EXCLUSIVE: Heading to the movies or staying home and streaming one — is it a Sophie’s Choice on the weekend? A recent NRG-Deadline study about moviegoers’ habits has revealed that 66% of those polled frequently watch movies at home on the weekend via streaming, versus 33% who frequently attend the theater. In addition, 60% said they’ve been streaming more over the past year, versus 34% who said they were going to the cinema more.
However, when given a choice, 61% would rather see a movie they’re interested in on the big screen than via a streaming service.
While the price of a movie ticket has always been heralded as the most economical form of entertainment next to sporting and concert events, 58% of those polled believe movie ticket prices are too expensive (they can range from $12-$14 in certain suburban markets, $18-$21 for a premium format seat), whereas the monthly price of streaming (generally around $10-$13 depending on the service) with its access to a catalog of movies and TV series was found to either just right (48%) or considered a complete bargain (33%).
The poll’s results speak to how streaming’s monthly subscription price model has influenced consumers’ expectations when it comes to their entertainment choices. And exhibition has increasingly become keen to this as the industry expands monthly loyalty programs in the wake of Moviepass’ crash and burn (largely a result of that service being an outsider to the financial equation between exhibitors and distributors, which made it hard for Moviepass to monetize its share). Of those polled in the NRG-Deadline survey, 44% expressed that they are definitely interested in subscribing to a monthly movie ticket subscription service. AMC Stubs’ loyalty program is currently headed to 20 million households, already counting 2.6 people per household and close to 50M moviegoers. The exhibitor’s $19.99-a-month service, which allows members to see three movies a week at any time or format, recently clicked past 700K members at the end of February.
The findings in the NRG-Deadline study were collected from a nationally representative online study in which NRG interviewed 1,000 moviegoers between the ages 13-54 from March 26-27. To participate, respondents must have seen at least two films in theaters over the past year.
“The incredible value and quality proposition that subscription streaming services provide have made consumers scrutinize the return on investment of their every entertainment dollar,” said Jon Penn, CEO of National Research Group. “For the price of a single movie ticket that delivers a two-hour experience, consumers report watching 60 hours of streaming content monthly at home. Studios today have a higher bar to prove the uniqueness, accessibility and theatricality of every film they bring to the market.”
Another facet of the study revealed how moviegoers prefer to watch certain film genres. The movie theater remains the prime venue to watch action adventure films (63%), superhero/comic book movies (56%), suspense thrillers (48%) and horror films (42%). Those findings come as no surprise considering recent respective hits in those categories from Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle to Captain Marvel, A Quiet Place and Us, among others.
Genres that responders preferred to stream at home include documentaries (59%), comedies (53%), dramas (55%) and romantic comedies (49%). For the most part, these numbers sync up with what we’ve been seeing at the box office. Streaming’s dominance in comedy comes as no surprise as the genre has become increasingly challenged at the multiplex with few titles in recent years making north of $100M, i.e., Universal’s Kevin Hart-Tiffany Haddish comedy Night School opened to a solid $27.2M but fell well short of the century mark at the domestic box offic with $77.3M. Ditto for last year’s Blockers, which debuted to $20.5M and had a short run at $60.3M.
Romantic comedies, a genre that consistently delivered in the 1990s with Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan movies, have also been harder to pull off, with last summer’s $174.5M-grossing Crazy Rich Asians being an anomaly; it was the first romantic comedy since 2015’s Trainwreck to clear $100M. Recent rom-coms like Second Act ($39.2M), What Men Want ($54.4M) and Isn’t It Romantic ($48.1M) haven’t reversed the genre’s fate at the box office — in fact, the latter Rebel Wilson title didn’t receive any theatrical distribution abroad, but rather went straight to Netflix. Dramas have always been a gamble and rely on things like awards-season traction, a bestselling book (i.e., The Help), a respected commercial auteur (i.e., Steven Spielberg) or a zeitgeist subject (The Social Network) to spike ticket sales.
The big surprise here is with documentaries because they had such a great year at the box office last year, lead by such titles as Won’t You Be My Neighbor ($22.8M), They Shall Not Grow Old ($17.7M) and Oscar winner Free Solo ($17.4M) to name a few. Docs were literally the bread and butter for art house circuits last year before awards season started. The finding that most people prefer to watch docs on streaming largely can be attributable to the immense supply available on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.
However, as streaming continues to grow its footprint, it can’t be ignored that the domestic box office has boomed simultaneously, with U.S./Canada ticket sales exceeding $11 billion annually since 2015; last year set a record of $11.89B, and many predict a $12B year in 2019 with the anticipated success of Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: Episode IX. While 78% say streaming is more convenient, the NRG-Deadline study also found that a majority of those polled still love the theater for its unique and immersive experience, and see it as the best high-quality entertainment and escapism to experience with others, with 53% saying that cinema still forges the cultural conversation.
Added Penn: “Streaming services have disrupted the media landscape by offering consumers unprecedented value, choice, and convenience to experience entertainment on any screen, anywhere. Yet, domestic moviegoing reached record revenue heights in 2018 proving that both moviegoing and streaming services can successfully coexist by serving different consumer need states. Moviegoing is still an incredibly unique and relevant proposition that consumers believe delivers the most immersive, social and communal storytelling experience.”