The level climbed 9% from 2009 while the booming Chinese market fuelled a 13% climb in international ticket sales to a $21.2bn high, according to the Motion Picture Association Of America’s (MPAA) annual Theatrical Market Statistics Report.

The report revealed a 67-33 split in favour of international. North American box office remained roughly on par with 2009’s $10.6bn record haul and owed approximately one-fifth of that result to 3D, which generated $2.2bn in ticket sales, roughly double the 2009 amount. Theatrical admissions fell 5% to the 2008 level of 1.34bn and the total number of all films (from production companies with or without affiliation to the MPAA) entering production in 2010 dropped 7%.

The number of screens has remained constant over the past five years at around 150,000 worldwide, although digital expansion is evident. Nearly 25% of all screens are now digitised and more than 60% of those are 3D-capable. In 2010, every region in the world more than doubled its digital screen count for an overall increase of 122%.

There were 39,547 screens in the US in 2010, up from 39,233 in 2009. Of this number 23,773 are analogue compared to 31,815 in 2009, while 7,937 are digital non-3D (4,149 in 2009) and 7,837 are digital 3D (3,269 in 2009).

Audiences in the US and Canada visited a cinema on average six times, down from 6.5 in 2009. The report said the number of frequent cinemagoers rose from 32m to 35m in 2010. Frequent cinemagoers are defined in the report as people who visit a cinema once a month or more and make up 11% of the population, although they bought half of all tickets sold in the 12-month period.

The report did not offer fresh data on piracy and its impact on potential revenues. In a conference call with reporters MPAA president and interim CEO Bob Pisano and National Association Of Theatre Owners president and CEO John Fithian said they were not prepared to comment substantively on the potential impact of premium VOD on theatrical revenues, preferring to wait until the platform launches and there is available data. As previously reported, Warner Bros will become the first US major to launch a premium VOD service when it does so in the second quarter.

Box office in the Asia-Pacific region expanded by 21% from $7.2bn in 2009 to $8.7bn last year. More than 40% of growth in the region occurred in China. Pisano expressed reservations about the access for non-Chinese distributors, adding: “The Chinese box office market is doing gangbusters and hopefully at some point in the near term people who import film into China will be able to enjoy financial rewards.”

Demographics in the US
Hispanics are the key ethnic demographic growth area. The community represents 16% of the population and climbed from 6.6m frequent cinemagoers in 2009 to 10.3m in 2010. In 2010 43m Hispanic cinemagoers bought 351m tickets, up from 37m and 300m tickets the year before. Caucasians remain the largest group and account for 66% of the population, although the number of frequent cinemagoers fell from 19.5m to 19.3m. African Americans account for 12% of the population and the level climbed from 2.8m in 2009 to 3.4m.

In almost all cases females from each group visited the cinema more frequently than males, except for Hispanics. The overall population breakdown is 51-49 in favour of females, who account for 51% of cinemagoers.

Age-wise, the 25-39 group accounted for 23% of cinemagoers and 25% of ticket buyers. Pisano noted the decline in Baby Boomer attendance and said the industry needed to work out “how to lure the Boomers and people either side of the Boomer back to the movies.”

In 2010 more than one in three people in North America watched at least one film in 3D. More than half of all people aged two-17 saw a 3D release compared to 36% of the overall population. Pisano called 3D “the technology that is driving box office and driving people back to the movies.”

The high-point of the past decade is 2002, when admissions reached 1.57bn. There were 1.42m admissions in 2009. The industry sold 4.1 tickets to each cinemagoer aged two and above as per capita admissions fell to its lowest level since 1993. The 2009 level multiple was 4.3. “I would point out these things are relatively cyclical,” National Association Of Theatre Owners president and CEO John Fithian said. “Admissions in US and Canada have grown over the last four decades. Does the flatness in the last two years suggest a change in the pattern or is it a cyclical blip? We won’t be able to tell for [a few years] and we’ll watch that space.”

Number of releases
The number of films rated by the Classification And Ratings Administration (CARA) fell 11% on 2009 from 793 to 706. In total 560 films came out in 2010, of which 141 were released by MPAA affiliates (104 studio / 37 studio subsidiaries). There were 555 films released in 2009, 158 of which came from MPAA affiliates (111 studio / 47 subsidiaries). Of the 560 films released in 2010, 25 were 3D compared to 20 out of 555 in 2009.

The highest grossing film in 2010 was Avatar, which opened in 2009 and took $476.9m in last year’s portion of its box office. Toy Story 3 was the biggest pure 2010 release on $415m, followed by Alice In Wonderland on $334.2m, Iron Man 2 on $312.1m and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse on $300.5m.

Production declines
The number of films entering production in 2010 fell 7% overall to 644 from 694 in 2009. The number of films from MPAA-affiliated production entities dropped 17% to 98 from 118 the year before, while non-MPAA affiliate production companies put 219 projects budgeted at $1m or above into production in 2010, compared to 255 in 2009. The level of non-affiliate productions budgeted below $1m fell 2% to 327 from 321. Pisano said that he did not know the causes of the production decline, adding that online theft was having an adverse effect on the sector, particularly with regard to independent output.

US screen count
“We think we will be done by 2013 in digitising the industry and expect…. probably 40% of the screens will be 3D-equipped by 2013,” Fithian said.