Don’t become too giddy over the MPAA’s optimistic forecast last week for the theatrical movie business, and the record sales for The Hunger Games. Nomura Securities analyst Robert Fishman warns today in a 91-page first look at the exhibition business that chains are in for a tough couple of years after 2012 is over, with admissions falling slowly but steadily from 2013 through 2016. He says domestic box office sales slid 3.8% last year to $10.2B while attendance dropped 4.2% to 1.3B, and that’s “just the beginning of emerging secular headwinds facing the box office.” MPAA data shows that from 2000 to 2011 the percentage of people who frequently go to the movies dropped to 10% from 30% while the ranks of those who never attend grew to 33% from 26%, Fishman says. The biggest drop was among young people. The analyst also says theaters could suffer as the major studios begin to slash the number of movies they make. Although smaller producers have picked up some of the slack, “we do not think the scale of the majority of these other films will be sufficient” to draw the same number of ticket-buyers who typically turn out to see big studio productions. Fishman also notes that consumers are rebelling against high priced tickets — including for 3D. And he fears that theaters will be hurt by changing release patterns, including premium VOD. “Based on our discussion with different studios,” Fishman says, “we believe there is likely to be another push for premium VOD either towards the end of the year or next year.”
The bottom line: Fishman expects to see a consolidation wave as major chains snap up smaller ones. He initiates his coverage of Cinemark‘s stock with a “buy” and a $26 price target, due largely to its theaters in Latin America where sales are still growing. But Regal Entertainment is more vulnerable to the trends that he believes will hurt the domestic market. He rates its shares as “neutral” with a $15 target price.