew.

In a dramatic turn for the North American theater attendance, among frequent moviegoers the number of Caucasians declined while Asian/Other and African-American audiences went up. The Asian/Other demo is now the fastest-growing group of frequent moviegoers (5.6 million), while frequent moviegoers between 25-39 are the largest (8 million), and 18- 24 was the fastest-growing age demo (7.2 million), taking in an average of 6.5 movies during the year.

Finding Dory

“Finding Dory”

3. Women and Ethnic Audiences Built the Year’s Biggest Blockbusters

Disney/Pixar’s “Finding Dory” attracted the largest female audience (55 percent), followed by Disney’s live-action remake “The Jungle Book” (52 percent) and Universal/Illumination’s “The Secret Life of Pets” (54 percent). Three Disney movies nabbed the most ethnically diverse audiences: “The Jungle Book,” “Finding Dory,” and Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War.”

4. No change in admissions, ticket prices, screen numbers, or gender split

The trend in flat admissions continued, with 1.32 billion tickets sold. The average ticket price went up to $8.65, from $8.43. The overall screen count in North America remained much the same, at 43,531. As before, women attendees skewed slightly higher than men (the population is 51 percent to 49 percent) while tickets sold were split 50/50 between the genders.

5. The digital revolution is complete

Fully 95% of the world’s screens are now digital, up 2 percent, with 98% penetration in North America.

6. Asia likes 3D better than North America

3D screens grew worldwide by 17 percent and mark 56 percent of all digital screens. In North America, 39 percent of digital screens are 3D, while in the Asia Pacific region they comprise 78 percent. Box office from 3D was down 8 percent to 14 percent of the North American total. The most likely demo to attend 3D movies in North America: children.

7. Independents Are Making More Movies, the Studios Less

In 2016, the total number of films increased overall by 1 percent, while the output of the six MPAA member studios — Disney, Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, and Sony — declined by 5 percent to 139 films. Non-member independents such as Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions/CBS Films, STX, Open Road, Weinstein, IFC, Magnolia, and A24 released 579 films domestically, up 3 percent from 2015. With a total of 718 releases last year, that marks an 18 percent increase from a decade ago.

We should expect more of the same in 2017: The studios produced another 99 films in 2016 that have yet to be released — 13 percent fewer than 2015. For independent productions, the 2016 number was 411, up 6 percent from 2015. (Films budgeted under $1 million were not considered in the report.)

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