Movie audiences aren't hungry, NPR isn't curious

Reel Blog   

NPR’s Morning Edition aired a curious segment Monday morning. While audiences have been showing up in droves for the likes of Paul Blart: Mall Cop, they’ve apparently been immune to the aroma of freshly-popped popcorn as they head to the auditorium.

More than $4 billion has poured into the movie box office so far this year. That’s up 12.5 percent from this time a year ago. Though the lagging economy has slowed sales some, Hollywood is still enjoying a good year. But that’s not the case at concession stands.

Imagine my surprise. The story goes on to feature Jeff Bock from Exhibitor Relations, saying that, while box office was up strongly this year, concession sales were down as much as 10%. Now, as anyone who know theater owners can tell you, they are not exactly free and easy with revenue data on concessions, good year or bad. So, considering news this bad, I had to find out where Jeff had gotten his data. And it turns out he hadn’t.  Gotten data.

He did, however, have an anecdote. He had been told by an exhibitor at ShoWest that concessions were down by the amount he had cited. A couple of other people in the industry had told him concession revenues were flat.  Where they got their data we don’t know. Perhaps it was their own company’s revenues. Maybe somebody had told someone who told them.

Here’s where I get my data. There are five U.S. theater companies that are publicly traded, AMC, Carmike, Cinemark, Marcus and Regal (to be precise, AMC is not publicly traded, but some of its debt is) and must file quarterly statements with the SEC. There you will find, lo and behold, actual revenue figures for box office, concessions and other operations. They tell a very different story than the indifferently-sourced NPR report. The quarterly 10Q and annual 10K SEC filings can be found on the websites of each of the exhibitors named above.

For the first quarter of this year, the five companies show concession revenues up between 5.13% and 8%, which is higher than the box office increase for three of the companies. Those five companies comprise 17,000 of the 38,800 screens in the U.S. and operate in every region of the country, urban and rural. We can, I think, consider their concession numbers fairly representative of the industry as a whole.

The report also noted that box office is up 12.5% year-to-date over last year, which is also incorrect. Major news outlets have consistently gotten this number wrong all year. The real figure is 10.9%. If you account by an  “iindustry year”, as Nielsen EDI does, the revenue from the first four days of this year are not counted as 2009 revenue, which leaves us 6.9% ahead of 2008.