Movie Ticket Sales Surpass DVD Numbers

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For the first time since 2002, American consumers spent more on movie tickets than they did on buying DVDs. Sarah McBride, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, says the economic conditions caused many consumers to look for a cheap night out. Meanwhile, she says, people thought twice before buying DVDs.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Hollywood movie executives were just getting used to the new reality that fewer people are going out to the movies. Instead, Americans are buying movies on DVD, lots of them. U.S. box offices have not outsold movies on DVD since 2002.

BLOCK: Well, at least one new study shows 2009 movie ticket sales in the U.S. have increased a whopping 10 percent over 2008. At the same time, DVD movie sales plunged 13 percent.

To help us understand why and why it matters, we're joined by Sarah McBride of the Wall Street Journal.

Ms. McBride, did DVD have a bad year or did the movie theaters just have a very good year?

Ms. SARAH MCBRIDE (Reporter, Wall Street Journal): You know, a bit of both. Because of the economy, more consumers are looking for a cheap night out, and for many people, that's going to the movies. The box office has been helped enormously by the record number of movies that are coming out in 3D, and theaters charge a premium, anywhere from $3 to $5 for that. At the same time, people are getting a bit more penny-pinching when it comes to buying DVDs.

BLOCK: Is it that overall moviegoing is up or are we seeing something akin to the "Titanic" effect where people are seeing the same film over and over and over and over again?

Ms. MCBRIDE: For some of these 3D movies in particular, people are seeing the same movies over and over. And the studios are focusing more on big box office hits that they think will be successful and draw huge crowds. That's coming at the expense of kind of mid-tier movies that are cheaper to produce, but they, the studios know, won't draw as many people to the theaters.

BLOCK: What beyond the 3D movies, what have the big studios or the movie theaters been doing to try to coax people back into those theaters?

Ms. MCBRIDE: There have been a huge number of sequels this year. And theaters are trying to make the experience more pleasant. One of the big trends in moviegoing right now is those luxury theaters where, for example, you can have drinks at your seat, sometimes a meal, you can reserve your seat. So there's a big effort coming from the theaters and the studios.

BLOCK: Are we just talking about DVD movie sales? I'm wondering if movie sales have fallen because people are buying other kinds of DVDs: HBO series or network series or other kinds of things.

Ms. MCBRIDE: Actually, things like TV series and sports are doing very well. The bigger problem is with the movies, where people are less inclined to buy the movie and more inclined to rent it.

BLOCK: Sarah McBride, we've seen this script before, with the transition from VHS to DVD. Is the DVD decline the beginning of the end for the DVD until studios transition to the next technology, whether it's streaming or some sort of on-demand system?

Ms. MCBRIDE: What the studios would like to see happen is people moving from DVD to Blu-ray and then eventually to paid digital downloads. They'd like those things to happen faster, and they're doing everything they can to encourage consumers to move to those new media. But for consumers, that involves doing things like buying a Blu-ray player or perhaps getting one of those Internet-enabled TVs. And that's a big outlay of cash, and people just aren't doing it.

BLOCK: Sarah McBride, thank you very much.

Ms. MCBRIDE: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Wall Street Journal reporter Sarah McBride.

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