Colin Vanden Berg

Assoc. Arts & Culture Editor

2017 marked the lowest sales numbers for movie tickets since 1992, according to Entertainment Weekly (EW). EW writer David CanfIeld offers several theories as to 2017’s dip in theater visits, many of which are supported my market research, as well as Millersville University Communication and Theatre professor Dr. Stacy Irwin and former communication professor Dr. Bill Dorman.

A close assessment of Box Office Mojo’s ticket sale calculations—using data on yearly ticket prices from NATO’s website—confirms that domestic box office totals began to steadily climb after 1992, and despite some fluctuations year-to-year, no year sold as few as $1.2 billion tickets until 2017. Perhaps stared by 1993s’s “Jurassic Park,” Hollywood then began an ongoing trend of producing large-budget summer blockbusters as a way to entice growing numbers of people to the cinema. Canfield posits that by 2017, moviegoers have become weary of this theater strategy due to “[reliance] on retreads and reboots, [most of which] aren’t being well received,”—contributing to 2017 ticket sales numbers only slightly lower than 2016’s 13.1 billion sales numbers, but lower than any number since 1992.

According to Dr. Dorman, blockbusters draw the most crowds because “content reigns supreme,” and “the top quality productions draw audiences out of their homes.” In that statement, Dorman is also referring to Canfield’s other theory, which is the rise in home theater options that provide more convenient —and comparably entertaining—experiences to that of the movie theater. Dorman described this phenomenon as “the competition for eyes.”

A final possible explanation for dropping ticket sales is the influence of the millennial generation, a group which Dorman describes as the primary audience for movie theaters. Market research by the Motion Picture Association of Arts and Sciences shows that in 2016, “18-24-year-olds went to the movies an average of 6.5 times over the year, up 0.6 from 2015. . .the largest increase of any age group.” Such research is not available for 2017, but Dr. Dorman’s assessment, bolstered by Dr. Irwin’s characterization of moviegoers as being “younger,” and “used to subscription services such as Netflix,” confirms millennials as the most robust movie-going demographic.

As Dorman explains, “the movie industry will have to alter its business model to accommodate today’s 20-something generation—a cohort that has grown up manipulating media more than any previous generation…they remain the ‘bread and butter’ group for blockbusters.”

The cinema’s target demographics’ familiarity with all forms of media consumption contributes to what Dr. Dorman calls “the competition for eyes,” which “continues to splinter and specialize the audience.” Dorman describes “a three-cornered model of technology, content, and finance.” These three facets are co-dependent, says Dorman. “As one of these element experiences change—be it innovation or deterioration—the other two must change/adapt. “As one of these element experiences… [Innovation or deterioration,] the other two must change/adapt.”

Dr. Irwin agrees with Dr. Dorman that significant changes are necessary in the movie distribution arena. “The consumer,” Irwin says, “is going to continue to see some movement between the ways content is provided on different [platforms,] and experimentation of economic models for purchasing that [content,] for some time to come.”