The World Is Flat?

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which represents the six major global studios, recently released the Theatrical Market Statistics Report for 2016.

Published annually, the report offers many insights into the state of the international film business and the trends emerging in different film markets around the world.

The highlights of the 2016 round-up:

  • Global box office for all films released in each country around the world reached $38.6 billion in 2016, up just around half a per cent over 2015’s total ($38.4 billion). Despite the gain being so marginal, it nonetheless set an all-time record for ticket sales.
  • Collections in the US/Canada box office grew by two per cent, to $11.4 billion, while those in the rest of the world fell slightly, from $27.3 billion to $27.2 billion.
  • The decline in international numbers i.e. other than the North American market, was experienced across virtually every geography. While Europe, the Middle East & Africa (which is considered one bloc in the report) fell by two per cent, the drop in the Latin America grouping was even more dramatic, at 18 per cent.
  • Most significantly, China – the second-largest film market in the world after North America – declined by one per cent after a decade of continuous, and extremely rapid, growth. However, we need to bear in mind that since the study is conducted in American currency i.e. the US dollar, the seeming erosion in Chinese ticket sales is actually a reflection of the depreciation in value of the Chinese Yuan. In fact, in local currency terms, collections actually grew by around four per cent. That said, considering that the Chinese market expanded an astonishing 49 per cent in 2015, and an average of over 35 per cent annually for more than a decade, last year’s numbers indicate a very discernible and unfavourable shift in trajectory.
  • Cinema screens increased by eight per cent worldwide in 2016, to achieve a count of nearly 164,000, thanks largely to continued double-digit growth in the Asia Pacific region, which saw a rise of 18 per cent.
  • Underling the almost total digitisation of screen technology, 95 per cent of the world’s cinema screens are now digital.

Well, as they say, the devil often lies in the details, so let us move beyond the headlines to see how healthy the global film business really is. And, unfortunately, a closer study shows us that though last year may have been the most remunerative ever on record, the signs for the future aren’t very encouraging.

As we saw in the pointers above, pretty much every region was in decline in 2016, including China when considering collections in US dollar terms. The overall growth in the global box office, therefore, was made possible only because of an increase in the most important market, North America.

However, a closer examination of the data reveals that while the North America box office grew by two per cent, ticket prices there rose by three per cent. In other words, there hasn’t really been any expansion of the market. In fact, attendance numbers in the US for 2016 were the same as they were for the previous year, at 1.32 billion. Worse, fewer people visited cinema halls in the US/Canada last year than they did a decade back, in 2007, when the corresponding figure was 1.4 billion attendants.

The situation here at home, as we all know, is hardly cheerier, as demonstrated by the fact that the cumulative domestic box office for Hindi films in 2016 (Rs 2719 crore) was lower than it was three years ago, in 2013 ( Rs 2818 crore). While attendance numbers in India are not mapped as regularly or as accurately as they are in the West, it is a safe assumption that even in our market, footfalls have fallen over the last few years.

In fact, the decline in the number of tickets sold is very likely even worse than that suggested by the monetary value of collections considering that the last few years have seen the rapid ascendancy of multiplexes over single-screen properties. So our topline numbers, disappointing though they may be, are actually propped up by higher-priced tickets replacing the cheaper ones.

In short, whether it is India or Europe or Latin America; whether it is the largest film market in the world, North America; or the hitherto rapidly expanding China – worrying signals abound for the film business all across the world, even as it celebrates its highest grossing year ever.

The irony doesn’t end there.

Last year was also one that saw individual films make all-time records in various territories  – right from Dangal going well past PK’s collections here in India, to The Mermaid becoming the first ever Chinese film to gross over USD 500 million in its domestic market, to as many as four Hollywood films (Captain America: Civil War, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Finding Dory and Zootopia) grossing over USD 1 billion each, worldwide, and a fifth, The Jungle Book, coming tantalisingly close to that milestone, with USD 967 million. 

Given this topsy-turvy state of affairs, the most appropriate final words for this note ought to be the opening words of that all-time classic, A Tale Of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… 

Nitin Tej Ahuja
Collection Chart
As on 16th September, 2017
Poster Boys110.31Cr10.31Cr
The Rally11.54Lk1.54Lk
Mr. Kabaadi11.61Lk1.61Lk

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