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Author:Oliver, Charles
Position::Movies
 
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To keep up with high-tech home entertainment, movie theaters will have to offer something special.

HOLLYWOOD JUST CELEBRATED ITS biggest year ever. With an estimated $5.24 billion in North American ticket sales in 1993, the movie business seems to be booming. But some in the industry are worried about its future.

U.S. ticket sales have remained flat for the last 20 years or so. Theatrical grosses keep going up because ticket prices keep increasing. This year's record box office owes more than a little to the fact that this year's average ticket price of $5.05 was also a record high. Indeed, if one takes out the sales of one movie--Jurassic Park--1993 doesn't seem like a terribly good year for the theatrical-film industry.

It is too soon to proclaim the death of film. But a convergence of technological changes and economic forces is presenting the greatest threat to cinema-going since the introduction of television in the late 1940s.

Since the 1960s, the core of the movie-going audience has been young people, particularly young men, ages 13 to 25. But that is changing. As late as 1983, according to Motion Picture Association of America figures, young people accounted for 55 percent of all movie tickets sold. That was way above their proportion of the population. But by 1992, the latest year for which figures are available, young people accounted for just 38 percent of all tickets sold, while their proportion of the population had shrunk only slightly.

A problem for the movie industry? You bet.

Historically, people go out to movies less and less frequently as they grow older. That' s still happening, though older baby boomers aren't cutting their movie attendance as much as their parents did. The fact that today's youth don't go to the movies that much bodes ill for the future of Hollywood. In effect, they are the first generation of Americans who don't participate in the tribal ritual of going to the movies on most weekends.

These young people have been lost largely to video games and videotape rentals. The movies have, in effect, priced themselves out of competition for teen-age dollars.

Video games are now a $7-billion industry. The main consumers of video games are the young males so coveted by the movie industry. And one of the big attractions of video games is the price. The cost of admission to a feature film that will probably last about two hours can range from about $4.00 to $7.50. But for well under half that amount, a person can...

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