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Digital Entertainment Is More than Triple the Global Box Office, Says MPA’s Annual Report

The Motion Picture Association's annual THEME report reflects a recovering entertainment market that is utterly dominated by streaming and VOD.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

“Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

The Motion Picture Association’s 2021 Theatrical and Home Entertainment Market Environment report reflects a recovering entertainment market utterly dominated by streaming and VOD. Combined global theatrical and home entertainment revenue represented $99.7 billion in 2021. In 2020 that number was $80.8 billion; in 2019, $101 billion.

The more impressive 2021 figure, however, is $71.9 billion came from digital and discs — a category that includes VOD and streaming across all major studios and Netflix. In 2020, when theaters experienced global shutdowns, digital represented $61.8 billion; in 2019, that figure was $58.8 billion.

The digital share was slightly lower in 2021, 72 percent vs. 76 percent in 2020. In pre-Covid 2019, streaming represented $58.8 billion, or 46 percent. Global theatrical revenue increased to $21.3 billion in 2021, a marked improvement against the $12 billion of 2020.

These figures include all returns from theaters and home viewing via digital and discs; excluded are pay TV subscriptions, such as cable.

In his introductory comments, MPA chairman and CEO Charles E. Rivkin, MPA Chairman and CEO noted the industry’s uneven recovery, with theatrical numbers reflecting the audience’s increased reliance on home alternatives.

That reality is reflected in the report itself. Back in 2017 the MPA (then known as the Motion Picture Association of America) included digital figures the annual Theatrical Market Statistics report, but focused on the 2016 global revenues of theaters. The 2018 report on the 2017 calendar year expanded to become the THEME report to represent an increased focus on digital revenues.

In the U.S., the combined figure for theatrical and home entertainment in 2021 was $36.8 billion, up 14 percent from pandemic-challenged 2020, but also slightly ahead of $36.1 billion in 2019. That reflected an increase in streaming as well as a 60 percent drop from 2019 domestic box office. The U.S. generated $4 billion in box office, representing only 12 percent of the year’s take.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” Sandman (Thomas Haden Church)

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

That figure can’t convey the major role played by theatrical before the films move downstream. In the report, Rivkin noted recent strong openings for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “The Batman” and acknowledged that they “show the value of big theatrical openings even during a pandemic.”

Among the myriad statistics reported:

  • China in 2021 was the #1 market theatrically, with $7.3 billion, about 50 percent better than the $4.5 billion represented by #2, the U.S./Canada.
  • In the U.S./Canada, 47 percent of the population attended at least one movie in a theater. That’s down from 76 percent in pre-Covid 2019.
  • A core audience disproportionately contributes to box office totals: While only 3 percent of the U.S./Canadian population went out to a movie at least once a month, they provided 12 percent of the take.
  • The 12-17 age group has the highest per-capita attendance and Latino audiences continue to rank highest among ethnic groups.
  • Cable remains strong. With Pay TV added, global value comes to a record $328.2 billion. Monthly fees for cable are higher than streaming and it remains a basic provider for at-home viewing.
  • Physical purchases such as Blu-Rays and DVDs provided about two thirds of the domestic theatrical total. In its heyday, these revenues often eclipsed theatrical.
  • Online streaming subscriptions totaled 1.3 billion worldwide in 2021, up 14 percent. Cable subscriptions dropped only 1 percent, suggesting the “cut the cord” movement is much smaller than thought.
  • The report confirms that men returned more readily to domestic theaters with 59 percent of tickets sold. Pre-Covid, there was a nearly even gender split.
  • Screen count remains strong: Their number dropped just 1.5 percent compared to 2019.

There is much more to unpack from the report, including new information about top home-viewed releases with rankings as well as some audience estimates.

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