Len Klady worries about ticket sales in North American multiplexes falling 7% in 2010.

Domestic box office rang up revenues of approximately $10.52 billion that translated into the first year-on-year decline in five years. The figure (spanning the calendar year) was 1.5% lower than the gross generated in 2009 and reflected the sort of on-going slow ebb associated with annual drops in admissions of the past decade in the United States and Canada.

However, the number of actual tickets sold in North American multiplexes fell by a rather severe 7%. The modest decline in revenues was largely the result of premium ticket prices for 3D and IMAX engagements of popular films. Nine of 2010’s top grossing individual films in the domestic marketplace were in at least one of these formats and included Toy Story 3, Alice in Wonderland and Despicable Me. The top-grossing film distributed conventionally was The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, which ranked fifth overall.

The releases of 2010 in general were viewed as artistically weaker than in past years. A senior distribution executive, speaking on background, said, “too many films are being produced and sold on sizzle. While that’s hardly novel, the public has become less forgiving now that they have so many other affordable entertainment options.”

Nonetheless an even greater number of stereoscopic releases are scheduled for release in 2011 and major theatre chains are scurrying to convert conventional screens to digital 3D venues. While such films as Piranha and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore attested to the fact that the process is not commercially bulletproof, they ultimately had considerably greater success internationally.

Still, the rationale that providing an experience that cannot be replicated in the home was diminished with the introduction of 3D HD television sets last year. One industry analyst predicts they will be commonplace in US homes within a decade.

The exhibition sector is also fighting what many consider a losing battle with major suppliers over the issue of windows — the period from initial theatrical release to availability on cable, satellite and home video. Robert Iger, President and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, has all but thrown down the gauntlet in this arena with theater operators reluctantly making concessions earlier in the year for Alice in Wonderland. The other studios have less conspicuously been shortening current windows periods and independents such as Magnolia and IFC have created templates that often include day-and-date releases in theatrical, pay-cable and home video.