B. Riley & Co analyst Eric Wold favors the second part of the equation, but says consumer pushback may also account for the disappointing 3D ticket sales that just led him to downgrade tech company RealD to “neutral” from “buy.” That contributed to a 6.2% drop in the company’s share price in early trading. Wold notes that 3D accounted for 31% of the domestic box office for Disney/Pixar’s Monsters University this weekend, making it “the lowest of any animated title in history” behind Brave‘s 34%. And Paramount’s World War Z, with 34% of box office from 3D, was “the lowest of any action movie in history” after Paramount’s Captain America with 40%. These aren’t blips: The 3D domestic attach rates (the percent of total box office) “have been stabilizing in the 30%-45% rate — which, unfortunately, has become a trend” with all movie genres, Wold says. Consumers may be fed up paying an extra few bucks for 3D, although Wold notes that “we are not seeing this with IMAX screens.”
More likely, he says, is that theaters don’t have enough venues that can take advantage of the growing number of 3D films that studios are cranking out. This year we’ll see 17 major 3D films between the beginning of March and the end of July, up from eight in the same period in 2010. But theaters have cut way back on their orders for the technology to show 3D films, satisfied to have anywhere from 35% to 50% of their screens capable of handling the format. For example, RealD outfitted 1,800 screens in the first three months of 2011 but just 200 in the same period this year. That’s why Wold says he remains optimistic about long-term prospects for RealD, despite his retreat today on the stock. Based on the strong overall box office sales, “we would not be surprised if domestic exhibitors are hitting a point again where more 3D-capable screens are needed.”
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