Who’s Winning Between Streaming and Cinema and Pay TV?

About half of those surveyed by market research firm Piplsay haven’t changed their theater-going habits or have increased their attendance in the last three years

It’s the million-dollar question that’s hung over the entertainment industry for years: What does streaming mean for traditional pay TV and cinemas?

A new survey from market research company Piplsay found that compared with three years ago almost 1 in 2 Americans said they have either cut down on, or stopped going movie theaters altogether.

However, 54% of those surveyed said they either go to the movies more now, or their moviegoing habits haven’t changed at all.

“Streaming services have been challenging Hollywood’s status quo for years, but never has it felt the heat as intensely as it does today,” Piplsay wrote in its report. “Not surprisingly then, that, close to 50% of Americans today either visit multiplexes less often or have stopped watching movies on the big screen altogether. Among the reasons, about 35% of Americans seem to prefer streaming movies at their own convenience over buying expensive movie tickets.”

Piplsay surveyed more than 50,000 U.S. residents aged 18 years and older during February.

The decline of movie audience has been a much-discussed fear in Hollywood circles. While major exhibition chains have found a way to thrive on the backs of blockbusters, improved experiences and data-driven marketing, the closures of a number of smaller independently owned cinema houses have been a sign of the struggles that the industry and their indie fare have faced recently.

Landmark’s sale to Cohen Media Group at the tail end of 2018 exemplified those challenges, as well as L.A.’s Laemmle Theatres shuttering its historic Music Hall cinema in November. The Laemmle chain was even on the block over the summer before the family-owned and operated chain decided against a sale. New York’s historic Paris Theatre was also shuttered last year before streaming giant Netflix swooped in for a lease agreement to reopen it.

And though Piplsay’s research suggests that overall moviegoers aren’t going to the theater as much as they used to  — in part because of the options at home — research from UCLA’s 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report found that Latin Americans and Asians were overrepresented among frequent moviegoers in 2018, while whites were underrepresented among the same group. It’s important because frequent moviegoers (those who go to the movies once a month or more) accounted for about half of all ticket sales in 2019.

And a study earlier this month commissioned by the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) found that subscribers to multiple streaming services were also more likely to buy more movie tickets, a trend that the trade organization argues is a sign that the rising popularity of streamers is not a threat to the movie theater industry.

As far as TV goes, Piplsay’s survey found that roughly 40% of American’s subscribe to both traditional pay TV and a streaming service. Though they might subscribe to both, 60% of those viewers said they spend more time watching something on a streaming service as opposed to on TV. Roughly 30% said they only subscribed to streaming services, compared with the 15% who said they only subscribe to pay TV.

Digging deeper into the demographic breakdowns, it’s not surprising that younger generations of audiences take in more of their content via streaming. According to the survey, 38% of Gen Zers watch content only on streaming platforms, which was the highest among the age groups. But surprisingly 58% of Gen Xers watch content on mobile phones as compared to 45% of millennials.

“Surprisingly, despite the huge on-demand content, most Americans tend to spend more on pay-TV than streaming platforms,” Piplsay wrote. “About 60% of Americans spend over two hours on pay-TV every day as compared to just 41% of [over the top] subscribers. Movies and TV shows continue to remain the most preferred content on both platforms, with close to 60% of viewers tuning in via their television sets.”

Trey Williams

Trey Williams

Film Reporter covering the biz • trey.williams@thewrap.com • Twitter: @trey3williams


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