Bad news for theater owners: High ticket prices were the biggest culprit in the 21% year-over-year decline in domestic box office revenues last summer, research and consulting firm PwC reports today based on a survey of 1,044 consumers in October and November. Some 53% of the respondents cited the rising admission costs over the past five years as one of the main reasons they stayed away.

Kevin Mazur“High ticket prices are, by far, the number one reason for dissatisfaction across age demos and by movie-going frequency,” PwC concludes in its report, part of its Consumer Intelligence Series. “Despite advanced technology, better seating, improved concessions and the return of 3D movies, the negative of higher ticket prices is difficult to counter-act.” Indeed, it adds, “3D ranks last among drivers of movie attendance.”

Moviegoers spent an average of $8.08 for a ticket in Q3, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners, up 3.1% from the same period in 2013 and 3.9% vs 2012. (People typically shell out much more in cities and in the evening.)

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After pricing, 41% said that the movies were not as interesting to them, 30% said they want to watch movies on their own schedules, and 29% said they’d prefer to spend on different recreational activities.

Movie reel dollar signConsistent with the overall theme, well over half of those surveyed said that lower prices would motivate them to attend more frequently. About 23% said that they’d go if the movies were better, while 9% wanted better prices for food.

You can pretty much forget enticing people with extras such as live entertainment or by offering them a digital copy of the movie. “Most of these movie perks fell flat on consumers, except last-minute ‘cheap’ seats,” PwC says. “Respondents of all ages were interested in getting a break on last-minute seats.”

Perhaps just as worrisome for theaters: 71% said that they were “very” or “somewhat” interested in watching new movies at home — and 82% said that they’d pay anywhere from $10 to $20 extra to do so.

There were glimmers of hope for studios and theaters, though. The core movie audience, especially 18- to 34-year-olds, is “strong” and can be motivated to attend more frequently, PwC says. Moviegoers generally saw three of the summer’s top 20 movies, though a third of those in their 50s didn’t see any of the top grossers.

“Since lowering ticket prices across the board is likely not a viable strategy” PwC recommends incentives including monthly movie subscriptions, last-minute discounts and — more interesting to studios than theaters — offering opportunities to watch new movies at home.

Even so, exhibitors “need to promote the benefits of the in-theater experience including the ‘night out’ and advanced technology benefits,” PwC says. Seemingly contradicting its findings about consumer sensitivity to pricing, the firm says that summer 2014 “was an anomaly, given less interesting film options. Focusing on interesting content in relevant genres is key. And don’t underestimate the value of recommendations from family and friends.”