Why Hollywood Studios Depend on Frequent Moviegoers More Than Ever

Monthly moviegoers made up half of all U.S. ticket sales last year, MPAA reports

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The movie theater industry is transitioning to a new environment where frequent customers, not customer size, is the main focus.

Moviegoers who go to the cinema at least once a month contributed nearly half of the 1.24 billion tickets sold last year, according to an annual report by the Motion Picture Association of America.

The new survey shows that monthly moviegoers only comprise 12 percent of the entire U.S. population with 43 million, but accounted for 49 percent of all tickets sold. This is despite the fact that more than 75 percent of the population (263 million people) went to the cinema at least once last year.

The new study — which has transitioned from being conducted over the phone to online questionnaires — also expanded its data to include home entertainment for the first time ever, and the results showed that the hardcore moviegoing crowd is also a major force in media technology sales as well.

“You might find oxymoronic for someone who represents theater owners to champion the home entertainment part of the report,” said John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners in a press call hosted by the MPAA. “Those same people who have the most technologies are also the most frequent moviegoers. We want our distribution and production partners to make more money in the home because they can make more and bigger movies for us.”

But the survey also notes that the demographic breakdown of these frequent moviegoers is trending older, showing the challenge faced by the industry of getting Generation Z into theaters on a regular basis. The most frequent moviegoers according to the survey are between the ages of 25 and 39, followed by moviegoers in their forties. Gender breakdown remains virtually equal.

In the press call, new MPAA Chairman Charles Rivkin downplayed the decrease in frequent moviegoers under 25, with a 28 percent drop from 2016 among audiences aged 18 to 24 and a 22 percent drop among teens. Rivkin said that year-to-year comparisons are impossible because of the change in how the survey was conducted.

But the forecast isn’t all bad. On average, the total population of teenage moviegoers attended an average of 4.9 movies over the course of the year — more than any other age group — and closely followed by 18 to 24 year olds with an average of 4.7 movies a year.

Still, the data showing the growing power of frequent moviegoers reflects what several theater chain owners have told TheWrap in recent weeks: The future of the industry relies on reaching out to those who still value the moviegoing experience. Subscription services like MoviePass, which offers a movie ticket a day for under $10/month, are trying to reach out to those monthly moviegoers while building consumer data from their use of the system to create a database that can be sold to studios and exhibitors.

“A generation ago, this business was about the size of the audience, back when 98 percent of people went to theaters on a regular basis,” said one Midwest regional chain owner who spoke to TheWrap on condition of anonymity. “But now a smaller and smaller fraction of customers are driving more and more of the revenue for us each year, so a lot of our partnerships and amenity additions, from MoviePass to a larger concessions menu and luxury recliners, are about giving those people who love going to the movies a lot a reason to keep coming back.”

You can read the MPAA’s full report here.