Figures only tell so much. The domestic market generated slightly more than $9.23bn ticket sales during 2006. It represented an increase of 3.8% in box office but as is said of some horse races, admissions were too close to call.
Representatives of both Regal and AMC Theaters - with a combined market share of roughly 44% of ticket sales - could not say definitively whether the number of individual tickets sold last year in their venues was slightly up or slightly down. Regardless, the difference plus or minus was not more than 1%.
Historically, North America has not experienced a major annual increase in attendance for more than two decades. In fact it is rather common for box office to increase while the audience declines and double-digit boosts only occur about once a decade.
Last year's downturn in revenues and attendance resulted in a flood of speculation that audiences had defected to other forms of entertainment. In that context, even a marginal upturn is viewed as a victory or vindication.
The most popular films of the year were once again largely sequels, remakes or adaptations and many came at a high cost as a result of special effects, star performers or both. It is too soon to cite the year end emergence of Night At The Museum and The Pursuit Of Happyness as reflective of any future developments.
While one can cite anecdotal differences in what was produced at the various Hollywood majors, one would be hard pressed to identify any lasting trend.
Sony, for instance, stepped up the number of films it released while Disney announced it was cutting back on its movie schedule. Regardless, barring radical slashing throughout the industry, the annual output of more than 200 wide releases annually represents a 45% increase in just the past decade. That growth is certainly not based on the needs of a larger or even a more niche-based audience.
The specialised arena was equally confounding. Lionsgate is virtually the only true independent with the ability to produce, distribute and promote a steady stream of movies. The Weinstein Company could take years to evolve as a significant player in light of its association with MGM and that company's ties to Sony.
The studio specialised divisions currently favour the Fox Searchlight model for its success rather than its slate of niche and popular releases and combination of in-house productions and acquisitions. Paramount's renamed Vantage label, based on its launch of Babel, appears focused on upscale mainstream fare while executive changes at Warner Independent and Miramax have yet to result in any consistent corporate gestalt.
In brief, there are no major lessons to be learned from the record of 2006 and there were no significance shifts that resulted from the experience of 2005. It was business as usual and the usual business.
|Domestic Market Share 2006 (Jan 1-Dec 31)|
|* none greater than 0.5%. DreamWorks ranked seventh; Miramax ninth in 2005|