The comparative strength of the dollar exacerbated a 2.8% decline (185m) in worldwide cinema admissions last year to cause the first fall in the total dollar value of the global theatrical market for eight years in 2000.
According to the latest data from monthly research publication, Screen Digest, there was an overall decline of 0.2% in worldwide spending on cinema to just under $17.5bn, with North American admissions falling for the second year in a row and some Far Eastern territories experiencing their lowest cinema-going levels in decades.
The most discernible, if anticipated, trend was the steep decline in screen growth; global exhibition companies putting the brakes on new builds a few years ago finally showing up in the total screen numbers.
As might be expected, there were significant differences between various territories. Western Europe returned to positive growth in 2000 after a year of decline, with only one country - Denmark, experiencing falling admissions. The Far East, on the other hand, saw total admissions dip by 0.2%, partly a result of the combined forces of piracy and economic uncertainty. Singapore, among the strongest cinema markets in the world is now the fastest declining territory in the region.
The overall picture, however, is cautiously optimistic: a prudent, if necessary, slowing of the rapid screen growth in some of the more developed markets; an encouraging trend towards screens with smaller seat capacities in large multi-screen complexes, boosting admissions per screen and finally a renewed confidence in the market fuelled by the strong, and consistent, product line-up during 2001.
Key findings of Screen Digest's research
* Ticket prices in the US are growing at their fastest rate for 16 years, and are now more expensive than in Europe for the first time in14 years. The average US cinema screen sells $560 worth of tickets daily, the highest figure since 1990.
* India suddenly looks a promising prospect for multiplexing, with regional authorities offering substantial tax-breaks on multiplex development, and a number of local companies investing accordingly.
* The rate of screen growth worldwide has slowed dramatically, both in the US as well as other parts of the world.
* Cinema admissions in Germany passed 150m for the first time since 1971, while the country was the only Western European territory last year to experience deflating ticket prices.
* Singapore saw fewer cinema tickets sold last year than at any time since records began, in 1960. At the same time, Singaporeans have one of the highest frequencies of cinemagoing in the world.
* Spain and Australia are the only two markets to have enjoyed 12 successive years of rising cinema admissions - although Australia's 'clean sheet' has now ended.
* China's impending accession to the WTO next year will double the amount of foreign films allowed into the territory, but there is little evidence that it will become a significant theatrical market in the near future.
* Japanese cinemas generated lower ticket sales on a per-screen basis than at any time in the last 20 years, even ignoring the effects of inflation. Japanese ticket prices are the highest in the world.